A Walk With A Dog

March 6, 2008

After going on a bit yesterday about how glad I was that I no longer had a dog, I was reminded this morning that dog ownership does have its benefits.  As I mentioned in my previous post, we’re caring for our friends’ dog, Violet, a medium-sized, short-haired mutt. She’s sweet as can be, but because she’s just barely out of puppyhood she has A LOT of energy.  So this morning, instead of going to the gym for my usual workout, I put Violet in the car, drove out to a trailhead at the edge of the plateau, and took her on a hike.

We covered four miles or so, the first part following the contour of the bluff, the second part descending into what is known around here as Shakerag Hollow (so named because back in the days of Prohibition you could go down into the hollow at night, tie a white rag to a spot indicating where you had left your money, and, upon returning in the morning, retrieve your moonshine).  Actually, I should clarify.  I walked about four miles.  Violet probably covered twice that distance, darting after doves and squirrels and deer and shadows and anything else that seemed worthy of pursuit, or else rushing ahead and then doubling back to find out why I was going so slowly.

It was a cool, damp morning, despite clear skies and a bright sun.  A faint mist blanketed the hollow and the ground was still wet from recent rains.  There wasn’t a breath of wind.  It’s early yet for spring migrants, but the forest was alive with the songs of chickadees and wrens, the drum of woodpeckers, the laughing of a distant flicker, and strident cries of “Phoebe! Phoebe!”  Shakerag Hollow is known for its brilliant spring wildflower displays, but we were a bit early for that as well.  Atop the plateau, in gardens and college greens, daffodils are blossoming in earnest, lured into the open by a few warm afternoons.  Dumb bulbs.  We’re supposed to get snow this weekend. The wild blooms are too canny to be duped so easily.  I spotted a couple of sprigs of bloodroot and a toadshade or two.  But it’ll be at least another week before the hollow’s flowers emerge in number.

The sound of rushing water followed us everywhere.  In trickles and torrents it flowed off the plateau, gathering in the broad stream that winds along the floor of the hollow.  This entire region has been in the grip of a prolonged and costly drought — I think it’s been two years now.  But over the past three months we’ve started to see a return to more familiar weather patterns.  Perhaps the drought is easing.

In fact, I had the sense during our walk that for the first time in several years, the plateau environment is healthy and back into a natural rhythm.  Over the past several years our forests have suffered not only from the drought, but also from thaws that come too early and late-spring freezes that kill flowers and blacken young leaves on our trees.  This year, maybe, we’ll have a normal spring.

In any case, Violet is outside now, sleeping in the sun, her ears twitching with every movement of a nearby squirrel. I’m grateful to her for giving me the excuse to go hiking.  I like my morning workouts, but I’ve missed the smells and sounds and sights of the wood. 

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