One of the last gifts my dog gave me was a lesson in leisurely strolling. No longer energized with a youthful bounce in her steps, she walked in slow, rigid movements. Arthritis and assorted ailments had changed her pace, but not her excitement about life.
When she was a puppy, she was a sort of guardian of the grass. She barked and paced at whatever new object or stranger appeared on it, her home turf. It didn’t matter that we shared the land with the other apartment dwellers.
When someone left a grocery cart on the grass, she barked.
When a new “Residents Only” parking sign appeared on a pole in the ground, she barked.
When any creature pretended that they belonged there, she barked. The wild gray rabbits, like statues with twitching noses, did not fool her.
She even barked at the fallen snow that was hiding her beloved grass. When first stepping outside after a snowfall, she took me to where the grass had last been. She looked down and slowly pulled one paw across the snow’s surface and sniffed. She barked several times at the snow. Then, she dug furiously, left and right paws going deeper and deeper, until green blades popped up. She rolled her snout and face in the little wet patch of grass she uncovered. Then, she stood, snorted and smiled, her cheeks and forehead caked with snow.
Now, at 15 years old, she still adored and protected the grass, but more like a night watch security guard doing patrols and deciding if she needed to have a closer look.
Large, white mushrooms sprang up one morning on the grass, like unexpected visitors. Nikki paused to look. I wondered if she would get closer and smell them, but she kept her distance and stared. These visitors were new to us and this location. August rains had brought them, and the weekly mowers would soon take them away.
In Nikki’s younger years, she would have given these mushrooms a loud welcome and warning to behave.
In her younger years, her body bursting with energy, she would have run, chased and dug around these mushrooms.
In her younger years, she would have pulled me on to the next new adventure in the neighborhood — all the dogs, cats, ducks and geese waiting to be discovered just around the corner. All the flowers and trees yet to be smelled.
Now, she used her energy in quiet ways, in long gazes, in reflection perhaps or at least with happy thoughts. Glancing at her face during these long stares, I saw a smiling dog.
She taught me to walk slowly too, to patiently stop when she did, and to be curious about all the grass held.
Now, after several minutes with the mushrooms, she turned back toward me, her warm, brown eyes looking into mine.
“Nature is a wonder. How can I not appreciate it?”
The words floated in the air – the mantra of an aging canine guardian of the grass.