I went for a walk this morning like I almost always do when I’m home in Nevada. My house is tucked up against the rolling desert, with trails zig zagging through the sagebrush. A small creek flows through the valley, prompting cattail to grow in the damp soil and mountain bluebirds to sing in the early morning sun. Cottontail rabbits and the occasional coyote bound through the hills, and there is no better chance of a good day than to begin it with a walk through the landscape I was born into.
I put on my coat and slipped my socked feet into a pair of stiff new boots, bought just a few days ago to get me through the winter. The half hour walk would double as an opportunity to break in the shoes in incremental bits. It will take dozens of these walks, I know, for the leather to soften and relax against my toes.
I locked my door and began to walk through the rows of neighboring townhouses and onto the trailhead. Not three minutes into the trail, I felt the unmistakable sting of a blister at the back of my left heel. Strange, I thought to myself, sure that there was no sign of the blister on yesterday’s walk.
I plopped down on a rock and pried my foot out of the stiff shoe. Sure enough, the blister was right there, pink and exposed. I considered turning around, but the birds were calling with gusto. In just over a week I go back to Vancouver, where I will be forced to quarantine in a one bedroom apartment for 14 days. But today I have the birds and the desert and the open sky, I thought to myself. I need to take it all in now, while I can.
Besides, the shoes needed a break in too.
So I kept walking, heel stinging. A few minutes passed when I saw a clump of teal colored plastic on the trail up ahead, a bag of dog shit that wasn’t there yesterday. I told myself that someone must be out on a run with their dog and that they left the bag of poop on the side of the trail for pickup on the way back…right? Because what kind of person kindly bags up their dog’s crap and then dumps plastic into the wilderness?
Giving the phantom dog owner benefit of the doubt, I left the teal bag and walked another thirty feet, heel screaming. Immediately, my eye caught a second bag of dog shit, black this time, and clearly from a different dog. Without thinking about what I was doing, I knelt down and picked it up. Then I turned around and went to the teal bag and picked that up too. I held up both bags and looked at them, suddenly aware that I was now saddled with a raw heel and two bags of shit excreted from dogs I don’t own. There was no point in walking on, so I limped back toward home.
For a moment, I considered getting angry. I could feel the choice to be angry. The jerks who left the bags of shit certainly deserved it, as did the boots that were growing sticky from the pool of my own blood. Both of these things took away my ritual, my solitude, the purpose of my morning.
But what good would come of the anger? Who would I have yelled at? Other than the tawny bunny hopping across the trail, not a heartbeat other than mine as far as the eye could see. Anger, in this situation, served no purpose. There was nothing left to but accept that today, the purpose of my walk was not to spend a little time in nature and break in my boots. It was to pick up other people’s shit.
It’s an apt and obvious metaphor—not every task is pleasant, things don’t always go your way, and there’s a lot of cleaning up the mistakes that other people make.
But hey, at least it’s garbage day. The bags of shit will only be in my world for a few more hours. And tomorrow, I’ll try again.
Coming September 6, 2022
May Cause Side Effects
Brooke’s memoir is now available for preorder wherever books are sold.
This is a heart-rending and tender memoir that will start conversations we urgently need to have. It’s moving and important.Johann Hari, author of New York Times bestseller Chasing the Scream and international bestseller Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression—and the Unexpected Solutions