Despite being born and raised in rural Maine, I’m not actually an outdoorsy person. Don’t get me wrong, I love the wild and the environment – I just think the best thing I can do for nature is to stay out of it, ideally in a cozy, climate-controlled environment. I was the weird bookish kid who was always excited for indoor recess. My parents dutifully took us camping when we were young, and I’m glad for the experience, but it’s not an experience I would currently choose for myself, if I had my druthers.

But I don’t have my druthers. I have no job and a 3-year-old dog who may in fact be a perpetual-motion machine. If we could somehow harness her boundless energy, we could solve the clean energy crisis.

I had Janey DNA-tested, and while she’s got about 10 different breeds floating around in her veins (she’s a real super mutt, 25 pounds and black-and-tan-and-white), none of them are hounds or pointers or hunting dogs. So I don’t know where she learned to point, but when she sees a bird, or something else that grabs her interest, she cocks up one front leg in a perfect triangle and leans forward with her snout. All I have to do is follow her nose-line, and I’ll see what’s caught her eye (and what she would catch, if I let go of the leash). It’s perfect bird-spotting season right now, since most of the leaves aren’t back on trees yet.

Fortunately, unlike our last dog (the late, great, six-toothed shih tzu, Louie), Janey seems solely interested in wild songbirds. She is more than happy to leave the pack of chickens in our neighborhood alone. (You might think that I mean a flock of chickens. No. Trust me, these chickens are a pack.)

And when Janey picks up a scent that she likes, she goes full bloodhound – nose to the ground, legs splayed, sniff-shuffling in a zigzag along the ground. That’s when our experiences of the world disconnect. Sometimes I can see what she sees, but I can’t smell what she smells (and I probably wouldn’t want to).

While she’s good at spotting animals, she’s not so good at deterring them. Just this week I’ve seen a porcupine and a fat, smug groundhog go waddling across the backyard like they own it.

I’m both lucky and blessed to live within a five-to-20 minute walk of the Saco River (depending on how many pee stops Janey takes along the way). Sometimes we go the easy path, right up to the water’s edge, and I sit for as many minutes of quiet, restful contemplation as Janey will allow me before whining that she’s bored, and can we keep walking already. (So, about 3½ minutes.)

Yesterday, Janey discovered the joys of mud puddles. Truly, a turning point in the life of any parent.

Other times, we go up and down the steep sides of the riverbank. It’s a high-risk, high-reward walk: better views, but more opportunities for me to sprain my ankle on a root or trip over a rock and fall off the (small) cliff into the river. (I take the precaution of a dog leash made of 12 feet of mountain-grade climbing rope.) Janey’s not interested in swimming, and neither am I, but she really loves clambering up slopes. I can’t say I feel the same, but a tired dog is a good dog, and relentlessly going up against gravity seems to be the key to getting Janey to flop onto the couch in the evening. Also, I’ve been doing a lot of pandemic-related stress eating, so I’m trying to head off that damage a little bit.

Technically I go walking in a park with trails, but it’s really more like a forest with vaguely defined paths. The walking paths are marked by blue and white paint swatches on the trees. They intersect, like a web. Sometimes I enter the woods and start on a blue path, only to exit on a white path. It can be hard to tell path from forest, where I’m supposed to be walking from where I actually am. Sometimes I get turned around, and then Janey points me in the right direction. And sometimes I show her where to go. (She has a real talent for wrapping herself around tree trunks.)

I go one tree at a time, one paint swatch to the next, and while I always end up walking a slightly different route each time, we always end up making it out of the forest.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: @mainemillennial


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: