First Dog Walk of the Day

Our little black pup Rufus, sleeps in Molly’s bed. As I’ve already told you, I don’t share my bed easily although when my daughter is away for the night I allow him to sleep at the foot. He tries to sneak under the blankets because Molly lets him snuggle under hers but I’ll have none of that, thank you.

I’m on morning dog-duty. By 6:30 or so I hear the double scratch and thud of his paws hitting the wood floor as he jumps off her bed. That’s my cue to get up fast and open Molly’s door before he leaves a puddle by the door of her bedroom. He can be a little bratty like that.

Thus I get out in the early hours of the morning. And a little bit out of myself as well. I appreciate stepping  into the breaking day. I look at the morning light, the new growth, taste the air and in a sleep daze, watch Rufus explore the same old shrub. This morning, off in the sky to the South I saw a large bird that glowed white in the sunlight or maybe it actually was a white bird. Perhaps it was an egret.

This morning I was wearing pajama bottoms with ducks on them, my bare feet stuck into really ugly old UGGS, a belted black jacket and a scarf wrapped around my neck although it was not cold after all. My hair was unbrushed but there are just 3 houses facing a wood on the street we wander down and all of us neighbors have seen each other in every mood, hour and season over the years. I don’t feel self-conscious. A perk of getting old.

Rufus knows the morning jaunt is a short one and turns back towards the house after taking care of business. By then, the kettle is boiled and I make tea.

In Praise of Rivers and Walking (Dogs)

We were dog-less for at least a year after beloved Tetley died. Without a dog, I rarely wandered around the neighborhood, particularly not in winter when I’m inclined to be a slug. Now we have Rufus. We think he’s a chihuahua-scottie, pretty darling and an easy, sweet dog. While sometimes I complain, I’m grateful he gets me outside even during a recent cold snap. Walking behind his jaunty strut, him pulling a little too much on his leash, it’s hard not to smile.

Molly and I have worked out an informal labor sharing system. I do morning, she does night walks. Either one of us tries to get a good long one in during the afternoon. The morning one is a quickie to just take care of business. I throw a big coat over my pajamas and let him sniff around the street while I yawn and wake up, thinking about my dreams, clearing sleep from my lungs with deep breaths. These days, the sun is just about rising and the morning planets hanging around on the Eastern horizon give me their last twinkle before fading into the day sky.

The good long walk is when I get home from work, if it’s still light enough. I need it as much as Rufus does. My favorite walk is along the river because there are no cars and because – river! I love rivers – the sense of always coming from and going somewhere. As I write, my cheeks are cold because I just got back from a jaunt on this sparkling, bracing winter day. The long way takes about 40 minutes if you factor in Rufus’s pit stops and smell checks. Today I took pictures.

The mouth of the river leading into the Long Island Sound is not very far, so high and low tides are quite noticeable. The tide was out when I got down to water and I thought about hanging around to hear what I suspect might be some nice cracking sounds as the incoming tide shifts the ice around. One very cold winter,  I lived a block off of Riverside Drive in Manhattan and heard, from blocks away, the ice cracking on the Hudson River. Strange and alarming, almost like little bombs going off, and then exciting to be reminded of the force of nature even in that metropolis. Today I settled for the crack and crunch of a little frozen puddle beneath my shoe.

I like this walk as much for the industrial stretches as the glimpses of bird life, rose bushes and a well placed bench. It’s real like this diverse city. The Norwalk river is a working one and there are even a few barges. Not like the monsters that travel the Ohio River – another river I once lived near and am fond of. There are stone lots and an asphalt plant, stretches of the river are blocked by huge piles of dirt and machinery. Some people think all this is ugly and I guess it kind of is, but I think it more interesting than an endless view of condos even as I enjoy the benefits of their lovely open walkways. I like the grittiness. And I’m not alone. I don’t know if this huge machine works but Osprey come return here every year. See the glimpse of last year’s nest where the antenna is?

There’s also a rowing club along this stretch. I’m sometimes tempted to try this. I like the way sculls move through the water, swifter and more elegantly than my little sea kayak. In the warmer weather this stretch is often filled with rowing kids – white and wealthy judging by their private school swag and the fancy cars waiting to pick them up. It seems a shame that the neighborhood children who live by and pass over this river daily don’t get to do this stuff. To see their city from the water, sometimes making that exit into the salty mouth to the sea. What a great way to ignite imagination and a sense of possibility. Too bad it’s mostly a rich-kid sport. I think about this when I pass the big boat tent and docks. Today I didn’t see a soul.

