After a long day of lounging in my home office and staring at my back as I wrote prose that could ONLY become award-winning marketing content, my 13-year-old Sheltie was eager to get out and about. Mostly about, not just out. We can let him outside into the almost-junglelike backyard that has plenty of room to move and a vast underbrush to explore, and he could not be more bored. Rather, he prefers to traverse the neighborhood at a nearly glacial pace, sniffing every perpendicular structure along the way.
I once saw a dog documentary that featured a dog behaviorist who likened dogs walking and sniffing to humans logging into Facebook: Sniff. I’m here. Sniff. Pee. I like this. Sniff. I like that. Longer pee. I’m here again. Little pee. Hello. Sniff, raise leg. HBD. Sniff. Pee. Love this! Sniff.
But I digress, as all writers write when they have no other transitional sentence.
This afternoon, I was also eager to get out of the house. My afternoon fatigue — self-inflicted from a long night of scrolling through Instagram and researching idiot causes of iPhone-induced insomnia — had come perilously close to derailing a writing project I had labored over for three hours. My phone reported a frigid 49 degrees out, which meant leaving my balmy home office of 70 degrees. Naturally, I had to bundle up as though we were about to trek the arctic tundra: two coats, texting mittens and overpriced sunglasses bought a lifetime ago that would surely protect against the blinding-white glare of the winter sun.
We walked our usual route, careful not to poop or step on a neighbor’s fresh-laid cement. When we came to our usual turning point, I decided to soldier on. The sun was dipping behind the trees. The sky was pretty. We hadn’t walked on this street in a while; it would be nice to see the neighbors’ Christmas lights.
Up and down we went, one hill after another. I wasn’t nearly as short of breath as I had anticipated, and my sweet, geriatric dog trotted along happily, with surprisingly more energy than much-younger dogs. Our neighborhood is called “the Hills” for a reason: There are hills. Large and small. Formidable and sometimes unforgiving. Cross-country teams and running clubs train here. In another life, not terribly long ago, so did I. That is, if what you call what I used to do “training,” which I don’t. I just ran; some years, I ran daily.
When I finally figured out how to run on my terms and for me — not anyone else — running became really fun. Running became a passion.
I ran a few races here and there early on in my Middle-Age Discovery of Running™ — which, according to some unnamed historians, I was the VERY FIRST woman ever to embark upon such an honorable midlife mission. I tried training plans, but they didn’t hold my interest. I was a simple runner. Every time I ran, I wanted to run better than the last run, no matter whether it was distance, speed or time. Just better. What exactly defined “better” varied from day to day. Years-long story short: When I finally figured out how to run on my terms and for me — not anyone else — running became really fun. Running became a passion.
And then one day the love affair was over.
It wasn’t a quick death. Quitting something you love rarely is. In this case, it was more like a drawn-out divorce that no one wanted.
Don’t get me wrong: Dog walks aren’t bad; they just don’t provide the flush and rush of endorphins that running offers.
I don’t believe anyone ever intentionally gives up running without physical cause. Most of the time, and this was certainly my case, life gets in the way. A thankless, bullshit job with long hours takes over. No time for a four-miler? You try to squeeze in a short jog instead. You can kid yourself for a while, but it’s not the same. Eventually that jog becomes a walk. Then the walk gets shorter, and then finally, all you’re left with is stroll-and-sniff Doggie Facebook Walks™. Don’t get me wrong: Dog walks aren’t bad; they just don’t provide the flush and rush of endorphins that running offers.
Today on our walk, as the sun slipped away, streaking the sky with dazzling corals and blazing pinks, I noticed all the things I would know now if I were still running. We have a lot of new neighbors. The house on the corner is doing something new with their lights this year. Bold move. I wonder if they’ll get a ticket for that. That fluffy dog in the third cul-de-sac is new! And really loud. He’s big, but I think he’s a puppy. Little kids seem to live at this other house now. Let’s step over this pink scooter, and move it off the sidewalk, along with this tiny bike. It seems a lot of the houses have growing families, alive with little ones eager for a visit from the Jolly Ole Elf. “This way, Santa!” a homemade sign reads.
Up and down, up and down, the sidewalk of my neighborhood led us past one lovely surprise after another. There was a time when I knew every slab and joint of concrete, and every crack, crevice and dip that could twist an ankle. In spring, I knew which streets had the prettiest flowers. Ooh, I can grow that! No, no, you can’t. In summer, I knew which ones had the best shadows. I’m BURNING! In fall, I knew which street had the most dangerous acorns. NOT TODAY, NUTS OF SATAN!
And in winter, like today, I knew when it was 4:30 by the way the shadows fell, a backdrop for the twinkle of holiday lights, a quiet prelude to the Mumfords’ soaring horns and harmonies that would propel us up the Last Big Hill™ home.
Maybe I’ll know all this again one day and more.