By Naomi Serviss
When I was a student at Shoemaker Elementary in Elkins Park, a tony Philadelphia suburb, I walked home.
I ambled past Victorians and stately mansions bordered by thick hedgerows.
Lush, weedless, verdant lawns. Untrodden, like private arboretums.
Forsythia led the way down Montgomery Avenue.
Honeysuckle sweetened my tongue.
I was a conscientious observer.
My observational skills have anguished this past year.
Quarantine has made me cranky and antsy.
Lockdown sucks the oxygen from our 750-square-foot, one-bedroom Manhattan apartment.
Next door, construction ramps up at 7 a.m. sharp.
A symphonic cacophony murders our peace.
Deafening airhorns, sirens and drills seed my migraines.
Daily I flee the suffocating space and incessant din.
Exiting the prewar, past-its-glory building, I doggedly approach Central Park a half block away.
My pre-surgery pace was New York-fast. Post-surgery I baby-step on high alert for sidewalk defects.
The park is my sanctuary, sacred and constant.
Fellow Upper West Siders gather. They unleash their hounds giddy with freedom.
My bad mood lifts.
Frenchies and pugs race around like unhinged lunatics.
Hip-replacement surgery put the kibosh on my long walks.
Before surgery and Covid, I clocked a daily mile.
Free-range park dogs lift my quarantine blues.
Some adore being petted. I’m happy to oblige.
When I began photographing dogs, their humans were New York-suspicious.
They defrosted as their dogs greeted me warmly in recognition.
Frenchies, Maltese, mini and standard poodles, corgis, terriers, goldens and labs chase yellow tennis balls.
They pause to snack on vegan cookies.
I snap iPhone photos with owners’ permission.
Barry, a majestic Bernese Mountain dog tapped my heart.
I met Jagger, a Bernese puppy, when he was eight weeks old.
He refused to take the steps near the Hippo Playground.
Tan and black pugs play keep-away with a squeaky blue rubber bone.
Masked humans swap vet woes, sipping from “Happy to Serve You” cups.
Blue and brown-eyed Aussies, shepherds, Maltese, goldens, labs, Great Danes, collies, corgis and greyhounds cavort.
They bring me unquarantined joy, a respite from isolation.
Dogs were not of my childhood landscape.
My chaotic childhood was graced by a motley bunch of freelance felines.
Toots, Sharkey, Tulip, Murray, Jason and Pookie passed through.
Temporary kittens were discarded like loser bingo cards.
A black kitten was dropped from a third-floor window onto the concrete slab below.
I was an unmoored, unsupervised child. The youngest of five.
I roamed Elkins Park neighborhoods unleashed.
A beckoning creek ignited curiosity when hopelessness crushed my tender dreams.
Towering weeping willows delivered temporary reprieve from dysfunction.
So I recall innocent days exploring safe-to-wander neighborhoods.
A creek down the hill from Ogontz Junior High thrummed with paramecium. Weeping willow tree whispered in the wind. Sheltering me from harm. I was 10, brimming with escape fantasy and rescue.
Now Central Park comforts me with four-legged blessings.
Barry parks his furry bulk against my good leg.
Jagger at 14 weeks is a fluffy brown, black and white furball. He’s no longer afraid of the Hippo Playground steps.
Zeno, Mia, Tilly, Fifa, Ollie, Stevie, Ozzy, Lily, Oscar, Ruby, Evie, George, Don Corleone, Hercules and Apollo are regulars.
These lovely creatures mend my spirit as my body heals.
But none compare to Maggie, a discarded Rhodesian Ridgeback we rescued from a Long Island pound.
Dagmar had been scribbled on her intake card. She was no Dagmar.
Maggie graced our lives for 15 years.
Emmy and Ben thrived with her constant loyal companionship.
She loved us all unconditionally.
I have her collar still.
Naomi Serviss is a New York-based award-winning journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Newsday, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Highroads (AAA magazine), in-flight publications, spa and travel magazines and websites, including BroadwayWorld.com