After a busy school year and several summers where I scheduled two or three lives into one, I decided to spend some time enjoying my own backyard and the surrounding sections. One of my summer goals included rising early and taking off for a good hour of walking, observing, and thinking.
I do not know about anyone else, but the dogs love my plan. I take the older dog for a “short” hike around the drive—a walk of about a mile for me, two or three for him after he chases up a rabbit or two and busies himself marking an astonishing assortment of weeds and grasses. Looking at the world through his eyes, I note the abundance of rabbits and small rodents. His nose is not particularly sharp, and pheasants often surprise him when they erupt skyward.
After he enjoys his spin around the pasture, I return to trade dogs. The younger female waits patiently at the front window with her nose pressed against the glass until she sees us returning. Then her hunting dog blood percolates full speed. She can barely contain herself as I let the older dog in and turn her loose for a longer ramble.
After doing “donuts” in the sandy drive to show me how happy she feels, we venture off on whichever road suits our mood. A male mockingbird has made a habit of sitting in a roadside cedar and remarking on our journey with an amazing musical repertoire. Another feathered friend, this one a cardinal, perches in a nearby hackberry tree to join in the chorus. If the dog were not so intent on following her nose to new adventures, I suspect I would find myself spending good walking time watching those two crazy birds at their choral competition.
Early is the operative word here. These walks need to begin no later than seven to fully enjoy the morning. I guess the cool air or maybe the need to find breakfast brings out critters I do not see later in the day.
My favorite walk involves a short hike south to the next east-west section line and turning west. From there a person can see Riga and, under perfect conditions, nearly to Ogallah. To the north, a dark green shadow of trees marks Big Creek’s winding path through the pastures and fields, and beyond that, lines of cars and trucks snake along Interstate as they head east and west. To the south and west, I see Round Mound, a fine marker for any traveler journeying across this part of the plains.
At the corner where I turn to take this path, I can easily believe I stand at the center of the universe at the point where the great blue bowl of the heavens joins the horizon line in a giant circle. Every time I stand there, I think of Per Hansa’s wife Beret in Giants in the Earth and wonder why she feared this vast openness so greatly that it eventually made her insane. Certainly she was exposed, but, at the same time, so was everything else as far as she could see. She could see all the world had to offer from any direction she turned. Perhaps seeing so much of that world frightened her. Despite her reservations about open prairie, I never fail to feel a huge sense of delight and reverence when I take in that view.
After the brief stop for me to get my bearings and for the dog to check out any scat left in the middle of the road by a neighboring coyote to mark territory, we head west. Wheat and big blue stem grass wave to our south and a buffalo grass pasture undulates to the north. Pump jacks dot the acres before us, dipping their heads like giant, surreal mosquitoes bent on sucking the very marrow from the earth.
Nearly three quarters of a mile up the road, I see ruins of someone’s dream. Hand-turned porch posts and neatly spaced trees lining a no longer used drive attest to the care former inhabitants gave the home place. Now cattle use the corners of the old house as scratching posts and other creatures make homes in the recesses time has worn into the structure. I know it would not be difficult to find out who lived there, but I prefer the freedom not knowing allows my imagination.
Along the way, the dog detects the scent of quail and pheasant we hear calling in the cool air. Unlike the older dog, she finds and follows scent trails, pointing several birds during each walk. She looks back at me as if to say, “What’s up here? I did my job. Do yours.” No matter how good a dog is, it cannot understand the concept of hunting seasons. It simply follows the dictates of its senses.
Watching her racing through the tall grasses, I realize we should have named her Tigger the bouncing tiger instead of Reebok. Filled with joy, she literally bounces, ears flying and legs drawn up like metal coils. Meadowlarks and grasshopper sparrows scold her for interrupting their morning. For a moment I long to join her.
Speaking of Tigger, just the other morning a bobcat bounced through the wheat field … in search of breakfast I suppose, or perhaps the joy of the morning filled it like it fills our little red dog. On an already perfect morning, seeing something so unexpected added a special delight.
Sometimes we find surprises on our walks. Deer, coyote, pheasant, and skunk tracks are fairly common. They merit a pause and a look, but not much more than that. However, every now and then I spy a trail left behind as a snake slithered across the sandy road. On occasion, tiny rodent prints indicate another traveler. This time of year, I sometimes note a tiny set of hoof prints following larger prints, and I know a fawn rests close by.
Getting to know one’s neighbors-- human, beast, bird, or plant-- merits a few moments of anyone’s time. These morning journeys provide an opportunity to introduce myself and to discover exactly who and what shares this little space I call home. Meeting them through the eyes and noses of two very different dogs allows a vantage point I would miss if I walked alone.