Monday, October 14, 2013

Hike #6: Carpenter Nature Center

Carpenter Nature Center is one of my very favorite places. I have fond memories of going here on field trips in grade school, and their orchard store has the yummiest spiced peaches and caramel apples. Plus all the good work they do with conservation and wildlife rehabilitation. Considering how close I live to Carpenter, you'd think I'd get out here more often. Luckily for our ten hike goal, though, there are still several trails I haven't gotten a chance to explore yet.

Since today is Monday and a little dreary, I figured the trails would be a little deserted, so I decided to bring Jai along. Jai doesn't go on many walks because I'm not certain he likes them. He's never shown any hesitation to go on adventures, but once we're out, he tends toward hypervigilance. And his tail stops working. I'm not even kidding. It's not clamped down or curled under like you'd expect with fear. It just stops moving. I'm not sure what to make of this, and I have five other dogs in the house that would LOVE to go for a walk, so Jai spends a lot of time at home or running errands or going places where he can just sit still and watch the world move around him. Jai has always been very environmentally sensitive, and I think that on walks, the environment just changes too quickly for him, and it stresses him out.

No matter what Jai thought, it was a lovely day for a hike! The weather was just this side of cool, and the fall colors were in full swing. The boys and I started at the Self-Guided Trail and then looped around in sort of a figure eight to take the North River Bluff Trail. Carpenter Nature Center runs right up to the St Croix River, so even when it isn't fall, it's still a beautiful place to be.

One of the thing Jai and I have struggled with it his stamina. He tends to get more stressy and disconnected the longer he's out until he's just a muddled, miserable pile of pit bull goo. Currently, he needs about forty-five minutes to adjust to a new environment, then we get about twenty minutes of golden time where he can actually work before the goo sets in.

However, on today's walk, I was pleasantly surprised when Jai seemed to get more relaxed the longer we were there instead of more gooey. He even had two bouts of relaxed tail wagging about ten seconds long without any jollying along by me - and this was after we'd already been hiking for over an hour! (He also didn't freeze and get stuck even once in the whole two and a half hours we were there, but this is something he's been getting progressively better at on the walks we do take, and therefore less exciting to me than unprompted tail wagging.)

I think part of Jai's success was that we took A LOT of breaks so that I could take pictures - because every time we turned the bend, they was something new and gorgeous to look at. This gave Jai a great deal of time to take in what was going on around us. I think that it also helped that we weren't in the city. There is, as you know, a lot more stimulation in the city,or even in a more suburban neighborhood like where we live - dogs in yards, neighbors talking, kids playing, tree rats doing whatever it is that tree rats do. While there were a lot of smells and a few small critters to check out, for the most part, Carpenter Nature Center is a much more relaxed place to hang out.

I think that it also helped to have Maus along. Jai worships Maus, for some reason I can't quite fathom. (Most dogs that come into my house do. I want to tap them on the head and point out, "You don't want to be like him, he has the crazies," but they probably wouldn't understand what I was saying anyway.) This would not be the first time that Maus has exerted a stabilizing influence on Jai. Perhaps it is because they are rather similar - both shy and a little neophobic.

Of course, helper dogs are a bit of a double edged sword. For example, I suspect that Jai would really enjoy swimming if it weren't for the fact that Maus is horrified by large bodies of water. Jai is curious about rivers - until he saw Maus being afraid of them. Now Jai thinks rivers are scary, too. One of these days, I'll have to take him out with Allister. Allister thinks swimming is the Best Thing Ever, and maybe he can persuade Jai to at least drink out of the big, pit bull-eating river. Moral of the Story: choose thy helper dog carefully.

All in all, though, I was really pleased with our hike. If Jai is up to it, I'd like to take himalong out our tentatively planned May 2014 Superior Hiking Trail trip. I've thought about bringing him before, but I've always been concerned that it would be too much for him. We'd have to leave Maus behind - he thinks nature is a nice place to visit, but he wouldn't want to live there. Piper would be a great helper dog for him, though. She doesn't have the bond with Jai that Maus does, but she also doesn't have Maus's crazies, so it would balance out.

John Muir once wrote, "In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks." It always seems to fall true. I went out today thinking that I would spend a little time with my boys and got much more than I planned for: a beautiful fall day and the chance to see how far Jai can go. It pleases me so much to know that places like Carpenter exist. Small, quiet areas in the world to remind us that we do not run on deadlines and cash and four wheels, but instead on softly falling leaves, lazy rivers, and the love of good dogs.