by Julie Chovanes
It’s literally 8,000 degrees outside, and although I can’t measure the humidity as accurately, I think it must be 1,000 percent! Why do we live here? And with the worst winters, too! (Ed. Note: on the day this was written, July 8, the temperature was actually more like 96 degrees.)
Time for a drink. The dogs, huddled in front of the air-conditioning vent, look at me. I hear them say, “Little early for that; isn’t it?” OK, not really; I made that last part up. But I do see them saying, “OK, it’s hot, but you do have to walk us.”
So we get the leashes and bags, and Legolas (one of my two dogs) jumps up and down with excitement. Aragorn (my other dog; both are named for characters in “Lord of the Rings”) is too cool (and too fat, honestly) to jump up and down and just pushes Legolas out of the way because Aragorn is always first. We already walked around the neighborhood today, so we grab the car keys and go to the Wissahickon. (We could walk there, but it’s 8,000 degrees and uphill on Springfield Avenue on the way back.)
We drive down Springfield with the boys each hanging his tongue out of either side window in the back. Think twin Labrador antennas. We dodge a couple of amazingly fit bikers who are basically as wide as one of my legs as we go over the bridge into the lot opposite Valley Green Inn. The lot is a little crowded with families, bikers, runners and others, but we find a space and park, and the boys jump out. Back when they were little pups, we could walk back on the trails unleashed (shhhhhh). But now they are too big, so I hold their leashes as we set off down Forbidden Drive.
Forbidden Drive is a kaleidoscope of all types of people (and dogs), Philadelphia at its best, enjoying the outdoors. Seeing the families with kids, I remember when I was little and dad used to take us here, parking on the Lincoln Drive lot, which back then was more primitive. We’d walk all the way (“Awww, really? We have to go all the way?”) to Valley Green Inn, which was always closed. At least that’s what dad told us. If it looked open, he’d tell us how our mother would have a good dinner when we get home, and we could just wait. I don’t remember the crowds back then, either, and there sure weren’t bikers or runners, either; all that came later. Mountain biking wasn’t even invented yet. Instead, we looked at trees and rocks and talked, and every so often I would fall into the Wissahickon, just because.
I never brought our own kids here when they were small. We were all the way in a far distant land known as the Main Line, and there were other recreational options for them out there. Now the oldest ones are gone, all out West, where it’s less hot and less cold, and the one still at home has her own life. So instead I’m walking with my second set of kids, the two boys, hairier than any of our first set of kids, on Forbidden Drive, 50 years after I walked the drive with my dad.
Legolas is bouncing along, off the end of the leash. He has figured out exactly how to stop at the end of his leash so he doesn’t hurt himself. Aragorn is not nearly as bouncy, but he is first, and for him that’s really all that matters. He drags me over to the edge of the drive, next to the fence, and I drag him back to the right side. That is where we should be walking because this isn’t England, and I tell Aragorn this, but he ignores me, which is kind of what we did to our dad and what my own two-legged kids did to me whenever I walked anywhere with them.
We pass by the area where people are swimming in the Wissahickon below Devil’s Pool, and Aragorn decides he wants to go down the stairway, which cuts off the Drive, to the Wissahickon. He looks at me, takes my non-response for permission, and drags us down the stairway. And it is hot, so I take his leash off, and he goes into the water. Legolas doesn’t like to swim, so we both stand by the side of the creek watching while Aragorn swims around, looking like a seal, with only his head sticking out of the water. He looks for a goose to chase, but they are all upstream honking for food from the people near the Inn.
We are cooled off now and move more slowly and say hi to the people who smile at the dogs, and occasionally the dogs meet other dogs, and I am reminded once again that life goes on and people and dogs and nature can bring calm and peace and cool. And how lucky we are to be here. Even when it’s 8,000 degrees. With 1,000 percent humidity.
Julie Chovanes is a Chestnut Hill resident and attorney. In addition to her two rescue Labrador Retrievers, Julie has a one-eyed cat named Tuna and a cat named Sophia whom “we never see.”