Pandemic Puppies

At least half the dogs in our neighbourhood these days are less than a year and a half old.

The pandemic puppy phenomenon did not pass us by around here, and every day as we go for our walks in the rain, shine, epic heat or brutal cold, we encounter so many other of these pandemic pups in the park.

Pups who have neither care nor concern that the very pandemic that forged virtually every aspect of their lives to date still has a lingering subtle effect on their human companion’s day-to-day.

Some day, maybe even soon, things will go back to normal… ish.

But maybe not quite yet.

March Melt in the River Valley

So desperately am I looking forward to two things: being able to travel further than my neighbourhood and the now-six-month-old puppy being able to tackle a long hike.

Adventure journal.

The spring is being generous to us this year.

Last year (and I remember this specifically because it was the first couple weeks of local lockdown and I was keenly aware of the weather and the time I spent outside because of being stuck at home) we had a slow, wet March melt.

The snow lingered. The ice slipped up the sidewalks. Regular dustings of snow teased a late spring.

And I didn’t yet have a six month old puppy who needed long daily walks.

I live in a city of almost a million people, but I doubt more than ten thousand of them delve very deep at all into our local wilderness.

The local municipal government made some smart decisions a number of years back and created a kind of zoning exclusion to private development along the river. There are some houses and properties grandfathered in, but for nearly fifty kilometers of river it is managed wilderness, threaded with asphalt paths, single track trails, foot bridges, parking access, picnic areas, and boat launches. The single connected system has been calculated to be twenty-two times the size of Central Park in New York City.

And we live a ten minute walk from any of about six nearby access points.

I Took the Afternoon Off.

The dog needed a long walk as much as I did.

We slipped into one of the lesser known river valley access points, the kind where you step onto a gravel trail between some houses tucked into the back corner of the neighbourhood, then your take the left fork away from the main trail and out into what seems to be a small strip of unused agricultural land, follow a narrow single track trail into the trees and then wander your way down a moderate descent to the main asphalt path.

I’ve walked (or run) it a hundred times.

It was new territory for the pup.

And I was being cautious, of course.

The pup is still not fully grown, and she’ll always be somewhat small. Evidence of coyote scat leftover from the winter was all over the place. I’ve seen the wild hounds out there a few times, too. She wouldn’t make much more than a snack for one of them, though they’d be fighting me tooth and nail to get ahold of her. Fortunately they didn’t seem to be lurking nearby and are generally timid critters. We’re going to have an encounter eventually, though. It’s their habitat and I built my house on it. But it doesn’t mean we don’t keep a couple pairs of eyes and ears on alert even when we’re enjoying our walk.

The ground was squishy and the air was fresh.

As I said he March melt has been particularly generous to us this year. The temperatures were in the mid-teens and the wispy clouds let enough sunshine through to make the day more than enjoyable, particularly after that long, long winter.

But mounds of unmelted snow still huddled in the shady bits.

And the ground was soft and soggy where drainage was less cooperative.

The mud caked on my pant cuffs and also in the tuffs of fur around the pup’s ankles.

We trekked down through my familiar route, into the valley and meeting up with the trail where more people had the same Friday afternoon idea as I.

Five kilometers later we had circled back to the house, both tired but refreshed from the spring air, and had a small collection of photos to swipe through as we dozed together on the couch.