August 20, 2019

When man will return to nature, nature will return to him.

-Grigoris Deoudis


We’re back. Sort of.

Waldo prances eagerly about the rail-trail, now blue-bootless with no sign of his prior right paw injury. He is, however, dragging anchor and wishing he could cut the rode (anchor line), hoist full sail and head out into the open sea. Unfortunately, although it’s been three weeks since the injury, at the other end of his tether is an old man slowed even more than usual by nagging ankle pain. Waldo makes the best of it and goes about his business, sniffing everything and tasting a disturbing amount of it. He’s excited as we start down the trail, towing me behind on a taut line as I hobble along at a speed not much above hove to (barely moving).

It’s early morning, the temperature is cool, and the air is clean and fresh, bearing the scent of moist fecund earth. We walk through a verdant tunnel, the path winding its way through forest undergrowth. I spent my early years living in the semiarid west where everything was yellow and brown. I’m still enthralled by how green the world is on the east coast, even in July and August, and it seems even more so when the low angling morning sunlight is filtered green as it dances through the leaves. There is something primordial that tugs at my soul – perhaps old species-memory passed to me in my genes from my distant arboreal ancestors. It makes the world seem so idyllic. I missed this as much as Waldo did.

Birds are out in force, singing and chirping – as they are wont to do at the beginning of the day. I close my eyes and listen with loose attention. Focusing first on the birdsong, I then let my attention drift to whatever else I can hear – the soft rustle of wind in the leaves, the buzz of busy insects, the clacking of Waldo’s clawed footfalls on the tarmac. From there, I shift my awareness to my other senses, one at a time. I center my attention on each of my steps as I move along – the ground pushing reassuringly up on the soles of my feet, the pain in my ankle waxing and waning with every step – incessant, but tolerable and the muscles in my legs effortlessly contracting in a synchrony that allows me to keep my balance. I feel the air as it plays with the small hairs on my exposed skin and the feel of it as it enters my nose and expands in my lungs with each breath. I smell the odor of the life around me, vague and complex, difficult to distinguish and define. Only my sense of taste is unexposed to the world around me – the thought of opening that to my surroundings, as Waldo does, is not compelling. I wonder what it would add to the experience, though. Finally, I open my eyes and see my surroundings in a new way, absorbed in the moment. It’s not at all sad or depressing, but the rawness of it makes me feel a bit like facial tissue soaking up tears. I look at Waldo, prancing about the grass and weeds on the side of the trail. Does he feel like this all the time?

Waldo tugs at the leash. He’s on a mission, his mind set on going down the trail, discovering the next experience, whatever that may be. Being out here has flipped a switch in his psyche that energizes him an order of magnitude above his apartment-dwelling routine. He seems to see being here as an opportunity to exercise his mind. The gears in his head are turning and the look in his eye says that he is taking it all in and processing it. I wonder what he is learning. One thing for sure, his hyperactive state is not going to quickly evaporate when we get home. I feel sorry that I can’t provide this for him all day long, at least until he tires.

The goal for this first foray back into nature is about a mile and a half. Waldo is focused on continuing and gives me a puzzled look when I pull on the leash and turn to go back, but he complies. We’ll go further tomorrow, puppy. I’m fearful that over-doing it could worsen my recovery and slow the return to our established routine. Each step causes a little pain, but it’s bearable. When we return, the pain is not significantly worse than when we left – yet.

Maybe tomorrow, we can try for two miles.

Come on, old man! Lets go!

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