A humorous, thoughtful, absorbing narrative aboutthe metaphysical joys of a simple daily task
Imagine if Annie Dillard had taken a dog along with her to Tinker Creek. Now imagine Tinker Creek was a New Jersey suburb, and you have an idea of the surprises that await in John Zeaman's book. Humorous, thought-provoking, and playful, Dog Walks Man might also be called Zen and the Art of Dog Walking. Zeaman takes us on a journey from a 'round-the-block fraternity of “dog-walking dupes”—suburban fathers who indulged their children's wish for a dog—to a strange and forbidden wonderland at the edge of town: the New Jersey Meadowlands. Along the way he rediscovers childhood's forgotten “fringe places,” investigates the mysteries of the natural world, and experiences moments of inexplicable joy.
Each chapter of Dog Walks Man is a bite-size meditation on the wisdom derived from dogs and dog walking. Woven into the narrative are musings on such familiar dog-walking issues as the war of nerves that precedes each walk (or “w-a-l-k” if your dog is in earshot), the problem of dog-walking monotony, and why dog walkers are always the ones to discover dead bodies. This is also the story of Pete, the prescient standard poodle who begins as the “family glue” and evolves into Zeaman's partner on a journey through an abandoned landscape as alive as any jungle.
Above all, Dog Walks Man is about a search for wholeness in an increasingly artificial world. It is about discovering what Thoreau meant when he wrote, in his seminal essay “Walking,” “Life consists with wildness.” Because the truth is, something as simple as walking the dog can open up unexpected worlds.
In the beginning, I walked around the block. Or a couple of blocks. It didn't seem to matter. That it didn't matter was in itself novel. It had been a long time since I had gone out without any particular destination or direction, without knowing whether I was going to turn left or turn right at the end of the front walk. . . .
The simple aimlessness of it made me feel like a kid again. . . .
Pete, with his boundless enthusiasm for the outside world, was like the reincarnation of that juvenile self. We'd hit the sidewalk and, like two kids with nothing special to do, spend a half-hour meandering about. We were suburban vagabonds. In the mornings, with the whole world rushing to get somewhere, there was something almost subversive about roaming around with a companion who had no responsibilities.
We walked the irregular streets of our hilly town. We each had our compulsions. I revived the childhood aversion to stepping on cracks. Pete made sure that every tree was marked with his scent. . . .
At night, Pete and I would escape the sometimes-suffocating sweetness of family life—the pajamas and stories, the smell of toothpaste and sheets, the damp goodnight kisses and prolonged hugs. We'd slip out into the silky night like a pair of teenage boys with high hopes for a Saturday night. We'd walk beneath the streetlights from one pool of light to the next. The people in the houses would drift past the windows like aquarium fish. Pete, with his black coat, was practically invisible in the dark stretches and I would let him off the leash.
John Zeaman writes an arts column for Design NJ. He was also the art critic and design writer at The Record (Hackensack, NJ) for more than 20 years, and continues to freelance for the paper. He has won numerous awards, including three (2001, 2004, 2005) from the Manhattan-based Society of the Silurians, the nation's oldest press club. He is also the author of a series of children's books called “Before They Were Pets” (Franklin Watts/Scholastic, 1998). Zeaman's young adult book, “Overpopulation” (Franklin Watts, 2002) was selected for the New York Public Library's list, “Books for the Teen Age.”
“Memoir readers—not just New Jerseyans or nature lovers/dog people—will find this book's gentle humor and wisdom, its exploration of the strange and ordinary, thoroughly absorbing. Highly recommended.” —Library Journal
“Journalist John Zeaman creates a masterpiece of contemplation in Dog Walks Man. . . . His droll observations on dog-walking combine insight, solace and meditation, taking readers into the heart of a routine task, dusting the ordinary with the divine.” —Bookpage
“‘Suburban vagabonds' Pete and John explore the wild fringes of their neighborhood. . . . Each walk is an adventure, each return home has the level of emotion ‘of Odysseus catching sight of Ithaca on the horizon.'” —Los Angeles Times
“Dog Walks Man by John Zeaman is a contemplative and humorous exploration of one of the simplest pleasures: walking with a dog. . . . The author's musings on life's wildness are a pleasure and joy.” —Bark magazine, Editor's Lit Picks
“John Zeaman looks at an activity that can fill hundreds of hours over the period of year, but has never had its own bard—namely, walking a dog. . . . Well worth reading.” —Stanley Coren, author of The Modern Dog
“Anyone who has ever owned a dog will treasure this wonderful book.” —Alan Caruba, Editor, Bookviews.com
"A delightful amble of a book..." --Cesar's Way Magazine, "The Year's Best Reads"
"Tag along on the walk. Zeaman is excellent company. And his dog is nice, too." --Cesar's Way Magazine
A touching, witty, and thought-provoking tale of how one man found meaning in the humble act of walking his dog