Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Get yer wellies on!

One of my favorite things to do when I visit my parents is walk their dog, Cassie.

(Please, whatever you do, don't tell my cat.)

Cassie is 15 and stone deaf. It takes her a while to sit down, and you can almost hear her joints creak as she does. But when we go for walks, she bounces along like a puppy.

Her usual circuit is along Billingham Beck, one of my childhood haunts. The beck is a narrow stream that curves around fields and through woody glades. Back around 900 AD, apparently, Vikings sailed up the beck and settled the area. I've always had trouble imagining those enormous longships maneuvering up what is now a six-foot-wide, three-foot-deep channel.

As a kid, I used to climb through overgrown undergrowth in spring, looking for seasonal pools of tadpoles and baby frogs, pondskaters and sticklebacks. The area is now a funded nature park with planned pathways and neatly maintained bridges. It still feels wild and rural, but there's no longer a need to thrash through nettles and blackberry thorns to get from one side to the other.

The best time to go is early in the morning, when the air is fresh and the rabbits are lively.

First you have to put your shoes on. (Before she went deaf, Cassie could be thrown into walkies mode by the phrase "Get your wellies on!" Now you have to mime the act of pulling on rubber boots. She'll still wait patiently for you to finish.)

This is where you start.

Follow the path down the hill and across the bridge.

Walk alongside the beck and play one of Cassie's favorite games: Wood-chipper. It's a lot like Fetch, in that you throw a stick and she chases it;

but with the extra wrinkle that she then attempts to shred the stick into tiny pieces before you can catch up with her.

Keep going; you might catch the scent of a fox or see a pair of magpies. After a couple of left turns, there's another bridge:

and then you're on a shaded path lined with ancient ferns and oversized wild rhubarb and trees shooting swordlike branches toward the light.

And then over another bridge--this one high above the water.

Follow the path on the right-hand side. Say hi to the horses if they're around (they'll come say hi to you anyway).

And then back up the hill.

If you want, you can play Cassie's other favorite game: Lazy Fetch. Throw a ball up the hill and she'll chase it, grab it, and then drop it on the path so it rolls back down to you. She's smart: why should she bother bringing you the ball when you're just going to throw it back uphill again?

And then back home to rest.

And have breakfast (you, not the dog).

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