Walking Low-Down And Close To The Ground

In the photo taken from our back porch, he is only a small orange spot 300 yards away, where the mowed field meets the goldenrod that is already higher than his head.

But his chortle of “Row-eee!” wafts clearly up the slope as grandson Wyatt, 2, toddles after our dog Ralph, shouting his version of Ralphie’s name as much for the joy of having mastered the two syllables as because he wants to catch the dog.

I am in front of them both, our other dog Buddy at my side, as the four of us take Wyatt’s version of my daily walk, around the perimeter of the blueberry-bush field. The shortened version usually requires 10 minutes at my 30-inches-per-stride pace. With Wyatt, it’s more like 30 strides per inch, with side trips here and there.

A half-hour vanishes before we clamber into the house, Wyatt proudly gifting Mommy with one yellow dandelion, one elderberry bush blossom and a single daisy. All were plucked by the toddler, each requiring a deliberate halt, a slow reaching out of a hand, then making a fist-like grasp on the stem before pulling backward, almost (but not quite) bouncing down onto a diaper-clad bottom from the force of the effort.

Walking with Wyatt puts a different pace, a different perspective, onto that daily routine.

If we are alone, the dogs and I treat the walk as exercise.

Being dogs, they have their own definition of “a walk.” A deer scent or a bird flush sets them to bounding onto our neighbor’s property. The dogs don’t stray far, but, like the kid Wyatt is growing into, they regard limits as flexible things. What we adults term transgressions are, to toddlers and dogs, adventures.

Wyatt finds things to stop and examine at every dozen steps, which explains why the pace slows.

This grandchild has a fascination with “row-errrz,” flowers: red clover, Queen Anne’s lace, tiger lilies, hollyhocks … each requires a stop, a perusal, a decision whether to add them to Mommy’s bouquet or leave them in the field.

On this early July day, only a few blueberries are sweet deep-blue ripe. I pick some. Wyatt and I share them, while the dogs shove noses at our hands, seeking some of their biscuit snacks carried along to reward them, and to keep them close by.

“Ripe” is not yet a settled concept for a toddler. I resist the urge to teach, allowing Wyatt to pull off a few greenish unripened berries, pop them into his mouth and, as I anticipated, spit them out with a splatter and a sound that will become a clear “Yuck!” at about the same time that his improving speech skills transmute “Row-eee!” into “Ralphie.” The b-and-d conflation in Buddy’s name comes out even less clearly, but, oddly, Buddy realizes that he is being called, and nuzzles Wyatt, while Ralph prefers to bounce around aimlessly. We eat more ripe blueberries.

In nearly 10 years of living at this farm, I have taken that same walk with other grandchildren, some now teenagers and far too advanced to slowly stroll with Grandpa when Grandpa’s riding mowers or (for the new drivers) Grandpa’s four-wheeler, are available.

It shows signs of continuing with replacement walkers.

On the other side of Wyatt, chronologically, there is Cody, at 17 months. His stubby legs are now elongating enough to make him a candidate on his next overnight visit.

Walking with these toddlers renews my appreciation for clover, plantain and the remnants of farm-crop grasses, timothy and alfalfa.

I no longer know the names of bluestem, Indian grass and switchgrass (I got them from an Internet listing), though I recognize them from the Penn State document’s illustrations.

As to beebalm, coreopsis, aster and the Susans, I just know them as “grass,” though they are, in fact, flowers. Mown to stay well below the blueberry bushes in the competition for sunlight, rainwater and nutrients, they are our “field,” though the hay crop proper is in the larger enclave across the road. Closer to home is our “yard,” with preponderance of the bluegrasses, ryes and zoysias that we associate with “lawn.” Of “lawn,” however, we have none. There are those who worship carpet-like monocultures; I was once among them, a “townie.” These days, it suffices if the blendings look greenish to the occupants of passing vehicles. We no longer notice the bare spots in shade, around gnarled softwood roots, or where the dogs and cats have mined in search of voles.

Step by step, pause by pause, we complete the half-mile. Wyatt has to toddler-run to catch us on occasion, his pumping legs propelling him as much up-and-down as forward.

When, bouquet in hand, we finish the circuit, I have indeed “stopped to smell the (knockout) roses.” At this petty pace, life is foreshortened, simplified … delightful.

Denny Bonavita is a former editor at newspapers in DuBois and Warren. He lives near Brookville. Email: denny2319@windstream.net.