Up river there isn’t much ice. I’m not sure why. Deeper water? The tides are not as apparent as down river. The pathway stops here so Rufus and I leave the riverbank, cutting up through the grounds of an historical museum. One day I’ll go inside but it’s never open when I pass. There’s a well maintained herb garden in and a very old cemetery. I like to read the fantastic early American names. Here it turns pretty and feels like New England. I salute these old souls as we pass through. I think about time and the land and the river. They were digging up the road nearby here not too long ago, revealing cobblestones and trolley lines. From my car I never would have seen these details, this glimpse of the past.

Back to the streets we cross the busy one to the quieter roads of the neighborhood. Sidewalks disappear when we get off the main drag so I have to stay alert. But that’s the thing about walking: I pay attention to everything. The weather, the seasons, the neighborhood. I chat with people who have other dogs or want to meet Rufus – he is very friendly. Like the tides, a great ice-breaker.

Slow Walking the Neighborhood

I love the thrum of a summer night – cicadas and crickets and mystery making the darkness vibrate. As a child I was terrified of the summer night racket, sure that whatever made those noises must be huge and awful. Now I am enchanted by their crazy chorus – different at night from day when under the scorching sun the cicadas seem to speed up their crazy chant with the heat.

Have you seen the leaves are beginning to fall? The other day, a yellow leaf from the Tulip tree rocked slowly through the air, floating, floating down – a quiet reminder on a still-hot day that summer is almost over. And the moon tonight was lovely – waxing and bright with a few stars I don’t know shining not far from it’s light.

These are just a fraction of the rewards I’ve found in my recent walks when not gazing at the new love in our lives: Rufus.

This little man is actually full grown – adopted 2 weeks ago from WASA Westport. Last we heard, his two brothers are still available. I’d almost forgotten the joys of a dog. And Molly – well, she’s smitten with Rufus and he, with her.

So I’m slow walking the neighborhood again and it’s very sweet indeed.

A Winter Walk at the Beach

beach benchI sit a lot, don’t you? And now, with winter cold and my aging dog, I move even less. For 14 years, Tetley has enthusiastically forced me up and out a few times a day. Alas, he is fading. The days of him pulling me the long route up hills for a real work-out, are over. Now I can barely cajole him half a block. I anticipate heartbreak ahead…

Tet

But enough of that – it’s just that Tetley is content to sleep and last Sunday, I too could have lolled on the couch with the newspapers all day.

But I needed a good walk – to move my bones and get my heart pumping —  hours of sitting at work, at home, in the car, makes my hips ache. Although I love moving through the world by foot, on a wintery day when I don’t have to do anything, I’m often content to never step over the threshold. But look…

beach sandTen minutes drive from my house, I get to walk here!

Unlike this frigid weekend, last Sunday was balmy for February, the light squinting-bright. I walked alone, breathing and thinking and enjoying the crunch of snow, sand and the squish of mud underfoot. I walked down to the shoreline so I could hear the lapping waves. I passed fewer than 20 other walkers. We greeted each other with bright smiles as if we’d landed in Charlie’s Chocolate Factory together – a shared glee at being here on a February day.

sunny viewFilling my lungs with the cold sea air and the light, oh the changing light! Why am I not up at 5:30 every morning to walk briskly around this sweet course, breathing deeply, absorbing the beauty and peace in this city where I landed by accident, 20 years ago? Or at least at 5:30 PM when I’m done with work and catch a sunset while I’m at it. I should do that.

trees beachSometimes I think about venturing back out into the wide-world again, to find a warmer, less expensive life maybe? Maybe. Then I recall that when I wandered the globe I longed for a place. On this Sunday walk, with a surge of joy, a breath of cold winter air, an earful of seagull screams, I recognize – I am here. And for now, it sure will do.

Where do you walk?

Sunrise, Sunset, the Moon, the Stars and My Dog

 

2013-01-20 15.05.19My breath is visible and a cloud of steam rises from Tetley’s pee as he lifts his leg over a pile of leaves. I look up at the brilliant blue sky promising a beautiful day. I follow the flight of a little bird as it bounces through a shrub with golden leaves – the last foliage left in the wood. Yesterday’s wind cleared most of the leaves and now I shuffle through them as I follow my sweet old Cairn Terrier down the street. He pulls me forward then stops, lingering a long time to smell a suspect rock. So I stand and look around, listen, fill my lungs with fresh air – my initial grumpiness about getting forced out into the world earlier than I wanted fading. Like most of us, although I’d love to, I rarely get to loll about in bed past 6 AM and it’s now just after 8 on a Sunday – a little later than our usual circling of the neighborhood.

