The cool, crisp air produces smells that dogs seem to love sniffing


John Kelly's dog, Charlie, loves autumn because of the large amount of leaves to sniff and play in, as seen here outside his house on Oct. 27. (John Kelly/The Washington Post)
John Kelly
Columnist October 27, 2013

Autumn may be my dog Charlie’s favorite season. Finally, his thick, black coat — which had seemed so oppressive during the endless Washington summer — fits the weather perfectly.

Autumn also gives Charlie a whole new world to smell. He is especially enamored of the growing piles of leaves that start appearing curbside. He sniffs them like a connoisseur.

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

It’s unclear what exactly it is about the leaves that he finds so appealing. Do they, as they shed the chlorophyll within their cells, exude some odor undetectable by humans but endlessly fascinating to dogs?

Or are they, as I like to think, infused with the scent of countless squirrel feet?

Whatever it is, it doubles the length of our walks. At every pile of leaves, Charlie’s canine brain conducts some complicated algorithm to determine which ones are worth peeing on and which he can skip.

There’s one other complication. We are meticulous about picking up Charlie’s poop. The rest of the year, he waits till we get to the park to do his business, depositing his waste on the grass where it’s as easy to pick up as an 8-ball from a billiard table. But in the fall, Charlie loves a nice tall leaf pile. The poop China-syndromes its way through the leaves, forcing me to fish for it with my bagged hand.

Oh don’t worry, I always get it all. Even so, if dogs are walked in your neighborhood, I’d avoid frolicking in curbside leaf piles.

College perk

On Friday, I was fortunate enough to receive a distinguished alumni award from the University of Maryland. They give out about two dozen of these every year, so it was inevitable they would get to me eventually. Here’s the text of my acceptance speech:

Thank you. I can honestly say that if it were not for the University of Maryland, I would not be here tonight. You’d hardly give a distinguished alumni award to someone who didn’t attend.

But of course I’m extremely thankful that the University of Maryland accepted me. I don’t know if it would today, when it has become a much more competitive school — and a much more expensive one.

Much has changed since 1984, when I graduated. I understand that when Maryland students sign up for classes now, they no longer stand up to their ankles in drop/add forms in the Armory. They no longer write their term papers the way I did, on a Smith-Corona electric typewriter, a bottle of Wite-Out within arm’s reach. And they no longer wait till the last minute to write those papers.

They don’t know what they missed.

I have nothing against journalism majors — some of my best friends are journalism majors — but I am proud to receive this honor tonight under the auspices of the College of Arts and Humanities. I was an English major, and there’s no better preparation for a life spent writing than four years spent reading.

This can be hazardous, for there’s nothing more dangerous than literature. In fact, after taking a class at Maryland called “Existentialism and the Absurd” I spent an entire weekend curled up on the couch of my Langley Park apartment, overwhelmed by the sheer pointlessness of life. Good times.

As Jean-Paul Sartre said, “Words are loaded pistols.” Thank you to the University of Maryland College of Arts and Humanities for providing me with plenty of ammunition.

The British are rushing

Arlington reader Fred Stokeld Sr. has a tongue-in-cheek suggestion for renaming Washington’s NFL team. He asks: Why not call them the “Washington Redcoats”?

“Think about it,” he wrote. “There would not be a ‘Washington’ here if the Redcoats had not fumbled so much.”

He said the team logo could employ some incendiary artwork — a fire? — to reference the Redcoats’ activities in Washington. “Perhaps most important,” Gerard wrote, “the new team name would break the obsession with the Cowboys. In future, the rivalry would be with the Patriots.”

I had my own idea the other day, which I swear came to me in a dream: the Washington Phoenixes, named after the mythological firebird. At the end of its long life, the phoenix constructs a nest that it then sets on fire. It perishes in the flames, but from its ashes the phoenix rises again, reborn. The cycle repeats endlessly.

If that’s not a metaphor for Dan Snyder’s teams, I don’t know what is.

For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.

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