Walking with my Dog is my Most Sacred Practice

“Walking, ideally, is a state in which the mind, the body, and the world are aligned, as though they were three characters, finally in conversation together, three notes suddenly making a chord.” –Rebecca Solnit in Wanderlust: A History of Walking

As an animistic pagan, my most sacred practice involves neither cauldron nor athame, although I own both. My most sacred practice is walking daily through my neighborhood with my dog, Poe.

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Because I walk with Poe, I know–from bodily experience, not from faith nor from reason–that the moon was full two nights ago and that Orion is still visible in the night sky. I know that the days are lengthening, and that the first of this season’s mountain laurel blooms opened early this year, around February 6th:

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Yesterday I noticed agarita, anemone, spiderwort, and redbud in bloom, tended by bees. Because I walk with Poe, I witness the trees through the seasons. Right now new leaves are unfurling on Arizona ash trees, but elm, pecan, and deciduous oaks have yet to leaf out.

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Because I walk with Poe, I know where screech owls and herons tend to nest in our neighborhood, and I’ll be among the first to notice when the bats return next month.

Because I walk with Poe, I meet human neighbors with whom I don’t have much in common and probably wouldn’t talk to otherwise. Mr. Hunter comes first to mind. He’s an older neighbor in his 80s who hosts a weekly Bible study in his home. His wife self-publishes Christian fiction. During the last election, they put up a yard sign for Ted Cruz; my family put up a sign for Beto. Our worldviews and lifestyles stand poles apart, but I enjoy seeing Mr. Hunter, whenever Poe and I meet him during a walk. Mr. Hunter scritches Poe’s ears. We talk about the weather, animals, gardening, my family and work, and his great-grandchildren. Our conversations lack even a trace of bitterness. I find instead that they’re flavored by very old, very pagan values of hospitality and reciprocity. Our meetings feel deeply sacred.

These are fair-weather days for walking in Central Texas–spring is easily our most pleasurable season–but important to note that sacred walking is not a fair-weather practice. I submit to winter and walk on cold days, with every arrector pili muscle contracted and every hair on end. I submit to the sun’s strength in summer, when the only safe and salubrious times of day to walk are before 10 a.m. and after dark. I know the direction of the wind and the temperature of the air each day because my skin knows.

I experience a sense of place and belonging, when Poe and I walk through our neighborhood. I’m grounded, connected, and relating with intention to the human and more-than-human world around me. I’m aware that the very real world of spirits is here, right now, and not somewhere else, far away. This is it!, to borrow a Zen Buddhist proverb. To experience this world as radically alive, all I have to do is keep walking and pay attention.

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