Walks with my dog Bodhi are getting shorter as he gets older. Winter walks around the neighborhood have always been a part of our time together. Generally around 10 PM I’ll go find him, or more often he’ll find me and we’ll start our routine. I dress for the weather du jour, he wears his usual ensemble. Bodhi takes a big drink from his bowl, sometimes lasting up to a minute, and we head out. The ritual is time-tested and only interrupted by work travel or other such distractions.
In his younger days Bodhi would be beside himself with anticipation as we walked out of the garage and down the driveway. He’d look eagerly left and right to see if any of his neighborhood friends were out, or if there were any rabbits or skunks to chase down. Many times in his adolescence Bodhi would be several steps into a sprint before I could stop the rapidly unspooling retractable leash. There were a few times when he’d cut behind me and I’d be spun around by his power. Discipline was never his strength. Did I mention Bodhi is a puppy kindergarten graduate?
As we learned each others habits, I’d come to anticipate these moments. Combined with the use of a harness when walking him, we soon dropped the tug-a-human habit. Walking Bodhi at night is always interesting, as he’ll see animals in the dark that I can’t possibly see. Whether it’s a raccoon, rabbit, skunk or something more ominous, it’s a game of squint in the direction he’s pulling in. I rarely carry a flashlight with me, as I prefer to have my eyes adjust to the darkness. So outside of the occasional sniff of a skunk or flash of white on black fur, I’ll never know what animals triggered most of these moments of excitement. In summer we’d hear the distant sound of coyotes, or the too-close sound of fisher cats in the woods between our house and the horse farm. Living in Southern New Hampshire near a stream, woods and farms is like Wild Kingdom.
Our walks on the dark street awaken the senses in other ways. Every night is different, and often there are dramatic changes in the sky during our time outside. Many times we’d start a walk with cloud cover and end it with clear starry skies. Or start clear and end with raindrops or snow pelting us. Clouds, planes, and satellites cut across the terrestrial backdrop. Familiar friends Orion, Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, the moon and the planets greet us as we walk, Some days we’ll be lucky to see a meteor shower, a solitary shooting star or the International Space Station streak across the sky. Other nights when the moon is full and there’s snow on the ground it feels like we’re under a spotlight. I’ve grown to love the night sky and its ever-changing magic. I often resent my otherwise lovely neighbors for leaving their outdoor spotlights on, as it encroaches on the darkness and impacts my night vision.
Back at dog-level, Bodhi has a different sensory experience than I do. Aside from his interactions with the creatures of the night, he’s also taking stock of what’s changed during the day since he last visited the street. He has his usual sniffing spots, to see what the other dogs in the neighborhood have been up to. Bodhi contributes significantly to the sniff telegraph himself, marking his turf, and opening the floodgates several times on the walk. All that binge water drinking for a cause.
Besides peeing and sniffing, Bodhi’s favorite activity on walks is snacking. In winter he munches on snow. In summer it may be road kill. Trying to keep him away from these things in the dark is a constant challenge. Squeezing his jaw to free the crushed remains of a flattened frog is a skill I’ve used many times over the years. Bodhi has never been squeamish about what he eats.
Stairs are tough now. So are snow banks. Our walks are getting shorter, even if they take the same amount of time. My step counts used to be easy to maintain with Bodhi, but the days of us doing three or four laps up and down the street are over now. So I accept the long pauses he takes to sniff and catch his breath. The walks are at his pace now, and I’ll miss these nights when they’re gone.