I used to have a dog, Rags was his name, who had been rescued from a Mexican street. He was a wonderful companion, but he had suffered a number of traumas in his youth including a badly broken rear leg that never completely healed, leaving him with a bit of a limp. More significantly, at least for me as the chief dog walker, was his extreme aversion to pooping in his own yard. Most dogs do not suffer this affliction and will happily crap all over the lawn or in the flowerbeds or even on the patio just when the guests are about to arrive. Just ask anyone who has ever owned a labrador retriever! Rags, however, must have been beaten severely for this behavior, for he would just not go in the yard. This meant that there was no escape, I was forced to bundle up and take him outside on interminably long walks, even during winter storms, with gale force winds pelting raindrops the size of swallow eggs at us. The walks were made longer by his pickiness – only the right combination of smells and grasses were good enough for him so it might be blocks before I could turn around and start our homeward journey.
For over a decade, I had the responsibility of going out every evening on behalf of Rags, and now that I am living alone and pet free, I continue this habit. This means I get to fully experience the range of weather we get here, from heat to cold, the rain and snow, the long days of summer and the black nights of winter. Tonight the wind is up and gusting, although at least it isn’t raining much, just a little here and there. Walking the forest trail is always exciting in the wind. My flashlight beam scans ahead to spot blown down branches, which I fling to the side with my walking stick if they are small. If they are large I throw them as far as I can into the underbrush, or roll them to the side of the trail. Overhead the firs dance minuets and tangos, murmuring as they sway from side to side. The wind surges and I glance overhead, nervously casting the beam into the branches above. Nothing appears to be on the way down or imminently about to, so I continue towards the hilltop, passing the spot where years ago two trees had gotten caught up on each during a storm, trapped in a tangle of trunks and branches, unable to uncouple after some vast orgy. After that, when the wind got above a certain speed, the rubbing of the trees on each other, some 40 or 50 feet up sounded down below on the trail like cats being strangled or balrogs from the deep. Farther in and further up I go until I achieve the hilltop, where I feel the full force of the wind, no longer sheltered by the lee of the trees. The lights of the city twinkle in the distance and as I walk along the mossy rock, the wind’s wild exuberance forces me to clamp one hand on the Stetson, which is my personal indicator of a strong wind indeed. The roar of the wind adds to the thrill and the charm of this walk. Big, natural sounds can be just as thrilling to listen to as anything we humans dream up. For me, listening to the wind in the trees or the surf crash on a rocky shoreline is just as powerful as hearing a symphony or a favorite band. Those are the sounds of the planet, the genuine article. Tonight, the wind is blowing hard out of the southeast, which makes me wonder if there is some kind of omen attached to it. If there is, I decide, it’s a good one. After a few moments of getting fully oxygenated and watching clouds whipping by, I retreat and head back the way I came. A few more branches are lying on the homebound stretch of trail so I clear them away, wondering how many more will fall before the next person ventures forth along this path. As I leave the park I look over to the neighbor’s place, to see if Apollo, the Italian collie is out. Sure enough, he is and with a sharp bark he runs down to the gate, where I wait with his treat. He knows the drill and sits first and then I give him the dog biscuit I usually carry with me, just in case. I pat his head and turn around. We each head our separate ways, and I go home across the street.