Walking the Dog
On any given walk, my dog and I have different agendas. This realization is hitting me with stunning clarity as I take my pooch on a rare midnight junket through the neighborhood. It's simple. He goes for the smells; I go for the sights. This fixation with smell is fortunate for Claude, my white, six-year-old, Standard Poodle. He can't see anyway, so his nose had better be predominant. You see, Claude is not groomed in the customary aristocratic foo-foo fashion, nor is he bedizened in fragrant bows. Instead, we let his hair grow naturally. Eventually, his hair forms dreadlocks a Rastafarian would envy. And, inevitably, his forehead dreads spill out over his eyes. It must be a comical image, this impatient man waiting for his inexplicable dog to finish sniffing the underbrush, but you can bet no nearby canines are watching. They couldn't care less. They, too, are smell-obsessed. Of course, Claude's pauses give me time to check out the environs, but enough is enough. Even after he's taken that perfunctory leak, he still has to scour the area with his nose. Come on, already, Claude. After a few insistent pulls on the leash, a big yank is my only recourse. And so we stochastically convulse along the sidewalk, like a film speeded up and then slowed down. Claude's job is tracing the path of previous passersby, principally those of his own species. Each bush, tree, fire hydrant, telephone pole, whatever, gets that special examination. Once finished, his perusal is usually punctuated by a piss. He's making his mark, attempting to mask the previous mark. It's an ownership thing, as we all know. Claude doesn't need contracts and deeds; a pinch of pee will do. Imagine if humans sealed their deals in like manner. Land would be partitioned and distributed not by lawyers, zoning commissions, surveyors, or notary publics, but by the property owners themselves, taking frequent dumps. You'd have to be on constant stand-by, because if you fell asleep, some rival could sneak up, take a whiz, and usurp your land in the blink. You could wake up, homeless and humiliated. Certainly, vestigial forms of this act of propriety happen daily -- especially in winter, where men still enjoy the sport of spelling their names in the snow. Of course, the hunt for a mate is another facet of Claude's perusal of the neighborhood. At first glance, this seems odd, since his own, personal, reproductive jewels have been heisted by the local veterinarian. Nevertheless, his hormones march indefatigably on. And then they stop. And then they sniff. Unlike Claude, a walk for me is not about finding a mate or commandeering real estate. It's about exercise and fresh air. The sense most activated, though, is sight, and I'm constantly absorbed in the spectacle around me. I check out the houses and the trees, the toys in the yard, the basketball goal in the driveway, the cracks in the sidewalk. Each season has its own aesthetic rewards; everyone has their favorite. If someone were forcing me at gun point -- heck, it could happen--to choose a preferred season, then winter would get the close nod. With its ever-changing landscape of snowdrifts, icicles, hand-made snowpeople, and the aforementioned piss-signatures, winter makes a most chimerical companion on a walk. Coincidentally, it's also the season with the least smells, too. Claude has no difficulty finding smells in winter. His vigilant nose never rests. But in spring, and especially now, on the cusp of summer, he's absolutely a-ga with discovery. Every walk is a festival of fragrances. And having been raised in a kind of feral anarchy--i.e. no obedience training -- Claude is still intent on inspecting each single minutiae of terrain. Come on, Claude. Whoa, not even the snap of the leash can pull him from this spot. He must have located the very origin of Dogness at that fire hydrant. He looks like he's trying to bore holes with his nose. All right. I'll let him have his communion. In some ways, I envy his station. Burdened with sight, I'm doubtless missing a phalanx of fun. Think of it. All I can see is the singular precise moment elapsing before my eyes. Claude has a richer menu: he has days and perhaps weeks of smells to sift through with every single sniff. It's as if human passersby left images of themselves, wherever they went. Little holograms of people, trapped in a temporal amber. Subsequent strollers could catch an eyeful of these remains. Imagine the cacophony of visible echoes. Up and down the sidewalk, along the riverbank, dotting the halls of the mall and the paths of the forests, human beings would stop and eye hundreds or thousands of residual snapshots. Enough already, Claude. Come on. I get set to torque his leash, but I suddenly catch sight of something -- a visual shard of the mailman. Perhaps it's a trace of his passage through the neighborhood today. I begin scouring the area for other, similar visions. Our agendas have, for the moment, dovetailed -- Claude smelling the past and me squinting into it -- and so stopping is an altogether different proposition. And who knows: at this rate, we might even make it home by dawn.