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Multiple times a day, Tetley leads me to moments of meditation. He gets me OUT. Even when I’m cranky or the weather sucks. And so I see the sunrise, the sunset, the moon and stars, the passing flock of geese honking through the sky, rabbits, and once even a coyote. He gets me closer to the subtle change in the season, I speak with my neighbors rather than just waving at them from my car. I watch the light, hear the bird songs. We sometimes go to the beach in a neighboring town where he can climb on the jetty in search of rodents and I watch the tides, hear the waves, smell the salt air. He greets strange dogs and I talk to their owners.

Tet color profile

Tetley makes me move when I’m inclined to hide at home, not leave the couch. And once outside, there is no purpose but to be there with him and see the world around us.

I’d Like to Walk (More)

tet

In this car-dependent community where I live, walking is something I do with intention. I walk my dog Tetley before and after work. More ambitiously I walk with my friend Chris. We walk fast and far and sometimes with weights – for the fresh air and exercise. Where I live, like most American communities, walking is not a viable way to take care of daily business. I miss that.

I did not own a car until I moved to Connecticut in my 30s. I lived in Kyoto, Japan; New York City; Zagreb, Croatia; even Cincinnati, Ohio (I lived in the city) and never owned a car because I didn’t need one. Stores, markets to buy food – were in every neighborhood. And public transportation was accessible and good. Or, I rode a bicycle with a basket big enough to fill with groceries. I knew the fastest, scenic, safest routes to work.  I became familiar with the patterns of light, cracks on sidewalks, faces and sometimes the names of shopkeepers, my neighbors. All of my senses were attuned to my place in the world. In Kyoto, the sound of ancient weaving machines heaving away down the narrow streets of my neighborhood, were my cues I was nearing the old wooden house where I lived, as did the splashing of water from the tofu shop on the corner. When I moved farther north in the city, I smelled the fermenting kimchee from the Korean community on the next street, the scent of the pine forests up the hill and felt the wind, the first snow.

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In Zagreb, I befriended neighbors and shopkeepers passed daily on my walk to catch the tram to work. After Molly was born, I walked with her pram to the market where I piled fresh produce and maybe something from the butcher in the rack beneath her.  In Cincinnati I lived at the edge of a ghetto surrounded by empty buildings, accepted by the few residents in that mostly abandoned neighborhood, as one of the weird artists that lived in the building that used to be a school. I only felt nervous when I had to leave at 4:30 in the morning to pick up a waitress shift at the hotel downtown – I’d throw my ten speed onto my shoulder, dash down the broken church steps and pedal furiously through the empty streets – the dark morning terrifying and thrilling me.

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And New York – well, everyone knows New York – half the fun of being there is just walking, walking, walking. Most days I happily joined the river of pedestrians rushing down Broadway, dodging around the slowpokes, when I remembered to have change handy in my pocket, giving to the usual gauntlet of panhandlers. Sometimes I’d choose West End Avenue – a wider, emptier expanse of only apartment buildings with no shops – a short reprieve from the masses before cutting over to join the flow at 96th Street where we descended to the subway.

But here, an hour outside of New York City, I’ve never even boarded the bus. The grocery store is at least a mile away so not practical to walk to unless I’m just buying milk. Work is 5 miles and my job requires a car for visits to schools and companies.

Except for the hurried morning Tetley walks  – so short they hardly qualify – me following him at a snails pace as he sniffs and pees, sniffs and pees, barks at long-gone creatures from the night before. I have to get to work so we barely make it down the street before I have to tug him to hurry along and take care of business. Still, I get a glimpse of the day, a sense of the seasons.

body vibe

Recently, I walked a different route to pick up my car. Not a pretty street, but one I drive down often. And in walking it, I noticed new things. This company’s name intrigued me – its a wholesale distributor of body jewelry – so if you’re in the market for nipple rings, check them out.

