Whenever my morning begins, it starts with a cobweb clearing walk down the dirt road on which I live, accompanied by my Great Pyrenees Cross, Murphy. This is a part of our routine that I established early in our association to substantiate my authority. We always walk using the leash at that time, so I (mostly) determine where and at what speed, and he is mostly compliant by necessity. He gets a longer afternoon walk (or walks, if he plays his cards right and persuades Ann to take him before I do) off-leash so he can roam freely and run in the woods and he’s free to go wherever between times. This is my compromise for his basic nature which is to be a highly predatory guard dog. Lucky for Murphy we have acres of woods and all the closest neighbours are out of sight and downhill.
We used to do the early walk up the road to the end of the town-serviced part, then into the neighbours’ woods where I let him off-lead. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t always meet me at the end of the loop to leash up again, and would find his own way home, which he knew very well. This way would sometimes lead him through the neighbours’ yard where he would give a quick chase of the cat if it was in the yard, and he might loom at the ninety-plus-year-old woman who lives there, if she happened to be at the door. This behaviour resulted in banishment from those woods, so now we go down the road in the other direction, most of the way to the main road, and return. It’s not more than a mile but it can take as long as forty-five minutes because of Murphy’s nature.
In Murphy’s mind we are on morning patrol, checking the neighbourhood for any untoward activity. Doing any ‘business’ is not a major part of his agenda. He is checking out who has been by in the night and what is going on downhill from our domain. So a walk with Murphy involves a lot of standing around while he sniffs with great particularity and then maneuvers to get the perfect angle so as to leave his mark. The first half can go faster but the return is excruciatingly slow. This is probably exacerbated by the fact that by the turnaround point I’ve woken up and figured out what my day will entail and I’m ready to get on with the making of porridge and coffee so I can get the rest started. So my pace quickens as his slows. He always falls behind ( my other neighbours have commented that it looks like I’m dragging him on the walk) and I’m constantly exhorting him to ‘come on, let’s go.’ If I stop he will often sit in his upright guard dog position and begin to actively sift through all the scents coming from all directions.
He really is not happy walking and sniffing and I get bored standing around so last summer I started bringing my iPod Touch with me so I could read while we stood. What do you call a walk that is mostly not walking? This has improved things. I’m not constantly pulling him and nagging to move and what’s not to like about reading while walking?
Now it’s winter and my fingerless gloves are not enough in the sub-freezing temps in the morning so I paused my other knitting projects to make some iPod mittens. I just needed access to my thumbs to turn the pages, so I made these with a slit in the thumbs and then picked up stitches and knit a flap over the hole so that I won’t get any draft. I can keep only one thumb out and tuck it in my mitt while I’m reading. I thought of making it so that the whole thumb would flip off but I thought that might make it too easy and as a result, drafty, so that’s why this slightly odd, but functional style.
I tried them out this week. It was −10C for our morning walk. I have a full length down coat and wool felt-lined pac boots so I can stand around all day and be warm. We sauntered down the road, Murphy examining with great attention to detail and me reading. At one point he stopped to pay attention to whatever scents were wafting up the hill toward us across a wild field. I stopped and continued to read not really paying attention. I might have stood there five or ten minutes; engrossed in a book, I lose track of time. I finally noticed that we hadn’t moved in a while so I turned to look at Murphy and he was sitting, looking down the road from whence danger would come, the quintessential guard dog. I burst out laughing. Was I stopped for him, or he for me? He looked at me as if to say, well, are you ready? And we resumed the walking part of the walk.