Wednesday, November 10, 2010

#274: Walking at the Dog Park

Yesterday's blog scared my Mom, so first of all let me tell you that I've eaten several times today. I"ve also had about two liters of water already. No woozies.

My therapist has been encouraging me to practice "mindfulness." To use my senses to stay connected to the present. I tend to drift off in my mind, but paying attention to the things that I see and smell and hear can help me to stay in reality. So today, Jake and I walked around the dog park in Coldstream Park. There are several of these parks around Lexington, but Coldstream is my favorite. It is huge and rarely crowded. This makes it easy for the dogs to slip quickly into an organized pack, and also makes it easy for the humans to talk or avoid one another, depending on their temperament. (No surprise that the dogs always seem to get along better than the people. Maybe it's all that sniffing.) The park is 12 acres, divided in half so there's a fence between little dogs and big dogs.

It is hard to say how long the walking path is around the big dog side. I've never been able to use a pedometer because my middle jiggles too much. Using the satellite photos on MapQuest and one of my favorite Internet time wasting sites, MapMyRUN, I've estimated that it's about half a mile. If that's the case, Jake and I walked it twice around at 22 minute per mile pace, much better time than we did around the neighborhood.

I'm exagerrating for Jake a little. He only did the second lap with me. During my first lap, Jake was dogging it with the other hounds. Well, hounds and people. Jake has a classic Golden temperment and loves humans as much as canines. He will latch on to one of the people who come to the park and ignore me completely. Dog people tend to love him back because he's cute and friendly and very submissive with the other animals. Like his papa, Jake is definitely a lover, not a fighter.

Which is why I was so surprised when a gorgeous German Shepherd named Gretta took such an aggressive stance toward Jake. We had finished our mile and were resting on a bench when Gretta, her mama, and a little yippy dog named Diego came through the gate. Jake and I shared some water with them, and they went off running and playing together. Gretta and Diego's lady sat down next to me and we talked about our dogs. It became obvious pretty quickly that Jake was worn out. After a few minutes of wrestling and running, he came back to the bench, had a sip of water, then threw himself down at my neighbor's feet in his "Oh, God, I'm exhausted. Please love me," pose. It's a real heartbreaker, especially when he rolls his eyes up at you. So here's the picture. I'm sitting on the bench, drinking from the bottle of water the dogs and I were sharing. The lady is sitting to my left, with Diego between us, yipping to himself. And Jake is flopped down in the pose I just described. Sort of a white trash Norman Rockwell moment.

Gretta was furious. She was clearly not interested in sharing her family with anyone. She started barking and growling at Jake with some ferocity. Like an idiot, he laid in the dust with his head on his new best friend's shoe. The Shepherd barked and snapped. Your inclination in a situation like this is always to yell at the dog, trying to get them to calm down. Of course to the dog, it just seems like you are joining in with the barking. Jake finally got the hint and tried to get up, but Gretta pounced and knocked him down. Finally he rose and walked around the bench with her going ape behind him. When they came around to the front of the bench again, I foolishly stuck my hand between them. Gretta caught the back of my hand with her very large jaws. She was as surprised as I was. I don't think she actually bit me. More like I put my hand where her mouth happened to be going. I was left with a scratch, not a puncture, and we humans decided that it would be best to part.

As their name implies, Shepherds are built to protect helpless things. Jake is no guard dog. If anything, he is built to be a happy idiot. Goldens are delighted to jump into cold water and bring dead birds back to their masters all day long. Shepherds are more likely to be the ones guarding the gun rack. Jake seems to think of everyone as part of a pack. Gretta seemed to see him as an invader in her flock. As usual, everybody was getting along fine until they humans got involved. As for Diego, the whole scene seemed to puzzle her. Of course, a female named "Diego" is probably used to a certain level of confusion.

But back to this business of mindfulness. When I walk, my mind tends to drift. This is relaxing enough, but my therapist is encouraging me to work a little harder. He wants me to be more present in the moment rather than floating away on my imagination. I can't do this consistently yet, but I did practice coaxing myself back to reality as I walked around the dog park. I felt the cool air and the warm sun. I smelled the dust as the dry trail puffed up around my steps. I praised Jake when he walked along beside me without his lead. I heard the traffic as it passed by on the road beyond the trees, and I saw the patches of green grass still holding out against the November temperatures and the long autumn drought. I was sweating lightly and my thighs felt stronger than they actually are. It was a good walk.

About that feeling strong thing. I noticed during this morning's wake up rituals that my muscles have atrophied noticeably. I've always been big and not particularly muscular, but my arms and calves are a lot floppier than they used to be. I'm walking my way toward running and lifting again in the hopes of restoring my body. I'm hoping that doing those things with a greater sense of awareness will help me to restore my mind as well. Come to think of it, I wouldn't mind if I wound up fitter and saner than I was before I got sick. I may insist on it.



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