American communities do not encourage pedestrian life. In fact, walking can be deadly. Sidewalks are intermittent — even along busy thoroughfares like the Boston Post Road. I’ve seen families pushing baby carriages along a busy stretch between strip malls, hugging the curb while traffic barrels past. Throw in the frozen snow banks of winter and a texting teen…

According to the CDC: “In 2012, 4,743 pedestrians were killed in traffic crashes in the United States, and another 76,000 pedestrians were injured. This averages to one crash-related pedestrian death every 2 hours, and a pedestrian injury every 7 minutes. Pedestrians are 1.5 times more likely than passenger vehicle occupants to be killed in a car crash on each trip.”

This doesn’t exactly make you want to break out your walking shoes, now does it?

I miss the easy exercise of being a functional walker but even more, I miss the intimate connections to the world around me only possible beyond the boundaries of my home, my car. I devour the blogs of madcap adventurers biking around the world, shlogging through all weather, up mountains, through cities, camping by rivers, part of it all – meeting up with hospitable citizens who share their food and drink because who doesn’t love a traveler – someone pedaling, walking, wanting to know about your place in the world? And in doing so, in getting out of a car, slowing down and being in a place, we make it a little bit, our own.

Don’t get me wrong – I love to drive around in the warmth or the cool of my car, my music playing. But so much of life is missed when you travel 30+ miles an hour.

What about where you live?

My Canine Love

Weekends, even when I’m inclined to linger in bed a little longer, Tetley, my Cairn Terrier, gets me up. Now that he’s an older dog, he’s more of a sleeper himself, staying curled at the foot of the bed later than he used to. But he’s still going before 9, sidling up beside me, nudging me with his wet nose. I can buy myself more lazy time by scratching his ears and usually, he’ll rollover onto his back so I can rub his belly. Soon, squirming upright, he shakes and starts pawing at me, sometimes punctuating his gentle punches with little guttural pleas to get the hell out of bed.

Tet color profile

Especially during these winter months, I’m inclined to hibernate, but Tetley gets me outside a few times a day – at least for a walk down the street. I feel the weather, taste the air, notice the changes of the seasons, the comings-and-goings of the neighborhood. I pay attention. This morning the roads were slick with black ice so I stepped carefully, walking only on the snow covered part of the street.  He pees his way up and down the street, sniffing and sometimes barking at phantom or real squirrels. These days, with the branches bare, I watch the birds – Nuthatches, Cardinals, Woodpeckers – darting around the wood. Mourning Doves were perched around like clergy waiting for their flock to show up on this Sunday morning – I still hear their insistent cooing an hour later. I look up at the sky – today, beautifully blue and clear after yesterday’s snow. At night, I watch the stars, where the moon is, whether waxing or waning. These little jaunts, I notice the world in a way I might otherwise not. Thanks to my beloved dog, these walks become a kind of meditation.

Tet on wintry walk

Tetley is getting old. Molly was in second grade when he entered our lives and now she is in college. He’s the only dog I’ve ever owned – my only canine love and as true a love as I have ever felt. I purposely forget his actual years – we’ve been saying ‘about ten’ for awhile now.  Small dogs can live quite long lives and I trust (and pray) Tetley lives to a very ripe old age. He’s still fit, although his teeth aren’t great and his breath smells like a swamp. He prefers not to have to leap up on the bed anymore, (I lift him) and he sports a distinguished white goatee. Recently, we’ve noticed he gets underfoot and I’m beginning to wonder if he’s just a tad blind. That’s okay – I’ll lead the way, aging too with my aching love for him.

tet glasses

Musings on Love

soap blanket

I have a front row seat to holidays thanks to my job in a bookstore. I track the changing seasons by displays with holiday relevant books and gewgaws almost as much as I do by observing nature. Christmas hoopla, we all agree, starts way too early. The arrival of merry product the retail cue for imminent insanity, makes me groan when it shows up in September. St. Patrick’s Day stuff of dubious Irish humor books and clover chotchkis, is pretty lame but the sight of it still makes me happy. Like sandals displayed in the shoe store next door even though snow still blankets the ground, the green of St. Patrick’s day signals that the end of winter is near. Of course Easter and Passover bring with it lovely garden books, so what’s not to love?

But Valentine’s Day is my favorite. Vibrant red blankets and boxes of chocolate, heart shaped candles, stones and French milled soaps, pocket sized Pablo Nerudo Love Sonnets, gorgeous displays celebrating the warmth of love to get us through frigid-February. I am almost as much a sucker for this Valentine stuff as I am for love.

I think, it’s why we are here.

