Thursday, January 06, 2011

Year of the Dog Walk

Mornings are dark in January, particularly at 5 AM. After the coffee is brewed, mukluks laced, warm hat, jacket and
gloves donned, I am ready. I don’t need to call the dogs; they sprang from their beds at the first sound of my jacket zipping and are standing expectantly at the door, tails wagging.

We'll walk together, as we do each morning, unleashed, through the starlit, snowy streets of our small neighborhood. The houses slumber in darkness, greeted by the soft snuff-snuff of Gus’s nose hunting delightful doggie smells deep in the snow banks. My hands clasp the ceramic mug. Its penetrating warmth provides a much needed assist to my fleece gloves, while coffee tickles my nose with steam. It’s tranquility, stolen before the onslaught of each day.

My neighborhood is a dog-neighborhood. It’s also a kid-neighborhood, which pretty much goes hand-in-hand with a dog-neighborhood, as far as I can tell. Dogs and kids run loose, and we like it that way. We’re mostly full-time residents—no vacation homes—and we don’t have much in the way of fancy landscaping for any of them to trample. So, walking the dogs during daylight hours is frequently a social experience: throw a football with a kid; share a beer with a neighbor; help someone shovel the steps; divert your path to join someone else’s walk. And if there are no human friends out and about, you’re certain to be joined by at least a few doggie-friends who will gladly add their number to the roaming pack.

At the end of my street is a plowed road with no houses, leading up to a beautiful view of Donner Lake. It’s about a quarter mile one-way, and it’s the destination for most winter dog walks, when darkness and snow are prohibitive to longer hikes. It’s on this road where I have gotten to know my neighbors.

It was late in 2009 when I envisioned a photography experiment: Take a photo of that Donner Lake view every time I walked the dogs, developing a collection that would show the changing conditions of the seasons.

The Year of the Dog Walk was born.

And, as often happens when I begin a new project, I began with enthusiasm. Most winter dog walks happen in darkness (before and after work), but I brought my camera along on every weekend walk. I greedily harvested pictures through January, February and March. I was especially interested in shots that showed weather, since I knew that summer’s arrival would bring with it an unchanging landscape of blue water, green trees and cloudless blue sky. I decided pictures of simply the view might not hold enough interest, so I tried to take pictures of friends and dogs encountered on walks, to give a sense not so much of the seasons and landscape, but of the joy of the dog walk itself.

And, as often happens when I get to the middle of a project, I got bored and lazy. The month of May garnered me zero pictures. June: one, July: zero, August: zero, September: one. I didn’t get a single picture without snow on the mountains.

But, the saving grace of procrastinators is that we are deadline-driven. And, (as often happens when a deadline approaches) I snapped photos with a renewed vigor as the year neared its close. I even managed to gather most of them from the various folders on my husband’s and my computers and throw them together into a slideshow.

To be honest, I can’t say that it turned out as I had hoped, although it was a fun project. For me, it doesn’t do enough to capture the experience. I love the dog walk because it can connect me with those who share life in this beautiful setting. It can also provide a meditative renewal, a beautiful contrast to the challenges of life. Unlike running, where I’m keeping a close eye on the footing of the trail, walking allows the particular freedom to look around and appreciate the beauty of the mountains. The enthusiasm of the dogs is contagious as they romp and play in the snow, and every time I gaze out on that view, I smile and know just how lucky I am.

The photos I've already included give a pretty good feel for what you'll see in my project, but if you enjoy pictures of snowy landscapes, feel free to click "play" on the full slideshow below.


  1. Absolutely beautiful, Gretchen! I loved watching every minute of it. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Love it. Dogs make life so awesome, don't they? You're such a beautiful lady, Gretchen!

  3. Such a beautiful post :)

    Love the slideshow, and love that you picked Brett Dennen for the tunes! I'm pretty sure you live in heaven :)

  4. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful! You must never move. There is no way you could ever come close to that place you live!

    My dog, in striking contrast to yours, must be physically manhandled from his bed, which usually involves dumping him out from his butt end and forcing him onto his feet. He is never happy about this, but usually looks up at me at the end of our cold morning runs and says, "Thanks for getting me out. That was a great run."

  5. Kathy - Thanks for watching!

    Meghan - Yup, dogs definitely help scare the blues away. Thanks.

    Paige - Yay Bret Dennen! It is beautiful here, isn't it? :)

    Pam - I like to think about moving sometimes, but truthfully, I don't see it happening. And the dog walk is definitely one of those things that reminds me how good I have it.

    That's pretty funny about your dog. I can't imagine. At least he's grateful!

  6. I suspect our neighborhoods are similar - but here's the kicker when you live in the National Park: our puppy dogs have to be leashed at all times! Can you imagine? A Mountain Town where you have to leash your doggies at all times? And we don't have an off-leash area. The poor local park wardens have their jobs cut out for them. Our national park Wildlife - big and small - get priority treatment. The elk, bears and yes, even the squirrel's can exist without fear of being harassed. Even if you have to have your dog on a leash - I love the social aspect to the dog walk. Historically, we've met and made some friends who were cool enough to keep! The dogs come and go, but the people stay.

  7. What a fantastic idea, and I love the final product, even without the summer shots. You're so right about the meditative value of dog walking. And you're so lucky to have such photogenic surroundings yearround.

  8. Leslie - Actually, I can agree that there are times dogs should be leashed. Wildlife shouldn't be harassed, nor should people. Kind of a pain though, ya know? ;)

    Anne - Thanks! I am totally lucky.