My Favourite Walk: a BBC “Pause for Thought”

Here’s the text for the 4 May 2021 “Pause for Thought” I offered on the Early Breakfast Show with Vanessa Feltz on BBC Radio 2. As you’ll read/hear, this one is for our beloved dog Jake, of blessed memory. You can listen in here.

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I feel like a bit of an impostor, because I haven’t always been a fan of walks. Maybe it’s because I’m from the US, where people drive more than walk. Many streets don’t even have pavements.

But all that changed a decade ago when we adopted a rescue dog – a big, grey Weimaraner named Jake. Very quickly I became a walker. Three times a day Jake pulled me along the lakefront in Chicago, where we lived. We moved to Birmingham, he pulled me down canal paths – and once he pulled me right through the doorway of very surprised new neighbors. We moved to London, he pulled me down busy streets.

My favourite walks in life have been with him. Especially the walks where Jake wanted to explore – and pulled us from the street into the park, or off the park path into the woods.

At first that frustrated me – I didn’t think we had enough time, I didn’t want to get my shoes muddy, I didn’t want to navigate brambles with 40 kilos of clumsy canine joy – but eventually, I learned to accept it as a gift. If I followed Jake’s lead, I might find myself in a grove of stately pine trees, staring up with him into the swaying canopy. Or crawling on my belly into the undercroft of an ancient hedge. Or taking off my shirt and shoes and walking into a lake to swim, to watch the geese at eye level across the water.

John Muir, the Scottish-American environmentalist, said:

“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt”.

Jake would definitely agree.

I’ve been lucky in life to hike the Grand Canyon, in Cappodocian caves, on Icelandic glaciers – but I’m not sure I would’ve said yes to any of those invitations if Jake hadn’t taught me how to walk.

Some people think of faith as merely a list of beliefs you say yes or no or maybe to, but as a Christian, I think faith is more a willingness to walk where I did not plan to go. A willingness to be led into a life more interesting than I can construct by myself: led out of my apartment into the world, out of my head into friendship, off the map into the wild.

Jake died just a month before the pandemic hit, at the gorgeous age of 13. After thousands of miles together, one of our last walks was on a Welsh beach.

Jake wasn’t pulling me anymore; we sort of ambled together across the sand, into the surf.

We looked out across the water again – this time, for that other shore.

Thank you God, thank you Jake: for the gift of muddy shoes, and a faith that life is more beautiful than we can imagine alone.

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