Evening walks are worth the effort. I don’t know what it is about a good old-fashioned stroll, but I’ve been doing more of it lately the longer this pandemic goes on. I have a lot on my mind, I guess. Max needs to get out and take care of his business, so I go along for the peace of mind.
As soon as I step out the door, I have to fight the urge to turn around and head back inside. My glasses fog up so much I can’t see the steps down off the porch. I’m used to muggy. I was born in muggy. I have worked my whole life in muggy. But this is ridiculous. The outside half of the doorknob on the kitchen door is dripping in water.
“Good grief. It’s 8:00 in the evening”, I’m thinking. “Is it ever going to cool down?”
Max heads down the steps and waits to make sure I don’t change my mind. He’s a smart dog. I take my glasses off so I can see for a few minutes until the fog clears. Then we head up the hill.
I have a long gravel driveway. It’s about 1600 feet from the county road back through the woods to my house. On one side there are horses in a wooded pasture that belong to my neighbor. On the other side, my other neighbor is working on a dove field. By next week I’ll be dodging #8 shot being delivered by a 12 gauge at low flying birds.
I miss a good dove shoot. My Dad and I used to be regulars over at Jim Henderson’s place just on the edge of Hampton. John Maddox was Mr. Jim’s farm hand, and he would spend a lot of time getting that dove field ready. The Henderson’s didn’t really farm row crops. Like us, they had cattle. So, all the effort and money that went into brown top millet and corn and some well-placed rows of sunflowers was never about farming. It was about the dove shoot.
Add to that the cost of diesel fuel, maintenance on tractors, and John’s time, my Dad would often say, “Those are some pretty expensive birds we’re shooting. You put one down, you gotta find it.”
Max is checking out the horses. His hair is all bristled up on the back of his neck. His nose stuck between the strands of barbed wire. The horses don’t move. He woofs a little bit, but he stays on this side of the fence. He’s a 50 lb. scaredy-cat. The horses seem to know that.
As I walk along, I’m not trying to solve any big issues in life. I think about my son and my son-n-law both looking for work. I think about my youngest daughter and future son-n-law planning a wedding. I’m thinking, “I oughta cut that low hanging limb that nearly slaps me off the lawn mower every time I try to go under it.” I know that there are clean, fresh sheets on the bed, and I think about how good that is going to feel in a couple hours.
What I’m not thinking about is Covidgeddon. In fact, one of the reasons I have been taking these walks is to NOT think about how this craziness is starting to feel like it’s closing in around me. I’m not wearing a mask. I’m not making some decision about how to comply with guidelines at work. I’m not listening to news reports about deaths and statistics and riots and school systems working through the pandemic. For a few moments I’m not thinking about how much a virus has messed up our world.
It feels pretty good to think of much of nothing. To forget the bigger worries for a while. I find that I actually like to allow my mind to wander away from everything negative while I walk along. It’s not that I want to bury my head in the sand and pretend like nothing is going on. It’s just that I’ve had enough of it. I had enough of the news. I’ve had enough of the doom and gloom. I’m up to my eyeballs in a mugginess that’s not atmospheric.
By now Max has peed on at least 14 trees. He and I are a lot alike. His control is something for an old man to envy, but the frequency is familiar. We make the turn to head back toward the house.
Keep in mind that I am not walking for the exercise. Speed and distance are not the point. I meander. My stroll is more of an amble that carries my mind to distant places even though my feet do not travel any great distance.
I look at my neighbor’s barn and in my mind I am working with my Dad in the corral out back of our barn. The cows have been pushed up. It’s springtime. The Clover is tall and green, and the manure is in soupy puddles rather than dry piles. All the calves are hemmed up inside the pen waiting to be put through the pinch gate.
I never wanted to admit that I was nervous about the work. Dad was inside the pen with all the calves. I stood outside and worked the lever on the gate. My job was to catch each calf in the neck bar, put the nose clamp on, tie it off, and put tags in their ears and give them a shot in the meaty part of the neck. Dad was separating the calves and making sure that the bull calves would be singing soprano.
What had me nervous was the 600 lb. Mamas. The calves were bleating and baying for help, and their Mamas were stomping around with their noses pushed up against the board fence three feet away from me. Their bellows were loud and desperate. The smells and sounds and feel of it all comes back to me as I shuffle the gravel under my feet.
I have thought about building a barn of my own for years. Not that I have or ever will have any livestock. But a barn is something I have thought would somehow compliment my little place in the woods. I step off the drive and wander among the trees, Picturing how I could clear out a spot and how to turn off the drive to make access easy. A good shelter for the tractor. A place to store some of the stuff that is piling up on me. A place to piddle and build things rather than spending too much time on the couch. One day maybe.
My stroll is winding down. Max is wondering why I’m not heading for the porch steps. He stands at the bottom step and looks back at me. “Come on. It’s hot.” I can tell what he’s thinking. Even he has learned to appreciate the AC inside the house. The heaviness of the air out here hangs in the woods like a mist.
The older I get the more I think about what I’ve done with my life and what I should do with the rest of it that lies ahead. I weigh my successes and failures against the struggles and rewards. A friend just told me yesterday, “Your Mom and Dad would be proud.” I wonder if that’s true, or to what degree my life might actually measure up to a statement like that. It’s unknowable, I guess.
I know this. I am determined to make it through whatever this life throws at me without turning into a grouchy old man. On this walk I find a peace about the disappointments and uncertainties that always seem to be knocking at my door. I have a mate, a partner that holds me up. I have a faith that runs deep. I have a trust in our Creator that assures me of everything that is ahead of me.
I have a dog that is panting for a drink of water.
By the time I put my foot on the bottom step, Max has his nose pressed up against the door. He never lets me go in first. The air is cool, and the mugginess disappears.
“How are you boys? Did you have a good walk?” she says.
“We had a fine walk.”
Another day is in the books. I am renewed.