Finding Joy in the Outdoors After Loss

Not long after I started working from home I went to the Humane Society with my best friend, and came home with another (furrier) best friend. Truth be told, I’d been wanting a dog for years. But my work schedule and tiny apartments made it a no-go. But then I bought a house and needed a reason to leave my office and go outside every day–even in the dead of a Connecticut winter. So, for seven and a half years my workday has been broken up by a nice long walk with my dog, Maybelle.

Neither sleet, nor rain, nor snow will keep a cattle dog from her walk.

But last month I lost my walking buddy. Cancer claimed the living, breathing alarm clock that reminded me (with a strategic nose-flip of my elbow) it was time to walk.

I’m still mourning that loss, and my walking routine is suffering.

There’s a reason dog owners tend to be happier and healthier. They force you to get outside and enjoy whatever version of nature surrounds you. Whether it’s your suburban backyard or a hike to the top of a mountain, dogs have a way of making you enjoy the beauty around you. They help you get your nature fix.

With Maybelle gone, I needed to find a new way of staying active–a new source of joy in the outdoors. For me, the temporary substitute for the nudging nose of a punctual dog is a stand-up paddleboard (SUP).

Ever since I moved to a pond in the woods, I’ve been wanting a SUP. Canoes are fine for two, and kayaks have their place, but I really like paddleboarding. You get a better view of the water around you, and you have more mobility–you can stand, sit, kneel, or even do yoga. It also feels more like real exercise. Keeping your balance means enaging every muscle in your core for as long as it takes you to get around the pond, all while paddling against the wind.

I moved here in September. Winter came quickly and buying a paddleboard didn’t make much sense. But as Spring rolled around and we started tentatively wading into the water, I began thinking about that SUP again. But Maybelle’s already considerable vet bills threatened to get worse as we discovered the stomach issues she’d been experiencing were caused by a suspected intestinal cancer. A SUP was not in the budget as we charted a course for treatment. But before we could get to a specialist, figure out how to proceed, she died in her bed. A good end for a great dog.

A SUP and a Foster Pup

With the looming vet bills no longer an issue, I decided to get a SUP. If you can’t have a dog drag you outside for a walk, the next best thing is the nagging knowledge that you spent a few hundred dollars on a piece of plastic that’s waiting by the water for you to take it out for a spin.

And then we decided to foster a 10-month-old puppy with a passion for SUP-ing.

We weren’t surprised when this little lab-mix seemed to take to the water, but her first tenative step onto the paddleboard sent her running back to the safety of the sand. She hadn’t been exposed to much and lots of things still frightened her. But then, one day, we put Maybelle’s old life vest on her, I put on my bathing suit, and I got on the paddleboard. It didn’t take much to get her out there. It immediately became her new favorite activity. She started eschewing the banality of swimming for the chance to take a spin on the SUP.

I was psyched! Ever since I discovered sup_with_pup on Instagram, I’d been hoping Maybelle would take to the board. But she was never much of a water-dog, and the one time I saw her swim was after she jumped off of a borrowed paddleboard and made her way back to shore. But our new foster pup couldn’t get enough.

Every time I’d paddle out with her, I’d think, I should want to keep this dog. But I’m not ready. Eventually, our foster got adopted by friends and I get regular updates on her adventures (she’s on her way to New Hampshire for a vacation as I write). And whenever I’m missing my walking buddy–which is a lot–I head down to the water, get up on the SUP and take a spin around the water and remember how lucky I was to get to spend any time with Maybelle, especially in this beautiful place.

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