Thanks for getting me outdoors


Two nice dog walks this weekend, with two different friends and their dogs.


Saturday evening, my friend Leonora and I met at a local trailhead in a part of our local wildlife area at the same time as a carload of duck hunters – which is how we learned that the duck season opened locally that day. Whoops. Try telling five very excited dogs to get back in their cars at one of their favorite trailheads! Instead, we asked the hunters which way they were headed, and went down another trail. It’s an easy walk of about a mile to a particularly good spot for the dogs to swim. When the water level (in a manmade lake) is high, it has a nice bank for the dogs to jump off into the water; when the water level is low, it has a nice sand/gravel beach for them to swim from.

October is a lovely month where I live. It was still about 80 degrees at 5 pm, and given the dust raised by the ongoing rice harvest in this part (northeast corner) of the Central Valley in California, the light is particularly golden for the last two hours of the evening, and the low sun casts dramatic shadows across the dried amber grasses we walked through. We heard the distinctive sound of a male pheasant a good quarter mile away, and all the dogs stopped to listen. A few moments later we were rewarded with the sight of it, flying low above the field from one far-off spot to another a few hundred yards farther away and up a low hill. Otto took off like a shot after the bird, and while I could have easily called him back, given the great distance and his utter lack of hunting skills, I decided to let him have the fun. My friend and I enjoyed watching him fly across a plowed field, up and over the hill, missing the area where we had seen the bird land entirely. A few moments later, he ran back over the hill toward us, tail high, eyes shining. He seems to enjoy the chase, not a hunt, and has never stayed out of my sight for more than a minute; he’s got a little bird dog in him somewhere, but not too much, I think.

The two swimmers in our party (Otto and Lena) were swimming after one tennis balls, the tennis-ball-hoarder (Tito) was gloating over the other one we brought, and the two who don’t care about balls were exploring the shoreline when we heard a few distant blasts from the duck hunters’ shotguns. None of the dogs paid them more than a moment’s attention, but it put us on notice that the sun was getting quite low. We collected the tennis balls and headed back toward the cars. As we walked, several lines of waterfowl flew overhead, looking for good spots to land for the night.

On Sunday, I had an early morning walking date with another friend and her two dogs. One of them is Chaco, one of my former foster dogs, and it’s always fun to see her – although my friend doesn’t seem to be able to manage her dogs’ weight, and Chaco is way too fat. She’s happy as a clam, however, friendly, well socialized, and well behaved, so the heck with the lectures.

We walked in a woodsy part of the wildlife area, far from any ponds or lakes but not too far from the river, which we have to avoid for at least another month. Fat salmon have been spawning  — and dying — in the river since late August, and the banks are littered with dead fish. The stench is awful, even a quarter mile away. Buzzards and other scavengers will have the carcasses picked fairly well clean by December, but for now, we have to keep clear. Raw salmon contains a parasite that is toxic to dogs if eaten – but I fear the prospect of a dog rolling in a dead salmon just as much. Otto did this once, a few years ago, and I walked him home in despair. I called a groomer and told her I would pay anything for her to wash him free of the smell. I would have walked him to the groomer, too, but fortunately we have a truck, and he rode in the back; there was no way I would have put him into our car. The groomer was successful at getting Otto to smell okay, but after three fruitless trips trough the washing machine and a soak in a bucket with water well-spiked with bleach, I threw his collar away; it still smelled like dead fish.

Fortunately, we have lots of other places to hike off-leash during these fishy months, and while the dogs would have strongly preferred us to take a trail toward the river, we went the other way. It was early, so it never got hot enough to make the dogs’ uncomfortable, even without a trip to the river or any of the ponds, which are brackish and low right now. We stuck to a path that took us through the woods, which in that area are mostly cottonwood trees, flapping now with bright yellow leaves, gorgeous against the bright blue morning sky.

I love the outdoors, but lack the discipline to get out there on my own accord. I could not possibly be more grateful for a life with such good friends, both human and canine. If I didn’t have them, constantly nudging me to get out and go for a walk, I’d surely miss most of these experiences most days.