A few years ago, Cindy and I adopted a stray puppy named Toby through the Tracy Area Animal Rescue. As a puppy Toby had the nickname “The Destroyer,” as he chewed up blankets, dog beds, vertical blinds on the patio door, parts of two metal kennels, several leashes and siding on the house. I think he did this when he was bored, so I started taking him on walks. Some of the walks were quite long with the intent of wearing him out so he would rest for a while. It didn’t work.

These days Toby has slowed down, but I can’t sit down to watch a Twins game in the evening without him plopping his head on my arm or lap and looking at me with his big brown eyes and “sad” face as if to say, “Come on. It’s time for a walk.” So Toby takes me on regular walks, and I use that phrase advisedly. Even though we use a special collar called The Gentle Leader, my arm and shoulder frequently get tired from his constant pulling.

Most of our walks end up taking us through Centennial and Chautauqua parks, along Whiskey Ditch and through the surrounding neighborhoods. There’s always something interesting to see as I witness the changes of the season, catch a view of the beauty and changes in the lake, act as a sidewalk supervisor of progress on various construction projects and observe the variety of activities that are occurring.

In the winter months it can be a very quiet walk, but as the weather turns nice we begin to see people out in their yards. As spring turns to summer and the school year comes to an end, it is common to see all kinds of activity in the parks. The summer walks seem to take more time. The warmer weather allows longer walks, but we also stop more often as Toby does not mind letting kids pet him and ask all kinds of questions. For a dog who seems to always want to go, it’s amazing how patient he is as the kids gather around.

This summer the parks have been especially busy, and my heart is joyful seeing all the activity and life. Kids are swimming in the lake and playing in the splash pad or on the playground equipment. There are basketball games, volleyball games, soccer games, softball games and pickleball games going on. There are picnics, people fishing, and folks sitting and visiting or enjoying some quiet time. We encounter skateboarders, rollerbladers, joggers and walkers, bikers and more than a few other animal lovers walking their pets.

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One of the things I ponder on these walks are the blessings in life and our community. Frequently, I recall these words from Psalm 107:

O give thanks to the Lord for he is good,

for his steadfast love endures forever

Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,

those ... gathered from the east and from the west

from the north and from the south

Yes, we have the beauty of nature, the lakes and the trees and the wildlife. We also find blessings in the organizations which work to improve our community. In my opinion the greatest blessings are the people who live here, who have come from many parts of the world, who care about their neighbors. For that, I give thanks.

Galen Smith is pastor at Worthington's Westminster Presbyterian Church.