a field trip with Phoebe

I found this quote a few weeks ago and it made me curious…

Ever wonder where you’d end up if you took your dog for a walk and never once pulled back on the leash? ~Robert Brault

Living in a city neighborhood this is a practical impossiblity. Too much traffic, too many other dogs, and lots of little kids. Let’s face it, my dog’s size can be intimidating. What if I could try this somewhere else? Somewhere less crowded during this time of year.

Phoebe loves the car! Whenever we begin our walk to the park she always stops by the car…just in case. She gives it a smell, looks at me, then looks back at the car, and we march on. Imagine her surprise when I opened the car door! Without a moments hesitation she stepped right in and sat down. Today we were taking a field trip, a field trip to the Evanston lakeshore.

For the half hour drive to the lake, Phoebe happily propped her head out the window, jowls flapping in the breeze. As we arrived, parked the car and made our way to the beach, once again, she sat. She seemed to need a moment to look at and take in all of the open space. Little did she know I was not going to pull back on the leash. Today she would walk me. Since she was a puppy, Phoebe has loved sand, water and open space. I could tell she was pleased with our destination! She finally stood up, put her nose to the sand and we were off.

We moved back and forth, over here and over there, around in a circle until we stood close enough to the lapping water. Phoebe froze – looking, smelling, listening and then she began to slowly tiptoe in. I was surprised because the water at the lake is still very cold. She managed to walk in up to her belly.

imageAs I continued to follow her lead, there were many sights that caught our attention – another dog running along the beach, some artwork in the sand, an opening in some boulders along the shore and the big watermelon boat already out for the summer. We spent many long pauses because Phoebe likes to study things.
I was happy in my choice of footwear for this guided walk. It turned out to be the perfect day to wear a pair of boots, because our hike took us through water, sand, grass, crushed gravel, cement, and atop some small boulders.

The natural path along the Evanston Lakeshore leads north to Northwestern University’s Campus. There has been a lot of construction on the campus for the last three years, closing parts of this path. I was happy to see the path reopened. There are two new buildings and a sailing center at the south end of campus overlooking Lake Michigan. They are all beautiful and seem to complement the lakescape. At the end of the walkway, looking to the south – a great view of the Chicago skyline. We continued to the north end of campus and the soccer field, Phoebe paused once when she could hear a flute by the Music building.

When it was time to turn around, we walked back through the open grassy field that runs along the lakeshore. As luck would have it the clouds began to break and the sun came out! We moved in a southward zigzag pattern, from smell to smell. I was still letting her guide us in a roaming kind of walk.  As we approached the car, Phoebe seemed happy to reach a familiar destination. I poured out some water and she had a nice long drink!

What a great 4 mile walk! What an awesome walking partner! I had a lot of fun letting Phoebe walk me for a change.image


sunrise walk with phoebe


This past week, my big dog Phoebe and I happened upon the sunrise. There it was, the fire in the east sky on a very cold morning. She looked at me while we were walking as if to say “C’mon Mom, it’s already started! Let’s get going.”

She was right. It was an awesome sight and I had the feeling of being drawn to an incredibly large campfire in the distance.

As Phoebe happily smelled her way through our walk, catching up on the latest nocturnal news, I noticed a peace and stillness about the frigid morning. So quiet, I had to settle my loud thoughts.

Even though we’ve walked this path a million times, something about the purples and pinks mixed with the frosty air and sharp cold drew me in. I felt like I was in a church, a reverent, graceful nature church. All around me, an abundance of deep orange calm was silently melding with the passion of purple. Secret winks of cheery pink nestled below a bashful ocean of blue. Yellow…bright flickering yellow waking the horizon and my soul.

Since the cold began, I haven’t been out for my usual “dawn of the day” walk. Today I am grateful for the reminder of… how much a beautiful sunrise can warm me from the inside out; how the peace and stillness of the outdoors can steady me for the day ahead; and how my senses can awaken my soul to the beauty of one single solitary moment on this Earth.

i’ll be there for you…

IMG_2661This is Phoebe.

Phoebe is my ultra quirky, one hundred and twenty pound majestic Saint Bernard. She is three years old, and still has the mind of a puppy. She and I walk at least a couple of times a day.

Walks are never boring with Phoebe. They are slow, ‘in the moment’ and sometimes very unpredictable. Did I mention she was quirky? Oh yeah, I did. Well, here’s an example of what I mean by that…when most dogs see another dog they quicken their pace to try to get to it, to say hello or socialize as dogs do. Not Phoebe. When Phoebe sees another dog she mechanically goes into “sit” mode and I can’t move her, budge her, coerce her, or divert her incredibly powerful focus. She becomes the most stubborn Saint Bernard on the planet and she’s not moving. With her laser beam eyes glued to the ever approaching target, and her mountainous strength firmly planted, we wait. We watch and we wait.

The other dog owners think I have this precisely trained, oh so polite, well disciplined animal. Nope. She came this way and I guess I shouldn’t complain because there are far worse habits – sometimes. Every once in awhile we come across the unfamiliar owner and dog. What this means is…the on-coming dog doesn’t always think she is mindful and mannerly. I guess in dog world (like everywhere else), there are those culturally diverse canines who interpret her stately and dignified posture as an intimidating challenge. This is when we have problems – (strained biceps tendinitis problems for me)  and awkward “what emotion am I supposed to have right now” for her, as I try to hold her and her crushed feelings back when the dog she has patiently waited for –  goes into attack mode. Amid the commotion, the embarrassed Mom in me comes out as I apologetically try to explain her behavior to the frightened owner. I know she meant well, only wants to “meet” a new friend, she just can’t help or doesn’t have a concept of her monumental size.


