This morning, I decided to mix up my routine. I needed to take my van to be doctored and instead of accepting the usual courtesy ride home, I brought along Tanner, my beloved German Shepherd Dog, so he and I could enjoy a summer morning walk. My motives were multiple. The beautiful morning air lured me outside. I figured I could use some exercise and natural Vitamin D. And, most importantly, in a household with multiple dogs, I was craving some Tanner time. Alone, just the two of us, a girl and her dog. I figured that the leash and experiences that connected us during this outing would help us forge an even closer bond.
With the van checked in, Tanner and I set out. The route back home is straight and busy, a concrete jungle of commercial buildings, roadways, and traffic. But with Tanner by my side, I chose the road less traveled and found myself meandering through the neighborhoods of South Chico, an area bordered by the main road I travel daily, but with an interior I had never fully explored. Initially, I had planned to walk at a power pace, but when I left the busy corridor, I entered a world of quiet and calm; my pace slowed. As Tanner and I walked along, we both absorbed the new surroundings.
Our journey took us to the back side of a senior-living complex; the front side faces the busy commercial corridor I’d avoided. I had always felt a bit sorry for those who lived within since their neighborhood seemed so cold. But beyond the main street facade I discovered a complex of lovely little units. Instead of an impersonal, multi-resident dwelling, I found a colorful, happy place where individuality was evident in porches adorned with flowers and decorated doors. Tanner was enthralled by the smells of one small tree outside one unit’s porch, a signal, I believe, that a small, cherished dog was living large inside. Behind each porch, each door, I knew was a story of love, loss, and labor-core life elements arranged in ways uniquely personal for those who dwelled inside.
Further down we were startled by a din of cooing from beyond a sturdy wooden fence. Tanner stopped, mesmerized, perplexed, and I joined him in his wonder. He sniffed the air and cocked his head as he cautiously approached the fence. What strange beings could create such a gentle roar? Mourning doves? A flock, I supposed, cooing out their morning greetings as this summer day unfolded.
We passed two houses similar in architecture and color, but there the sameness stopped. In the driveway of one was a set of vintage, dusty cars, a likely product of a poorly attended hobby; perhaps the hobbyist’s life had changed so that he or she no longer had the time. Along the driveway of the other was an arrangement of beautiful potted plants, clear evidence of a labor of flowery love. How interesting to see these contrasts in handicraft and hearth.
And so we wove our way home, Tanner and I. Past the artifacts of people’s lives, along the public corridors that allowed us to journey by their private spaces. I felt part explorer, part voyeur, part proud citizen of my little town, filled with ordinary people doing simple yet extraordinary things to translate bricks and mortar, flora and fauna, into meaningful expressions of person and place.
But for Tanner, I would not have made that trek. But for that trek, I would not have gotten off the beaten path. A girl, her dog, and a morning voyage with an unexpected vantage point on a Chico summer morning.