I was just a couple of blocks from home, when I ran into a guy getting out of a pickup with a Rhodesian Ridgeback and an English Bulldog.
He stuck out his hand. “Chris.”
I stuck out mine. “Paul.”
This was the way I liked my morning walks to go. Affability at every turn.
“I saw a Ridgeback over on the Shoal Creek trail the other day.”
“With a blond woman about thirty-something?”
I couldn’t affirm hair color or age, but the best I could tell, she was a woman.
“Probably this guy,” he said, motioning toward the Ridgeback. “I’m just taking care of him. He belongs to my sister-in-law. She’s over there a lot.”
This was getting better and better. A chance encounter and pleasant talk about nothing of much consequence.
“What’s his name?”
“No. Tenn. Short for Tennyson. Like the poet.”
“Really? How’d he get the name?”
“He’s a girl’s dog.”
“This one here,” he pointed at the Bulldog. “He’s my dog. Name’s Willie Nelson.”
I let it go.
A few blocks later, I took a moment to admire the Burr oak in front of the Austin Zen Center. The four-foot diameter of the oak and it’s dense, dark-green canopy, was appropriately Zen-like. It exuded calm.
On the next block, some tree guys were taking down a cedar elm. I’d walked under it many times and never noticed that it was dead.
“What killed it?” I asked the man on the ground. No answer. Maybe he couldn’t hear me over the sound of the chainsaw.
At the house next to the dead tree, there was supposed to be a black cat that Ann was getting to know. She had given me some treats for him. She said he would be sitting in a wood-slat, three-person swing that hung from a tree (a healthy post oak.) It wasn’t there, though. Probably scared off by the chain saw. Or maybe just annoyed by it. Cats are good at getting annoyed.
Using the pedestrian-controlled walk signal, I made it across busy North Lamar Boulevard without getting hit by red-light ignoring cars and descended to Shoal Creek and the lovely trail that runs beside it. At the moment, the creek was almost dry. That could change suddenly, though. Last week, a thunderstorm dropped an inch of rain in twenty minutes, and the creek rose up out of banks and over the trail and into surrounding streets before I finished my walk. Within two or three hours it reached a depth of twelve feet.
The regulars were all in their places. I could have called the roll, and few would have been absent. Joggers and bike riders and small groups of women huddled up in an area where dogs were allowed to be off leash. Their dogs chased each other around yapping and circling and doing a doggy version of shadow boxing, and the women chatted.
A lone woman and a dog approached from around a bend. Age had slowed her pace to hardly faster than standing still.
“That’s a good looking dog, ma’am.” He wasn’t. He was an ungainly, long-legged hound, a dog-pound special, who matched her in age and infirmity.
“I’ve only had him five weeks.” It was the precise calculation of a doting mother of a first baby.
“Does he like to go in the water?”
“Oh, I wouldn’t let him go in that water.” She made a face that indicated she had assessed the water quality of the stagnant pools that were here and there as not suitable for bathing, not even for dogs.
On my daily walks, I take different routes and usually cover about three miles. It seems like wherever I go, she and her dog are there. She covers a lot of ground – probably more than I do – puttering along, the dog right next to her, she talking to him quietly. I can hardly enjoy it for imagining the heartbreak that will follow one of them dying. Sometime before it’s too late, I’m going to introduce myself and walk with them for a while. Maybe tomorrow.
Fifty years ago, I would run from home to Shoal Creek then run the length of the path. Not very fast – fast was always beyond my capability – but I did run, and I was always trying to go faster and farther. It was ineffably delightful. Once in a while, I wish I could still do that. But not often. My Shoal Creek way these days has pleasures of its own.