As most of you already know, I am in love with my dog Penny in the way only someone who was “dog-deprived” as a child (my dad was allergic) can be: I love her eyes, her floppy ears, her stump of a tail, the color of her fur (a new copper penny, hence her name), her wiggly ecstasy upon my return home – everything.
I also love taking her for walks, and walking her is one of the few things I make time for every day, rain, shine, wind, sleet, snow, sun, humidity, cold, drizzle (yes, she wears a coat because otherwise, short-haired mutt that she is, she shivers). I don’t feel it’s fair to only allow a dog outside to “do its business” (a hilarious euphemism, though perhaps much of “business” in the economic sense is peeing and pooping as well). So. I walk the dog.
Because I enjoy seeing places change with time, I repeat a few dog walk loops: woods to bike path; longer walk than usual along the main road (sometimes with a stop for a tasty beverage at the coffeeshop); to the old apple tree at the once-was-a-farm park adjacent to our woods.
The woods are my favorite. Its trees are probably 60-80 years old and provide a backdrop for our cluster of houses. The topmost branches sway dramatically in the winds that bring the cold fronts. I am chronically astonished they remain connected to the earth in the big gusts, and still need to reassure both my sons that their roots are very very deep. “No, the trees are not likely to fall on our homes,” I say. Hoping I’m right.
I unleash Penny in the woods and she dashes after squirrel! Deer! Chipmunk! Fox?! And I mosey along behind her (or trot, if I’m running late).
The woods are full of surprises. There’s a hollow tree stump containing a wad of tin foil and three golf balls. The work of a crow, I believe. There’s a very small area where rocket flowers grow, on the slope to the creek. I haven’t seen it anywhere else. Mayapples run riot in the spring; mushrooms of all types and sizes — from enormous puffballs to tiny, brilliant orange ones — multiply in late summer and early fall. Moss expands and contracts along tree trunks depending on humidity and temperature.
The trail we humans have etched runs up and down the slopes, with gentle switchbacks; the deer’s tracks, obvious in winter, run perpendicular to ours.
Every year I am certain that this spring’s first tender green and this fall’s sharp crimsons have never, NEVER, been so lovely. I know I’m forgetting last year’s palettes, but I don’t mind. I’m fine with letting today be the prettiest day ever rather than lamenting that it doesn’t compare with those gone by.
But this year is the first time I can remember being caught unawares by the trail’s disappearance under the drifts of leaves. [Warning: obvious metaphor for writing practice is beaten to death in the remainder of the post.]
Fall arrived in fits and starts this September, an early cold drizzly couple of days followed by warm temperatures and sun enough to ripen my last few tomatoes and encourage the foxgloves to produce a last cluster of blooms. The leaves turned all the stereotypical colors and shone against the fall sky’s blue dome. In mid-October the trail remained visible despite some accumulation of the trees’ cast-offs. My footfalls, and those of my fellow hikers, kept it relatively clear.
Then a cold front screamed in and tore the leaves off the branches: the next day the trail had vanished. Did I usually walk between those two trees or skirt them? And what are those trees? Without their leafy cloaks, I can’t hazard a guess. The rocks that bump up from the earth, the tree roots that lace across the path: all invisible, hidden. I stumbled once, twice, thrice and though I managed to keep my balance, these thoughts sluiced through my mind:
- I don’t know these woods as well as I think I do.
- Thank goodness I’m not of an age to worry about breaking a hip if I fall. Yet. This led to:
- Will I ever be too old to walk in the woods?
- Will I walk in the woods regularly when Penny dies?
- I don’t want Penny to die!
- I don’t want to die. Yet.
- This is a metaphor for my writing life …
I played with the hidden trail as metaphor …
- I don’t know my writing as well as I think I do (one of my latest drafts “birthed” a skinny, opinionated rural Virginia girl-woman whose sister is sneaking out at night to bury roadkill: I’ve been thinking about someone who buries roadkill for years, but not her sister, who is dominating the story!). My writing path is obscured just as quickly when a metaphorical storm blows through and I have to tend to my family rather than my writing (the flu, allergy shots, doctor appointments, etcetera: all those “leaves” flew down at once and I was away from my writing for a week and when I sat down again I was utterly … lost).
- I’m still young enough to write although I find reading glasses enormously helpful … this leads to:
- Will I ever have hands too arthritic, reflexes too slowed, eyes too cataracty to NOT write?
- Will I continue to write when I don’t have to squeeze it in between family duties? Sometimes not having much time really lights a fire under me.
- I don’t want to not have the desire to write
- I don’t want to die. Yet.
- Perhaps my writing practice is a metaphor for my life …
The days are good when I can see my way clear – with or without stumbling – to time at my writing desk. I trust – I have to trust! – that if diminishing eyesight and worn-out ligaments impact my ability to “walk” my writing path, I will figure something out by putting one proverbial foot in front of the other, perhaps stumbling, but more often than not catching my balance. I trust that aging’s inevitable questions of “what now?” will arrive with winds strong enough to transform the trail in ways I can’t yet know, and that when those days arrive they, too, will be the most gorgeous days I have ever seen. In a different way. Perhaps while wearing Depends. But still gorgeous.