Every morning, after the whirl of breakfast and teeth-brushing and where-did-I-put-my-keys ends with a slammed door and the boys are finally off to school with their dad, I put on my sneakers and take the dog for a walk.
Her ears perk up the minute she hears the rustle of the plastic poop bag I stash in my pocket. She trots behind me throughout the house as I gather sunglasses, jacket, and leash, so closely that I nearly trip over her if I change direction too quickly. This dog knows that out of sight is out of mind, and she is NOT taking any chances. When at last I clip on the leash and open the door, she leaps into the air, a burst of pure joy over a mundane daily ritual. Every time.
I’ve realized that a lot of my daily routines fall into the category of “can’t hurt, might help.” The morning walk with the dog is one routine that I have recently picked up again after I abandoned it for years. When we first got our dog 10+ years ago (!!), I walked her 2, maybe 3 times a day. Then we had a baby, then another. At some point, letting the dog out into the fenced backyard replaced daily walks. Strollers and leashes and blankets were just too much to manage.
And when the kids finally went to preschool, I simply could not spare my ultra-limited, long-awaited free time on the dog. I had groceries to buy! (But not enough time to put them away.) I had one leg to shave! (Not enough time for both.) The dog would have to deal.
But then the kids went off to “real” school, which starts a LOT earlier than preschool. And I was faced with the harsh fact that I am not, nor have I ever been, a morning person. It was all I could do to get the boys out the door dressed in seasonally appropriate clothing and matching shoes. (And some days, that didn’t even happen.) I would bark at them, “Get dressed! Put your pajamas in the dishwasher! I mean, hamper! Brush your hands! I mean, hair! Go find your … you know… the thing you put your lunch in… trash bag! Lunch pack! Lunch bag! YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN!!”
Coffee helped, but not as much as you’d think. I read somewhere that natural sunlight was the best way to wake up. Fresh air certainly couldn’t hurt. And I DID have the luxury of time now – enough time to load or unload the entire dishwasher in one shot! Enough time to switch over a load of laundry to the dryer before it sat for 3 days and mildewed! So I figured I had enough time to walk the dog around the block.
In the fall, spring, and even most of the summer these morning walks are glorious. Birds are chirping, flowers are blooming, other dog walkers smile and nod, maybe even stop to chat. (Sidenote: I always remember the dogs’ names. I never remember the humans’ names.) The sunlight slants through the trees and the lawns sparkle with dew.
In the winter, our walks are a grim slog through gray slush and crusty snow. Hunched shoulders and faces muffled by layers of wool. Bare tree limbs and barely a soul passing by. A meager dose of watered-down vitamin D trickling down from the gray skies. But still, I tell myself it’s worth it. I vary my route because it’s good for my brain. And there is the benefit of not having a backyard dotted with dog doo.
More than a year later, I’m still at it. Has this daily habit changed my life? Reshaped my body and mind? Made me a morning person? Maybe, hardly, and hell no. So why do I continue to do it? Because it can’t hurt and it might help.
It might be that starting my day with natural sunlight and fresh air is making me a slightly happier, healthier, more alert person who is not so dependent on caffeine. It might be that exchanging pleasantries with neighbors is good for a work-at-home-alone writer. It might be that regular, low-impact exercise is beneficial for an aging dog and, let’s face it, aging person who sits at a desk for a good part of the day.
It also might be that I could get better results from drinking bulletproof coffee or going to a spin class at the gym. But then I wouldn’t get to see that leap of pure canine joy. And I wouldn’t get to hear the crunch of the leaves underfoot and the faint smell of fall in the cooling air.
PIC O’ THE DAY: I promise I haven’t broken up with blogging for Instagram, but I do show up there more frequently these days. If you haven’t heard about the project I’m doing with my friend Angie, click here to check it out. Here’s one of my recent photos. Goodness gracious, great balls of love!