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Dog walking and the pathetic fallacy

Yesterday it rained, heavily and unremittingly, and the dogs spent most of the day sitting glumly by the back door, just a bit too lazy to take themselves out for a run in the garden without human company. So this morning (cautious sunshine, warmer than it looked) they were overjoyed to hear the glad tinkle of leads: so overjoyed they almost knocked me over on the way out. 

I was pretty happy too. Tramping across a buttercup-filled meadow, marvelling at the way yesterday’s rain seemed to have washed away the last traces of bluebell-blue from the woods, watching squirrels frolic in the beech trees, I felt happy and expansive, conscious of the world opening up around me and summer almost here.

I love weather. I love its contrasts, its unpredictability, its power to confer beauty, comedy, disaster – almost any kind of narrative enhancement or surprise twist. I have to stop myself writing about it too much, knowing it bores some people and not wanting PATHETIC FALLACY to scream out from every paragraph, but I look for it in other people’s writing, and miss it when it’s not there. Radiant sunshine, overwrought cloudscapes, dreary drizzle: I love the sense of recognition and grounding they confer, the way (like performance directions in music: allegretto, adagio, con brio) they indicate atmosphere (literally) and mood, telling you not just what’s happening, but how.

I love dog walking too: not quite enough to go out willingly in a downpour, I grant you, but I’m always delighted by the pleasure of watching the dogs streaking away in pursuit of a pigeon or bounding back towards me looking faintly sheepish, by the satisfaction of virtuous activity, and by the loosening of the mind that comes when you’re trudging along, alone, on a familiar path.

This morning I was thinking (when I’d finished appraising the colour of the sky, the almost imperceptible breeze, the damp warmth of the ground) about the way walking patterns the lives of dog owners. Walking can be a solitary activity or a way to see friends, a chance to escape the children for half an hour, an excuse for a family outing. But for many of us it happens at the same time every day: at the crack of dawn before racing off to work; as a wind-down in the evening, with a torch in winter and a more leisurely tread in summer. Like a commute, an evening meal, a morning shower, it’s a constant, day after day. The same but different, as days are. The seasons creep by in increments that are almost invisible from one walk to the next, but there to be noticed if you’re the noticing type, marking out the progress of life, the ebb and flow of problems, the coming and going of dates anticipated with dread or relish.

Guess what: I love patterns too. I like the same-but-differentness of life, the echoes of the past that surface from repetition and routine – and from the breaking of it. I like the compare-and-contrast of bluebells following snowdrops, and buttercups following bluebells, and everything else you can read into that. I like what goes on in the background: birdsong and blossoming, the texture of earth and air and trees, providing the blank manuscript paper of our lives and our novels. And yes, I love the weather that makes one page, one day, so different from another.

What do writers do all day?

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