Walking My Dog

It’s April and in southern Ontario, that typically means showers for May flowers. But this is Toronto, so of course there’s a twist: it also means it’s time once again for the City to come ’round and see what havoc it can wreak into the environment outside my house.

Last year the City decided to rip up the boulevards, sidewalks and bits of front yards all to upgrade the water pipe infrastructure.

It all wrapped up by October, but it meant a very messy spring and summer complete with HUGE blue hoses down the streets and leading right up to the houses. Retrofitting is neither easy nor elegant.

This year, it’s the gas lines. We received letters in our mailboxes telling us that any damage to property WOULD be repaired. Right. Did I say retrofitting is neither easy nor elegant? Slabs of sod and tar are hardly return to original state, Department of Works…(just in case you’re listening). I am not prepared to sacrifice my front garden and hand-stacked retaining wall.

There’s no way to know: seems the guys that do the work only know their part of it, so we — me and my neighbours — are left wondering what’s happening when how and why. There’s no shortage of speculation: everyone has an idea, specially all the retired guys. Why is it that every sentence of their speculation begins with, “What they gotta do is…..”? Just wondering.

Me, I’m thinking I’ll wait to see what unfolds. There’s enough speculation going on in our world right now.

To date all that’s happened on my street and in front of my house is that ear-splitting cutting into the concrete sidewalk, leaving concrete dust everywhere. And the day after the cutting oh didn’t it rain, which mingled with the concrete dust to create huge mucky puddles of white mud, which is something Parker, the BIG BLACK STANDARD poodle always seems to be standing in. And oh, don’t his big spongy webbed paws — all FOUR of them — just vacuum up that white mud?  I don’t know why he is so SO grumpy about having his paws cleaned. No-one told him to stand in the mud. It’s curious though, his standing in the muddied WHITE concrete dust. He’s not one to stand in mud puddles.

Still, I suppose these infrastructure, retrofit, rebuild and changes are necessary: the years of infrastructure neglect due to years of political short-sighted silliness at all levels means that getting upgraded, fixed and properly metered is a good thing, even if the neighbourhood is a mess for a second spring, summer and fall.

This morning I experienced the upside of all of this.

Upside #1: Rocks and stones. I collect stones and rocks from places I visit in the world. As the boulevard is dug up and turned over, rocks and stones have surfaced. I’ve found some small, round rocks with smoothed grooves in them; one that seems to have some crystal quart in it and another that  is dark green-gray colour. They feel good in my palm and are happy discoveries made while walking Parker, who is very patient with me as I walk slowly choosing which rock or stone. He wants to see what I pick up and gives his sniff of approval when there’s one I want to take home

Upside #2: For some reason my dog feels he needs his privacy when he does his business on our walk. For the past number of years he has used the same place on the boulevard on the street behind mine. He ends up DEEP in the middle of a forest-like spot, full of bushes, grasses and ground cover. Cleaning up after him is challenging, never mind the fact that he turns into a walking pollinator, covered in plant seed stuff that sticks to his hair. (Poodles have hair and so do not shed fur like other dogs. Do NOT be fooled. They shed alright — dirt, leaves, feathers, mud and most importantly, love.)

Anyway, the city-contracted guys dug up Parker’s favourite business spot to do whatever it is they are doing, and all that’s there right now is a big square nothing but sandy clay. You should have seen Parker’s face when he stood in his usual spot. Dogs are pretty consistent so he KNEW he was in the right place. He was confused and looked at me with the tilted head quizzical look, ears forward, when he’s trying to figure things out.

I told him it’s ok, turned my back to give him his privacy and easily picked up after him. He kicked the dirt to cover his business, but being a city dog was not all THAT successful at it. I was very happy not to have to hunt down his droppings.

He bounced around in front of me then for a bit, feeling obviously lighter and totally adjusted to the fact that his bathroom screen (so to speak) had been removed.

I admired him; his ability to take changes into stride, and come through it bouncing and smiling. (Ever seen a standard poodle bounce? Whether that’s the sheep gene or bunny gene that HAS to be spliced in with poodle DNA I don’t know, but he is bouncy in a boing-boing kind of way). Poodles are inherently adaptable, which is one of the joys of sharing your life with one or two.

The other is walking. Our walks started as something to do so that he could do his business. But that’s changed. The whole goal-oriented walk thing was tossed the day he and I had a three-hour test of wills in the park on an astonishingly frigid Christmas Day when he was two years old.

Riverdale Park on the east side is quite big. This particular day it was covered in ice and snow. It was me and Parker until some guy showed up who was mildly interested in what was going on and agreed to help me  get Parker. But when he wondered why all dog owners stand with arms outstretched like Christ calling their dogs I wondered about the wisdom of having him around. Parker must have gotten cold all of a sudden, or changed his mind when he saw icicles of frustration tumbling down my cheeks. He came trotting over to get back into the car JUST as my ears, nose and eyelashes were about to fall off.

After that, I decided to walk him with no agenda, no schedule. Just time to do whatever: hang out, see what’s going on, have some fun.

Over the years it seems that walking with my dog has become a quiet time, a sort of meditation practice, to focus, to see what’s there, and to be there, only there, walking and being with my dog, adapting to changes, infrastructure retrofitting and mess that sometimes happens in life, in the neighbourhood and in me.

Parker smiling at me across the table at Paws-A-While cafe in Toronto, the only cafe in Toronto where dogs are welcome


About FS

Toronto, Canada. Writing about slices of life, the moments and minor details of which come into awareness or out of imagination and the spaces inbetween.
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