All that to say… I am very grateful this week because… my big, beautiful Saint Bernard has a new friend. Her name is Peaches. Peaches is a tiny, fur ball of hyperkinetic energy who loves Phoebe and never goes into attack mode as Phoebe sits and waits for Peaches to come by and say hello! Once Peaches arrives, she looks up at Phoebe’s grand, noble head as if to say “whoa!”


This causes my highly sensitive and sweet Phoebe to lay down, as they greet on common ground nose to nose. Here, in this moment, I am a super proud Saint Bernard Mom.

Inevitably, Peaches will use Phoebe’s head as a glorious jungle gym, and Phoebe won’t mind one bit. Peaches will jump onto and climb over Phoebe’s awe inspiring head, all the while wagging her tail in absolute celebration of her new best friend! I am happy, Phoebe is happy and Peaches seems to be the most happy little puppy in all the neighborhood! Cue Friends music!


walking the dog, sexy and the stones

As everyone in my neighborhood can probably guess, I love to walk my big Saint Bernard, Phoebe.

I found this very early video of the Rolling Stones. It is adorable. Only Mick could sing about dog walking and make it sexy! Have a look and enjoy…


Now, if you don’t own a dog, you might just wanna go get one. Maybe you can borrow one, just to get yourself outside. For those of us owners…a little bit of inspiration for that walk. You never know who or what you’ll see!


Walking the dog
I’m just a walking the dog
If you don’t know how to do it
I’ll show you how to walk the dog
C’mon now c’mon

Read more: Rolling Stones – Walking The Dog Lyrics | MetroLyrics


What’s wrong with me? Why do I feel bittersweet about the end of an extreme, history making Chicago winter?

As I walk with Phoebe through Brook’s Park, I can see the snow is melting. I should be 100% happy. Within the past two days of over 40 degree temps, the feet have dropped to inches and beyond. There is green, black and brown color seeping back into my world. The weather is improving.


The Robins have returned, they populate the red berry trees and the remnants of stained, crimson snow beneath. To be sure, their puffed up, tawny brown chests are a welcome Spring sight.

From Annclaire G. - I was feeling sorry for the Robins with all the berries gone down here in the flats. I raided the freezer. They love the raspberries, even though it makes them look like carrion. Dried currents are not as exciting. They sent out the message because suddenly there were over a dozen in our yard.
But, what is it with me? A pang of sadness, as I walk with Phoebe through our park. That’s it – “our” park! I fear a time has passed. This winter has been so extreme that the park has been empty for much of it. On most days, Phoebe and I were the only diehard visitors around. Together we made memories, our lone footsteps and paw prints, frozen in the ice and snow for months. We used our prints as trail markers to navigate around a deserted landscape. Like the ice, all are disappearing, fading away like magic.
As we walk through on this day, I can barely see the last remaining belt marks from the nighttime snowmobiler. The tracks left behind suggest the mysterious craft zoomed around the park in the midnight hour, long after everyone in the neighborhood had gone to sleep. Leaving behind a morning memory, revealed as a belt-cut path through the deep snow, something only a machine could make. Phoebe loved to find it and hop onto it, following the packed path around and through the middle of the Park. She liked to follow it with her nose and I liked to follow her because my feet didn’t sink into the snow.
snowmobile tracks

Just over there, the tall hills of plowed snow are shrinking. They are no longer towering over my head. Earlier in the winter, as the snow piles grew, Phoebe was fond of climbing up to the top. There she would sit, looking out over the park like a sentry. Sometimes, I would summit and sit with her. In the cold, bright silence of many sub-zero mornings, we were the only ones out and we had the world to ourselves. Such peace.

phoebe on hill

Then, there are the fading footprints. The tiny prints of squirrels and rabbits, the larger boot prints of dog walkers and dogs, clues for me, revealing what Phoebe anxiously sniffed and tracked in the snow. Only during this season, could I see what’s usually invisible.  The snow highlighting the concealed secrets of trapped scents.


My memories of this particular winter in the park are melting away.

My first winter in retirement – what a record breaking, memorable and unforgettable experience. I am grateful for the gift of time – I was able to get out “in the day” to experience the best it had to offer.

I was also very lucky – to have seen it through the eyes of a snow loving, curiosity seeking, playful young  Saint Bernard!

phoebe snowMy Phoebe Snowdog


On occasion my walk takes place at dawn with my dog – and in the morning stillness it’s brand new.

This morning I shared a walk in the park with Phoebe my young Saint Bernard. Trying to be present in the moment, I focused on her and was absorbed by what she engaged with on our walk. There was frost on the grass- some of the first of the season, and she was happy. She had a smile on her face from ear to ear as she looked at me then broke out into a galloping run, circling around me at the end of the radius of her leash. When she finally stopped after about 4 laps, panting and happy, her breathe came out on the air in little puffs. She then dove into the frosty grass and wiggled around on her back for quite a few seconds. Her reverie ended with her righting herself up and into a standing position, giving a good shake of her lanky body and then looking at me with happy eyes as if to say “thanks Mom, we can go now.”

As we continued through the park the sky began to lighten and fill with various shades of purple and orange color. There was a wind whipping around and through the trees, yellow and red leaves were snowing down upon us. In between smells, Phoebe would look up, catch site of a swirling leaf and chase it, pawing the leaf when it landed as if she were a cat coaxing it to move again. Together, we walked for about a mile and  for me, seeing the morning through Phoebe’s eyes was so simple and happy and beautiful I never wanted this dawn to end.

No matter how many times I walk through this park it is never the same for me.