The Siren Call of Winter Hiking, or How We Get the Dogs to Sleep (Maybe)

It had to happen sooner or later. The siren call of tired dogs, of sleepy dogs, of dogs that were too tired to spend their evening wrestling, of dogs that were too tired to molest yet again my poor, masticated jade plant, would sing to me, and I’d be powerless to resist. It has been so long since I’ve had a night that didn’t involve multiple trips outside just because Eleanor and Beatrice were bored and on the wrong side of the door. I have no idea why they continually think it must be fun for me to hoist them back into bed. (Honestly girls–I have much better things to do at 3 a.m.) And last night I heard the song, that siren song of hiking the dogs at Turkey Creek.

Turkey Creek has long been one of my favorite local hikes. Part of Austin’s Emma Long Metropolitan Park, Turkey Creek is a three-mile trail of varied maintenance. There are hills, an obvious trail but roughened terrain, and stream crossings to navigate, so I feel like I got outside and enjoyed some fresh air without having to drive to Big Bend. Rocks are plentiful, and depending on how much rain we’ve had, the trail may change because of all the water rushing through the creek bed. Best of all, it’s an off-leash dog park, meaning that as long as your dog has a modicum of good behavior, you’re free to walk Turkey Creek sans pet restraint. (We’ll come back to that word modicum.)

Hiking and long, meditative walks were among my favorite things to do with Muddy and the sainted Reba. In Illinois, we made wide use of Chicago’s excellent forest-preserve system, and then here in Austin, we did lots of greenbelt hiking. Muddy would start out excited and ahead of us all, but then in short order, she’d be in lockstep behind me. I never had to worry about where she might be because I could hear her breathing. Reba, on the other hand, was always in front of me. Right bloody in front of me. If I wasn’t careful, I’d knee her in the bum just trying to take a step forward. As the girls aged, the meditative aspects of our walks increased (meaning that we went slower), but I always loved those times with them. It’s funny how these first hikes with Eleanor and Beatrice bring those memories back. Perhaps I’ll always think of them in dappled sunlight, amongst trees, Muddy chuffing along behind me like a steam engine.

I had taken Eleanor over earlier in the autumn, but I had yet to take Beatrice. She needed to finish her vaccinations, plus I wanted to make certain that she’d return to me when I called as she’d be off leash. And as Beatrice was a bit older, now was as good a time as any. I pulled into the parking lot, opened the back doors, and turned them loose. Both bounced out and immediately began smelling everything and everyone.

It was official: Beatrice was hooked on hiking.

But oh, what fun we had! There was swimming, there was shaking off right next to me and next to complete strangers (I think dogs must give each other biscuits and high fives when they do that), there was running, there was chewing, there was melee. They even met a Great Dane and played with him for a bit before returning to the joys of winter swimming. Eleanor would sprint ahead, her tail churning like an old-fashioned ice cream crank, while Beatrice is more sylphlike. She has an extremely long tail for a German Shepherd, giving her a languid, graceful movement. Then off they’d go again, tumbling and bumping and having the time of their lives.

All in all, it was a very successful first hike. Henceforth, I doubt that either Eleanor or Beatrice will be happy with a neighborhood walk, not when they know there is free-range, off-leash excitement to be had. And my reward for having withstood their water-logged exuberance? Tired dogs! Both snoozed on the short drive back to the house, and the rest of the evening was markedly quieter than usual as both dogs recovered from their impromptu winter hiking adventure. I know I’ve done good work when Beatrice is able to fall asleep in an awkward position like this.

As for me, I’m off to find some Sleepytime tea. Eleanor and Beatrice aren’t the only ones that deserve a good night’s sleep around here.

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