We went awalkin’, Sammy and I, up the ridge, along the narrow gravel road that passes our woods, across the ridgeline, and through the tunnel of redbuds, so robust and full in the spring yet now so gaunt and naked with the approach of our winter. We went awalkin', Sammy and I.
His vet would be pissed.
We’d taken Sammy to the local county doctor, fearing that age, arthritis, and the effects of a life-long liver condition had finally begun to squeeze the joy from the feisty little terrier. She made the expected pharmacological recommendations to ease his aching joints and suggested that, with limited activity, he should be comfortable for the foreseeable future. But she knew.
He sleeps a lot. And we carry him to the back yard – down the steps – so that he might sniff the 'coon tracks, stare into the woods, and unsteadily mark his now meager boundaries. It’s still his turf, after all, though he squats like a girlie dog, his leg-lifting balance gone the way of eyesight and stamina. And, at the end of each constitutional, he stands and looks up the drive, towards the road, up the ridge, to the redbuds, where we’ve walked together a thousand times - but walk no more.
But today, instead of just looking, he began to climb the hill, like before.
I called to him, to steer him back to comfort and ease, but he did not hear. Maybe he can't. More likely, he pretended not to. I called again, more urgently, and he stopped, reluctantly, but did not turn. Instead, he paused, then looked back over his shoulder as if to say, “Are you coming?”
I sighed. And I came.
For a half-mile he was Wilderness Dog Sammy again - scourge of squirrels, chaser of deer, defiler of tall weeds. There was spring in his step and sparkle in his eyes – ears and tail pointed to the brilliant blue sky. He led and I followed, noticing that his haunches, once as sturdy and full as the redbuds in spring, were as thin and bony as the stark, bare canopy above. But, for a half-mile, he was the alpha dog once more. For a wonderful half-mile...
… until he slowed. I called his name, like before, and he stopped, waited, and allowed me to pick him up – a concession unimaginable in times gone by. His walk was complete, miles short of his good days, but he accepted my bearing without shame. His ears remained perked, his nose thrust forward as if to lead us along the path, his spirit taking us where his legs could no longer. We walked our old haunts together, one more time. Even in my arms, he was still the Wilderness Dog.
And, on occasion, he looked up and licked my face, his eyes still sparkling despite clouding lenses, and he seemed to say “Isn’t this glorious?”
This evening I expect that Sammy will pay for the excursion - the drugs unable to blunt the ache as it does most nights. He’ll lie in his bed, at out feet, and hurt a little more than usual, but I’m certain that the discomfort will be more than compensated by his restored canine dignity, by the walk through his old woods. I regret his pain, but I’m glad that we went forth for we both were able to remember the Wilderness Dog, if but just for a little while.
And, if you please, do the same for me. When my vitality wanes, when my life is diminished by whatever prostration chips it away, I hope that, on that day when the woods call to me once again, you allow me to answer. Allow me to follow that ridgeline as far as I am able - wisdom and doctor be damned. I will accept assistance, if offered, on return, but first let me go. I will accept the inevitable pain, the price, but first let me go. Let me relive the fullness of my spring, the redbuds in bloom, for just that little while, and then I will again accept my limitations, accept the arrival of my winter. But first, let me go.
We went awalkin’, Sammy and I, up the ridge, through the tunnel of redbuds.
A photo bin for November simply must be all about fall colors. Each of these three images was taken within spitting distance of the house. The scarlet dogwood, above, reaches for sun into the small clearing behind our home and, in autumn, really pops against the background yellow maples.
There's a line in an old Trace Adkins country western song, expressing an unabashed admiration of a certain young honky-tonk patron's "departing perspective", that goes:
We hate to see her go
But love to watch her leave
It's exactly how Troy and I felt - minus, of course, the lasciviousness - as we worked our way off the down-east salt marshes on which we'd just spent a fine Carolina autumn day chasing speckled trout.
A good friend and gifted writer once told me that when the ideas or the words won’t come, just sit down and "start typing something.” Perhaps I’ve taken her too literally, but I have to do, well, something. It's been another full week without writing anything new.