When I first moved to a condo on the Detroit river eight months ago, I was so excited about being able to take my pug, Bernie Mac, to the park directly behind the building. It wasn’t long before I realized that while the building permits pets under twenty-five pounds, they are not very accommodating. The rules state that the pet’s feet can never touch the building’s grounds. Bernie is so humorous to me in so many ways and sometimes I think he knows it. Not long after moving to our present home, I realized that his ability to make me laugh until tears roll down my cheeks, is a primary reason I can leave my comfortable abode, pile on layers and layers of clothing on cold winter mornings, or even colder winter evenings, stuff him into his carrier, and out to the street without complaint.
Twice each day, I lift Bernie (who has ballooned to 34 pounds) into his carrier and wheel him to a freight elevator, out of the building and to the back gate. I lift him again to get him beyond the locked gate to the street behind the property. By the time we get out, Bernie is so thrilled to be free of those constraints where he can run free to urinate wherever he chooses. I can appreciate that since I can’t remember the last time I had to wait on someone else before I could relieve myself. Once outside, we have a regular routine where he runs to the end of the leash, marks a few places and waits for me to ask, “Want to go to the Park?”
When we first moved here, we thought the beautiful park behind our building belonged to us. I could let Bernie off his leash to run and explore the 10+ acres until he was out of breath. I would run through the grass after him and watch as he lapped from the icy cold river. But it wasn’t long before we realized that others knew of this lovely little not so secret haven and not only brought their dogs, but allowed them to use it with no sensibility of keeping it clean. Once I witnessed a man with four dogs (one a Great Dane) using the park as their personal toilet without cleaning up after them and realized Bernie and I would have to make some adjustments. I’m glad Bernie doesn’t know that we are already in a park when I ask him that question, now. Because if he knew, I would have to come up with a qualifier, like, park number two or, park at the other end of the block, or, park with the winding asphalt paths, or park with the children playing on the brightly painted swings, or, park where the fishermen gather, or park where the rabbits live under the low hanging fir bushes, etc.
Instead, he just makes his way from the park behind our condo down the hill into the street where we march, him out front, to the park at the opposite end of the block. We joyously make our way past some of Detroit’s prime real estate; huge mansions with pillars and winding front driveways. Some of the houses still host descendents of the richest, most powerful, industrialists of the Midwest. Bernie wobbles with his head up high as if he belongs nowhere except here at this precise moment in time. As we make our way, he marks the light posts that I permit ensuring that he never violates our neighbors’ beautiful old landscapes. I normally walk behind Bernie because he can’t seem to get it through his head the proper order of things, even after graduating doggie kindergarten.
It Just Occurred to me that on this particular morning as I observed him walking to the park with his cute little wobble, totally oblivious to anything except the joy of being, I realized that humans lost something vital when we ‘evolved’ from instinctual creatures to the thinking (worrying), creative (destructive), independent (codependent) beings we have become. I can walk Bernie before the sun rises or after it sets and he has absolutely no concept that we are walking down the streets of the nation’s most dangerous city. Or, that the body of little Bianca Lily Jones – missing since her dad said she was abducted during a car-jacking, may be hidden among the crags along the Detroit river. Or, that the perpetrators of any number of crimes that occurred the night before may be sitting in a car looking at the starlit sky above the river. I, on the other hand, while not one to walk in fear either, am ever vigilant and aware of my surroundings and the creepy possibilities wrought by members of my evolved species.
When we approach the park, I hear the rabbits scurrying beneath the bushes, signaling to me, along with the robins playing feverish love games alongside black squirrels with red fluffy tails earnestly plumping their nests, that spring is neigh. As we make our way along the winding, lushly landscaped path, we witness a majestic pheasant dragging a long tail feather behind, slowly making its way beyond the fence lining the park on the right. When we turn parallel to the river, we notice a beautiful, sable-colored ball of fur with a long slender tail, intently chewing on something in the grass. Bernie sees the ball of fur before me because I am enthralled by the seagulls who appear to float on air, all wings with tiny bodies and even tinier brains. What must that be like, I marvel, to linger on the wind, mid air, to turn on a whim, with such beauty and grace toward any destination of their choice? Gliding to Canada for a few hours, or the top of the bridge for a better view, along the rails of the doc, or on a park bench? When Bernie stops in his tracks to observe the ball of fur, I notice it too initially thinking, “Wow, that color is beautiful, how many would it take to make a coat?” I know, that is barbaric, but it is true.