Morning Ritual

Richard J. Severson

I get up at 4:30 am most every morning.  I have no need for an alarm clock; instead, Ray gives me a gentle nudge with his long dog nose at the appointed time.  That’s when we take our first walk of the day together.  It’s still dark outside, and often raining now that we are into the early part of winter. 

A bi-black Sheltie, Ray is almost thirteen years old.  He’s less able to walk long distances now; instead, he prefers frequent short walks, full of stops along the way for sniffing and marking territory.    

The first walk is about a mile, maximum.  We circumnavigate our little neighborhood in Mountain Park, finishing up with a stroll through the parking lot of the local strip mall.  There’s a Little Big Burger shop near the corner, and Ray inspects their outdoor picnic area assiduously.  Every now and then he finds an errant French fry, which he snaps up like the delicacy it represents for his mundane diet. 

Back home, I leave Ray near the top of the stairs—a strategic point from which he can survey the entire house—and then I leave for a much longer walk.  Usually, Ray howls in protest; he wants to come with me.  He doesn’t understand that the five-mile walk would be too much for him. 

Occasionally, I come across coyotes, coons, and other wild creatures as I carefully pick my way through forested trails that twine up, down, and around Mt. Jefferson.  The urban wildlife sightings on this clear-skied chilly morning were exceptional.  As I passed West Lake Park, I noticed a deer walking down the middle of the street.  It was a buck, with a full antler rack, probably a mule deer.  He came within ten feet of me, increasing his pace as he passed.  To me, he seemed lost and unsure about what to do.  We are several miles from Tryon Creek State Park, where the nearest deer herd resides.  Perhaps he was chased by a young cougar that was passing through the park.  It’s been known to happen before. 

Ten minutes later, as I was hiking up the big hill on Jefferson Parkway, I felt something brush my hair.  I turned around, and there was a barred owl hovering near my head.  It scared the bejesus out of me.  Quickly, I pulled my hood up, and dashed for home.  I must have interrupted the large bird’s hunt, or something more amorous, perhaps. 

Safely back home, I found Ray sleeping near the stairs, where I had left him 90 minutes earlier.  I fastened his leash so that we could take his second walk of the day in the predawn twilight, completing our morning ritual.