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Meandering with My Mutts: To love a dog


It’s a balmy April morning, sun competing with clouds, as Jesse, Noah and I head out to hike a less well known, hunters’ trail across from Nockamixon State Park. Our pace is leisurely and our outing of short duration to best accommodate Jesse.

This is a domain that speaks of previous habitation, patches of macadam peeking through grass and moss, and swaths of cultivated flowers once lovingly planted – grape hyacinth, narcissus and periwinkle.

But best of all, hidden within the undergrowth like a well-kept secret is a pond created long ago, rock lining the walls to capture a nearby stream. Marking the spot are giant Canada yews, evergreen shrubs not often encountered in this area. Yews are long-lived and toxic, which is why they came to symbolize life and death and were considered sacred in many traditional European cultures.

Despite their toxicity, Yews contain a valuable compound called Paclitaxel, which is the active ingredient in one of the world’s most valuable anticancer drugs.

Wildflowers line the way, including spring beauty with its delicate, pink-striped petals that remind one of peppermint candy. Leaf buds of most trees remain tightly clasped, awaiting the nurturing warmth of the sun, but the flowering pear bears its profusion of white blossoms, bumblebees bobbing about the blooms, enjoying a springtime meal.

In places the trail is narrow with intruding multiflora rose and wine berry briars that will make the way impenetrable come summer. We encounter several decrepit bridges along the way, each with a single beam intact and sturdy enough to provide safe crossing across flowing creeks.

During an earlier outing, Jesse and I crossed in nonchalant fashion only to turn and find Noah on the other side, the trepidation on his face and in his posture clearly communicating his thoughts: “Whoa, hey guys, you sure this is a smart thing to do?”

Today, however, Noah is a pro and he struts confidently across, leading the way. As usual, Noah is in his element, bounding over logs and leaping from boulder to boulder in a manner so gracefully athletic as to inspire awe. Ah, the vivacity of youth.

Jesse, once quite an agile fellow himself but now suffering from arthritis, looks to me to help boost him over logs that have fallen across the path. As our meander nears its end, Noah and Jesse pause to drink from a clear flowing stream.

I watch them as they stand there, side by side, representing two opposing positions on the spectrum of life – Noah at the dawn of life, Jesse in its twilight. An Erica Jong expression comes to mind: “Dogs come into our lives to teach us about love and loyalty. They depart to teach us about loss. A new dog never replaces an old dog; it merely expands the heart. If you have loved many dogs, your heart is very big.”

Cindy Woodall resides in Upper Black Eddy.