If you’re in a hurry and trying to get from wherever you are to someplace else, you might think twice before you decide to bring Nacho. Our dimwitted family mutt, the Mexican orphan, has a tendency to lose focus within the first three steps of any walk. Everything around us is just so . . . sniffy. Take that wall over there. Sniffy. That rhododendron? Also sniffy. That random patch of grass in the middle of a much larger patch of grass? Sniffier than you can imagine.
In fairness, historical records indicate that we do eventually make it around the block. But if you’re trying get out, get back, and get on with your evening, forget about it. Between the sniffing and the peeing (and the peeing and the peeing), there isn’t a lot of time for, say, walking. Were it not for the frantic flaring of his sniffomatic snout, sometimes we might find it hard to trigger a motion sensor. The wild bunnies in the neighborhood don’t even bother to flee when this bloodhound approaches. Mostly they just blink in whiskery bemusement.
These “walks” often remind me of when my kids were little. We didn’t call them walks back then. They were “explores.” Luke typically found it necessary to load up on gear and supplies before we stuck his little sister (temporarily) in the stroller to cruise the neighborhood. On one occasion when he was maybe five or six, before we could leave the house he filled his backpack with the following (I kid you not): calculator, kaleidoscope, dice, popgun, flashlight, toy car, koosh ball, two plastic coins, stuffed lion, plastic dimetrodon, top, magnet, football, trumpet, rubber snake, wristwatch, shell lei, knight in armor, and, of course, a brochure entitled Wildflowers of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. Forget the ten essentials; this kid was prepared.
What he needn’t have been prepared for was a lot of walking. With Bryn along, we tended to stop and start, lurching here, wandering there, constantly pausing so that she could hand us things to fill the abandoned stroller: sticks, rocks, leaves, snail shells—the sort of neighborhood whatnot that is treasure only to a two-year-old. I once cracked that if Bryn had been along when the pioneers were crossing the plains they would still be in Nebraska. At which point Dana surely would have reminded me that, on these family treks, getting “there” was not really the point.
True story: On one such explore, I was growing increasingly impatient with my children’s lack of forward momentum. When I turned to snap at Luke to pick up the pace, I discovered that he had—literally—stopped to smell the roses. (For my children, this is the sort of thing that qualified as “parenting.”) This scene played itself out again recently while Bryn and I were backpacking in the Uintas. While I was tromping through a meadow, frantically searching (again) for the poorly-marked trail, Bryn was standing gobsmacked in a gentle rain, admiring a mother moose and her baby. I was trying to get from wherever I was to someplace else; Bryn was having an explore.
Bryn gets it. And perhaps Nacho does too. For me his twice-a-days can be a bit of a chore; but for him, every time he senses potential pre-walk activity he’s all a-jitter for what might come next. He paces and paces, eager to get going so that we can . . . not go much of anywhere, as it always turns out. But the going and then not going and then going again, sniff-sniff-sniffing along the way, makes him deliriously happy. While I’m charging through the neighborhood with, I don’t know, “Radar Love” or something as my inner soundtrack, Nacho is sniffing to the beat of “The 59th Street Bridge Song.” And by the time we return home, it’s not hard to guess which of us is feeling groovy.
Pretty smart for a dumb dog.