Pete Seeger died this week at 94, only months after the death of his wife of 70 years. Toshi Ota was Pete’s anchor throughout his well-lived life, so off he floated after her, following the love of his life. Moving stories of devoted couples dying months, days, minutes apart, abound.

Not all of us are lucky enough to discover and keep such a love. Sometimes it takes decades and many, many false starts to find ‘the one’, if we ever do at all. While I now blissfully share my life, I had plenty of false starts. (In fact, my guy and I reunited 20 years after such a start – but another time for that story.)

I’ve always been love-crazy, maybe even a little obsessive. When I began writing this post, I thought love might be a nice break from my usual musings on addiction and grief. But then it dawned on me that for most of my life I was a romance-junkie, pursuing impossible notions of true love across the country, even around the globe. Plenty of grief got mixed into the soup.

My addiction started in early adolescence with serious crushes on my older brothers’ and sister’s friends, unattainable because they were either oblivious to my 13 year old designs or just decent guys. My best friend Rita (who shared my affliction) and I spent long hours sprawled across the bed in her purple bedroom listening to Cat Stevens after strategically prowling the streets, hoping to encounter our current obsessions. That sense of pining with an edge of pain stayed with me through high school where my most serious romantic episode could have landed the guy in jail. Early on, I associated the thrill of love with an element of danger.

There is danger. We risk getting very seriously hurt. Perhaps that was the thrill for me. My version of psychic cliff-jumping, the madly intense feelings, the brew of first attraction that I was convinced was love.  Of course, in a healthier person this is where things start – and go somewhere or nowhere. For me, it was that very intoxication of questions, hopes, dreams swirling in a crazy alchemy of beginnings where I got stuck.

ti amo blanket

I can conjure the weird drop in my stomach still. Will this be the one? With no roadmap to what a healthy relationship with a man might be, I regularly got lost, mistaking those mixes of passion, wine, fantasy for something that might last. And mostly, they didn’t.

But I never stopped hoping. Finally, I discovered what the gift of real time together means and that after that first rolling boil of love slows — a delicious, long-burning simmer begins.

How does a first encounter turn into 70 years? What a mystery! While we no longer have a chance at 70, R and I are shooting for 30.

Autumn Leaves

Fading Chlorophyl leaf

On my recent walks down the street with Tetley, these leaching-chlorophyl leaves have been catching my eye. There’s something poignant about the luminous, x-ray quality to them, certainly an image of fading life. The ribs of the leaf are evocative of skeletons and veins, don’t you think?

Battered leaf And then there’s this one, ravaged by chomping insects, weather, time.  I find them beautiful – for me, they capture the way Summer’s has slipped away this year, slowly blurring like a watercolor into Fall. Recent weeks of high temperatures, crystalline skies, exquisitely drawing out the sweetness of last days.

Summer remains my preferred season and I am sad to see it go. I like the heat, the extra hours of light, the generally slower pace. Of course Autumn brings wonderful gifts. It’s time to start transitioning into warmer garb, closing windows, stiff from being in the open position for months. The crazy chorus of night insects has diminished to only a few, forlornly calling from the dark hedges. Darker earlier these days – and that’s even before our biannual messing around with clocks.

While I’m loathe to put on socks again, or find gloves that match, I’ll welcome fires in the fireplace, the deliciousness of being inside after the exhilaration of a walk in the bracing cold. I’ll appreciate the new views of the sky as the leaves hit the ground, easier to spot my favorite falcons that hunt in the neighborhood.

Red Leaf

On the street where I walk Tetley, at least for now, colors seem to just be leaking, fading away. But in my yard there is a Maple going out in expected glory. In the Camellia plant still perched outside, I find Maple leaves snagged in the branches, flashes of red. There are different exits to the end.

Roads Not Taken – Yet

2013-09-28 14.28.53Every college campus should have a spot like this. A path to ponder, a place to dream. To walk towards the horizon with nothing but sky ahead. No limits. Anything is possible. The world is yours. All that.

As a college student, I often came to this very hill, a short distance from my dormitory. Decades and a lifetime of adventures later, I visit my freshman daughter here. And this road in the clouds still evokes the questions: Where to? What next?

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We came to look at the cows. R loves cows.

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Tetley remained ambivalent. Not even a bark.

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I know, I just wrote here about my new-found attraction to the city as a place to grow old – but hey, it’s not time for that yet. Back home I searched the real estate sites to look at houses and land in that part of the state. There’s  still relatively inexpensive places to be had. With space for cows.