(Walking Meditation from Japanese Buddhism)

As I climb out of my car, a fetid wave of dog poop flows over me: I have parked next to the trash cans at the trailhead. I thank heavens for responsible pet owners who trash the poop but I walk quickly to pass by that bit of nature after I start my iPhone app to record my walk statistics.

Just a few steps brings me past the playground equipment on the right as I spot a blue fisherman’s soft-sided creel on the picnic bench. Then I hear the river; it’s loud enough to overwhelm all my senses but there’s also hints of a floral scent from hidden wildflowers that nudges me for attention. This is the closest to the river I come in my walking mile and I tend to slow down to absorb it all, the sounds, the smells, and the sight of the rushing water glinting irregular patterns of mosaic-like reflections.

This is why my daily walk takes place in this park – several miles from my safe neighborhood where walking is not just possible but easier. All my senses are engaged but there are other advantages to this path, the people and the dogs.

Immediately around the curve I meet a sweaty, panting runner. She doesn’t have the breath to speak but I nod and smile at her anyway. A few more paces and the river sounds start to fade and I can now hear the distant rumble of traffic. That noise is overlaid by the cicadas and the bird song which becomes a soothing backdrop to my walking meditation.

I reset my brain, check my pace and speed up. My tendency to linger here is not good for my total time nor my goal of building strength and stamina after my surgeries this year. I hit my stride at a solid 18 minute mile. I’m congratulating myself on my exercise ethic as the path curves and I see a delightful tableau: father, mother, a runners’ baby carriage and a dog. All jogging. My heart just sings as the running basset hound, ears a-flying, skin a-jiggling and a-wiggling, smiles at me. And I stop.

The family graciously slows to let me greet the happy dog. Later I come to realize I have no earthly idea what the humans looked like. But that loose-skinned, big-footed dog was a riot of colors, brown, white and tans. His smile is forever imprinted in my brain.

Again though, I forget to pause the exercise app so my displayed pace takes a dive. Oh, well, another unreliable set of stats but then again I’m only keeping track so that I can see my progress in total miles.

The paved path narrows and curves into a sandy area near the water. It’s reminiscent of a beach walk where the sand drifts over everything. I remember the week before when days after the rain this area was a muddy mess with no way to avoid splashes. At least the dried mud has been shoveled off the asphalt at some point but the pinkish dusty soil now is all sliding back over the path. Footsteps and bike tracks show how many folks have been drawn towards the water’s edge in this pseudo beach stretch.

Mimosa blossoms and purple wildflowers curtain glimpses of the river and the opposite shore. All of sudden my eye is drawn to an unnatural hot pink and loud green across the river. Above the grey and black rocky river edge, women runners in varying colored shirts create visual interest – I’m not fast enough to capture the scene as I enjoy the artistic composition and forget to raise my phone and use my camera app.

Exchanging morning greetings with the next fellow walkers, I feel like I’m a part of something – not alone. I get to greet another dog, a bouncy, but leashed, golden doodle who tries to stop to greet me as his owner bikes on gently dragging him past me. I frequently speak to dogs even though the owners aren’t interested in me. Since I don’t remember the humans anyway, maybe that’s appropriate!

I start looking for my turn around point. Was it that tree I reversed at last? Or that curve? Wait, there’s the dead tree that looks like a double tree rising straight up. I go on past for a few more paces to increase my distance from yesterday. Now heading back, I have to remember to keep up my pace. Even though it was mild when I started out only ten minutes ago, the heat and humidity is rising fast as this weekend may be the hottest of the summer. I don’t like sticky and my breathing gets shorter but I work at writing in my head as I walk in distraction because my brain is now in a place to do that.

But look, there’s still some blackberries left and I pause to munch a bit on the riper ones that are sweet but small. I’m reminded of my years in the country where blackberry thickets grew insanely well on the edge of our property. Dang, sure would like some over ice cream. Cook them down a bit in the microwave and it’s such an easy treat. Oh, well. Motor on.

Snatching a crushed Coors can off the path – ‘cause I can at this slow pace – I spot the parking lot in the distance – my goal is in sight. As I reach my car, I check my distance and yes, a bit further than yesterday. I exchange my purse for my walking hat in the trunk.

I sit briefly, swigging my lemon water, enjoying the relaxed muscles and the feeling of a job well-done. As I’m leaving the parking lot, I hear a voice in the car with me. Oh, rats, once again I forgot to turn off the phone app, skewing my stats even further. Still, I walked further than all the days before.

Now I’m ready to go to work, thinking my walk did me just as much good as a kinhin does at the Zen temple.  Meditation in motion but with human and dog interaction in nature. My preferred kinhin.