Posting day: Sunday, and, sometimes, maybe, extra bits in between.
Sunday April 25th 2021
In Britain, April is supposed to be a month of showers, but it’s Friday now and still relentlessly dry and sunny. The gardeners need rain, but, like everyone else, they are reveling in the continuously good weather. Everyone is smiling, it seems, and full of bonhomie.
Everyone, that is, except for Isis and I.
Today the sky is cloudless. Oh dear. Where can we go?
Then I think of Jasmine Fields, our nearest little urban nature reserve. At least there are no stark shadows on the playing field, and there are numerous little tracks for Isis to explore.
The field is empty when we arrive, and we meet no-one as we meander along the short tracks nearest to the entrance. Isis is a little jumpy when we come to patches of sunlight but for most of our foray, the foliage is dense enough to shield her.
I think she’ll enjoy walking the woody stretch above the canal, so we head back across the field to find a gap. I remind Isis several times that the gap needs to be suitable for both of us to navigate. Yes, I tell her, I know that she can trot under this fallen tree, but her companion would have to perform a belly dance: a feat for which she is ill-equipped.
We soon sniff out a navigable gap and join the narrow pathway forged over time by walkers.
Yes, Isis is definitely pleased to be here.
How different it is from the last time we visited. Then, our walk, punctuated by thick mud and deep puddles, felt more like a slide. We only attempted it because Isis found her way here and was so pleased with herself I’d not the heart to drag her back.
Jasmine Fields is surrounded by houses, high rise flats and main roads, yet it is so quiet I can hear every rustle in the undergrowth and every flapping wing in the trees and bushes. The birds are singing fit to bust a gut, and I can feel a fresh breeze on my face.
Isis walks ahead, pausing every now and then to check that someone who smells like Human is following her.
When we first made short sorties onto this path, I stayed glued to Isis all the time. She insisted on making her way to the edge, high above the canal, and many times would have launched herself down one of the many dangerously steep animal tracks if I’d not managed to grab her first.
I am surprised by how much more careful she has become over recent weeks, cautious even. Why? I’m puzzled.
It’s only today that it occurs to me that she has learned this since we have been venturing into different environments. When she wants a drink from the stream in Highbury and she stands hesitantly on the bank, I place a palm on each of her flanks if it is safe for her to climb down into the water.
When we began walking off piste in Holders lane, she baulked, as she always has, at venturing under any obstacles. Holders Lane woods are full of fallen trees and low to the ground branches, so I began to teach her how to negotiate these. I encouraged her with strokes and pats, of course, but it was only when I placed a hand on each flank that she began to gain the confidence to crawl under obstacles.
Yes, I suddenly realise, she has generalised the ‘safe to leave the bank’ signal to cover other possibly dangerous situations.
She’s a bright little dog.
So along we walk, relaxed and contented.
It’s as though some magnanimous nature fairy has set this scene for us. Everything looks and sounds beautiful.
I am enchanted by the different shapes and the details of the shadows.
This one is my favourite.
There are groups of glowing celandines here and there along the sides of the path
and daisies. Simple, and perfectly designed.
And fragile violets
and delicate wood anemones.
I’m beginning to feel quite euphoric …………
Our path ends with a steep descent.
Last time we came, Isis scrambled down on her own without turning a hair while I followed more cautiously, slipping, sliding, and grabbing thin, whippy twigs to slow down my descent.
This time, led to the edge, she stops. What on earth’s the matter with her? Little pats have no effect on her. Oh dear. It’s that blasted safe sign. I give her the sign. She moves two steps forward and stops again.
Now, scrambling down a very steep bank without tumbling head first is a challenge in itself, let alone scrambling down a very steep bank without tumbling head first while at the same time laying reassuring hands on a reluctant dog.
It isn’t smart to try capturing the process on video. Only a first class twit would do that.
So I apologise for the quality of the video.
Isis looks surprised to have arrived, but kindly waits for me to catch up with her.
Then, the icing on the cake: there, at the end of the railings, is a cowslip.
I want to look into the flower heads to take my shot, but the cowslip is facing the canal and is only a foot away from the water’s edge. I begin to shuffle my way forward. I feel myself swaying. I desist. My share of luck has been used up descending the bank.
Last time we came, I had a deep and very sore wound at the end of my longest toe. I smashed it into so many rock hard, submerged roots that I could barely walk. I recall feeling very miserable and exhausted and sinking onto a bench when we were back on the field. I also vividly recall that I had to drag myself to my feet after a few seconds because Isis decided to continue walking. I was not thrilled. I expect I called her something obscene.
But today I’m virtually floating along, full of energy, delight and goodwill to all men – and dogs.
*Isis came from the Aeza cat and dog rescue and adoption centre in Aljezur, Portugal. For information about adopting an animal from the centre, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or www.dogwatchuk.co.uk