Thomas Cole, Kaaterskill Falls, 1826; oil on canvas, 43 x 36 inches.

This is the best time of year for dog walking. Fall’s crunchy leaves, the sunset hues, those golden hours.

My dog Sugar and I walk a circuit of the cross-country trail, past some chestnut trees, a bumper crop having a mast year, and she stops at the stand of them and sniffs the spiny shells of the fallen ones and gets more interested in a pile of fresh deer poop and I’m daydreaming about how I’m going to write a book about small moments like this one and it’s going to be so beautiful and then—doggone it—she’s rolling in the poop and I’m pulled out of my headspace and yanking on the leash yelling, “NO POOP!” 

Then I’m struggling to open the poop bag. It’s never clear which end opens. Both ends look the same. I should really buy a different brand. Then I’m looking around to see if anyone has seen this little drama of the poop bag and trying to appear nonchalant if they have like, Oh, hello. 

This is what taking the dog for a walk does for me. It forces me to stay. Right here. To have no other ambition. Because invariably when I’m starting to go all John Keat’s “Ode to Autumn,” all “season of mists…” the dog takes off after a groundhog and spins my shoulder around in its socket like a top. 

Or the dog barfs all the deer poop she just ate. Or the dog wades into the mud by the stream’s edge while I’ve been trying to compose a sonnet about hawk migration and how it is a metaphor for aging or something, some Big Thought, and she’s eating a stinking-dead freshwater clam. She runs to me eagerly, covered in stink, and jumps into my arms.

It’s good for me. It’s my end of the leash that needs the most training.


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