It’s early morning, and Angus and I are in the woods. This is the very best way to begin the day — at sunrise, outside, among the birds and the trees, with my goofball dog.
The woods where we walk each morning is not a forest, nor even a true woods; it’s a wooded strip of land that runs along the western edge of a city park.
To our right are picnic grounds and ball fields, just visible through the brush, and to our left is a busy neighborhood street, though in this time of coronavirus and stay-at-home mandates it is not busy at all.
On the winding dirt path, we are hemmed in by trees and undergrowth. It feels like we are in deep woods, and that feeling is all we need.
This morning, the sun lights up the early yellow-green leaves, and woodpeckers drum fiercely. Cardinals sing their cheery car-alarm song, and blue jays shriek. Angus and I walk past big square holes that were drilled into tree trunks by pileated woodpeckers, and burrows in the ground that might belong to foxes or woodchucks. A chipmunk skitters past, and Angus watches it quietly, but a rabbit a little farther down the path makes him bark. (That fluffy white tail is irresistible.)
These woods are tiny, but what they do for us is enormous.
This has been a strange and terrible spring. Once every 10 days or so I put on a mask and gloves and go to the grocery store. The rest of the time, my husband and I are at home with the dogs, Angus and Rosie. Mostly, we do fine, but every so often the enormity of what is happening to the world engulfs me. It’s overwhelming. Sometimes I feel like I can’t bear it.
When that happens, the dogs know just what to do.
Rosie crawls into my lap and pushes her head against mine. I wrap my arms around her and I feel better almost right away. Her warmth, her strength, her need to press in close all help me to focus on what is good and immediate, and not on what is dire and in the future. We sit for a few minutes, and then I gently lift her down. Angus is across the room on the couch, one ear straight up in the air, watching us intently.
He never crawls into my lap. That’s not his job. His job is to nudge me outside and then walk with me forever. There are plenty of mornings when I don’t want to go, but he stares at me and sometimes barks and I can’t let him down. I snap on his leash, pull on my hat and gloves, mutter and complain. I find the treats, stuff bags into my pockets, unlock the door. The instant we step outside, I feel better.
We walk through the park and if we are early enough we might see an owl, or a red-tailed hawk. Along our little wooded path, Angus leads the way. He sniffs the ground, and I sniff the air; he watches the squirrels, and I look up at the sky. Together we move along, taking in not the whole world, just our little patch of world.
At the end of the path, we come out into a grassy area, and then we are back on city sidewalks. Sometimes we see wild turkeys over here. Sometimes Cooper’s hawks. Angus is only truly impressed by the rabbits, which are everywhere.
We walk and walk, and the sun gets higher, and I take off my hat. Pretty soon it’s time to turn toward home.
By now we have walked several miles, and while Angus could keep going indefinitely I know that when we get home he’ll conk out and sleep. I’ll go to work, the rabbits that have been racing in my head quieted for a while.
This is the best possible way to begin the day, cold or warm, dry or wet, even blustery and snowy, like that crazy stretch of winter we had in the middle of April.
In a crazy time, in a crazy world, getting outside with my crazy dog is exactly what I need.
Laurie Hertzel is the Star Tribune’s senior editor for books. She has been writing about her rescue dog, Angus, since he was 7 weeks old. Follow all his adventures at startribune.com/puppy.