I let Emma, my dog, take me for a walk this morning. Well, actually, we started this morning and got back late this afternoon.
This doesn’t happen often, as it requires both that I be in a really good mood and have plenty of time on my hands. In fact, this was the first time that I’ve let Emma walk me in a couple of years.
When I walk Emma, there are rules: I choose our route and, while I do allow her to stop and sniff whatever treasures, visible and invisible, she may find along the way, I impose time limits, anywhere from five to ten seconds per sniffing episode.
When Emma walks me, she sets the course, and she is free to sniff to her nose’s content.
You would think that a little dog who is used to being told where to go and what to do might become stressed by this total lack of direction. Forty-five minutes into our walk, we had gotten as far as the Post Office, which is directly across the street from our house. And there was a certain amount of stress – but it wasn’t coming from Emma’s end of the leash.
I was tempted to give it up; but there is something in my nature that resists common sense. So we persevered. Back and forth, to and fro, hither and yon. We would, evidently, leave no leaf unturned, no clod of earth un-peed upon. As a pig is to a truffle, so is Emma to the eliminations of other dogs. And the fact that she has a bladder the size of a pea, and is running on empty after three or four squats, does nothing to dampen her enthusiasm for this activity.
Dogs have a very different approach to real estate than do humans. There are no canine real-estate brokers or attorneys, no general warranty or quitclaim deeds. Dogs lay claim to a given piece of land by either lifting their legs or squatting, thereby “marking” that land as their own. And, given that all other dogs have exactly the same idea, it becomes pretty much a full-time job for dogs to keep their claims alive. I’m not sure which approach to real estate I favor.
We wound our way up Depot Street to Main, and along Main toward the Mountain Road, stopping to lap up some water from the stainless-steel bowl outside of Shaw’s General Store. Then back up the other side of Main, where Susan Spera came out of her store to give us a doggie treat… Down behind the church to the rec path; and across the cornfield that leads to Cemetery Road; up Maple to Main to School; and eventually in through our back door, via the library lawn. Total distance covered: about a mile. Total elapsed time: six hours and fifteen minutes.
What does a man do when he has six hours in which to cover less than a mile? Other than protecting cyclists and joggers from a sometimes over-zealous dog, I began to study my environment in considerable detail, noting, among other things, that there are more than a few dog owners in town who fail to observe the common courtesy of picking up after their dogs. My exhaustive research further points to a definite correlation between the size of the dog and the owner’s unwillingness to bend to the task at hand. (Sidebar: There seems to be someone out there walking a Shetland pony.)
But, not to dwell on the negative, I had dozens of spirited conversations, with tourists and locals alike. Our topics ranged from questions as to the whereabouts of public restrooms, to debates on the precise moment when foliage would peak, to our views on the proposed Jackson ice arena project.
By far the most frequently asked question was what breed of dog Emma might be. Emma, incidentally, is a Chinese Crested Powderpuff. She weighs ten pounds, stands about a foot high, and looks kind of like an Old English sheepdog that someone has thrown in the dryer.
When you’re not busy chatting, you study the details of your village. You notice what a great job they did on the new stonework at the McKechnies’; and how the Moriarty building could use a coat of paint; and what a great addition the new deck on the Swisspot Restaurant is.
You start to look up above street level, and see how life is being lived on second and third floors: people working in their offices or reading a book by the window - all manner of things that you tend not to notice if you happen not to be attached to a little dog who moves at the rate of geological time.
I was glad to get home, and probably would have stretched out on the couch had there been a vacancy. But I wasn’t quick enough.
It’s really amazing how a dog that small can so fully occupy a 92-inch sofa. But there she lay, on her back, rear legs splayed, front paws extended heavenward, a toothy grin on her face.
I put my coat on and went out for a walk.