28.

28 – I love our walks on East Chop. The road on that cliff makes a special loop by the sea exposing an expansive view of Cape Cod across the water and parts of both the Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs harbors nearby. It’s perfect there in any season, especially in summer when the sun is brilliant, the yellow wildflowers are in bloom, the breeze is a perfect temperature, and the sea is dotted with sailboats.

But we walk there even on the coldest days, single digits, with the wind whipping over the choppy sea from the northeast, blowing hard into our faces. Like last week when it was probably too cold to be out there, we walked. Leo seemed energized by the cold, or maybe his enthusiasm was really just an attempt to stay warm, but he pushed on despite the cold, keeping us at a brisk and determined pace.

I had to turn back, the frozen air sucking my breath from my lungs, while Leo marched by my side obviously comfortable with his long curly fur and windbreaker coat. He’s a great sport, that boy, because he didn’t complain when we returned to the car. Good boy Leo. Good dog! Best bud.

 

27

27 – I grew up in a small tract house on a postage stamp piece of property in a suburban neighborhood on Long Island, New York. The most I ever walked there was to school each day and I don’t think I ever considered that a very good thing, just necessary.

Probably the most memorable walk of my childhood was on the day Hurricane Hazel struck and they let us out of school early. I remember that walk vividly, because I was scared the way it was blowing, no, more than scared, pretty terrified. The wind was blowing so hard it took my breath away so I took the short cut through the neighbor’s yard hoping to get home more quickly. My heart was racing.

My mother ran out to meet me as I scrambled over the white wooden fence and ran into the kitchen. I remember the way her face looked, her green eyes wide with fear, her mouth open as if ready to scream for help. Her kid was out there in the storm. She would help pull that child, me, over that fence.

Leaves and branches were falling around us. There was something terrifying and wonderful all at once, maybe because I made it home in one piece, but also because my mother came to my rescue. She was a quiet woman, not one for drama.   I never had much proof of the depth of her love and devotion. Even when I was in an ambulance after being hit by a car and I was crumpled and broken, she couldn’t quite find the words to comfort me, but that stormy day her love was clear and I took it in and saved it.

Funny that walking became so important to me, something I could do without a friend, without a date, without a plan, just with my faithful dog. I know I would race into danger to pull my dog to safety if I ever had to do that. And he would save me. I know that. He already did in his own loving way just by staying by my side.

26.

26 – Enjoying the momentary thaw, Leo and I started up the dirt road and got further than usual, though he stopped a lot to sniff the leaves, the soil. I asked him if could smell his friends, you know, any of the dogs he knew. He looked at me. I always appreciated his attempt to understand my words.

How wonderful it would be if I could capture the scent of my beloved husband by stopping along the road like that and sticking my nose in the leaves. We walked there so many times.

And then I started thinking that if I really focused, perhaps I could recall specific moments we shared on that road, not scents, but times when we stopped, when Herb took my hand, when he turned to give me his twinkly smile. So I did that.

I walked with Leo and remembered the way Herb looked when he reached for my hand, how healthy and strong and beautiful he looked, how alive! I could feel his presence. I mean it. I could feel everything about that warm connected thing we shared and it made me laugh. Right there at the top of Christiantown Road, I was laughing and Leo was looking at me with his warm almost human eyes. And it looked like he was smiling.

25

Walking in circles in the yard, the air much too cold and the ground too icy to venture down the road, I found myself remembering Zeke, the Springer. That dog was surely the most graceful, the most agile, the least likely to die young.

I used to walk with Zeke way past the horse farm, much farther than I can go with Leo. Zeke had stamina. He was made to run. It was something ancestral about him, about his breed. He could trot for miles, even uphill. And he was so well trained he stayed by my side even off lead.

We were walking past the wall of stones that bordered acres of rolling meadow one morning, when Zeke looked at me as if to ask if it was okay for him to take off. I said, “Go,” and he bounded effortlessly over the wall, an unusually tall stonewall, at least four feet high. He cleared it with ease.

I watched Zeke run. He was a beautiful dog, sleek and athletic, and strong. He ran circles through the fields, around and around and then finally came back to the wall. But I hadn’t noticed that on the other side of the stonewall, on the now Zeke side, the meadow side, the ground was lower, so the jump was much higher than four feet.

Zeke stood there staring at me, as if asking what was he supposed to do now? There was no gate, no opening. I wondered. I felt scared, then I just told him, “You can do it.   Jump Zeke!”

At first when he ran away I thought I was losing him, but after running a great circle in the field, he headed back full steam and without breaking his rhythm, he jumped and scampered up the wall, clearing it at the top.

I loved that dog. He died of the seizure disorder just a few months later. He was three years old. Still so hard to believe. Rest in peace Zeke. No. Probably more like run like the wind Zeke. Run like the wind.

24

I think Leo and I share this yearning to walk thing, especially in storms. It’s crazy windy out there today in this storm ‘bomb’ as they’re calling it. We walked, of course we walked, decked in our gear, wind in our faces, sleet, snow, or whatever it was changing to at the moment hitting our noses.

Leo doesn’t falter. He just finds a groove and marches forward, soft lead hanging, our pace comfortable and steady.

I stopped a couple of times wondering if it was safe out there the way the wind was blowing the trees, but I couldn’t bear turning back so onward we went. Sometimes I think the harder the wind blows, the worse the conditions, the more I take comfort in being alive, the more I think of my losses, the more grateful I am for the moment.

I never knew about wind before I moved to the Vineyard years ago. I think I wrote that before. But there’s something about it that touches my very heart, something powerful and worth remembering. Wind in our faces, Leo. Fresh and stinging and real. Wind in our faces.

23

23 – A storm is coming! Yippee! I love to walk with Leo right before a storm when the wind is picking up. It’s as if an animal is approaching, something exciting and strong and maybe just a little dangerous. And then when the storm starts for real and the first flakes fall – Ah! Terrific!
 
I’ve always loved changes in weather. My kids picked that up and I think Leo’s got it now too. He wags his tail and runs to the door when he sees me putting on my boots or my sneakers. In this cold weather he waits for me get his harness and coat and out we go to face the elements.
 
Leo likes walking in the rain with me but he especially loves the snow. He lifts his head to catch snowflakes and stops to taste the piles of fresh snow. He eats mouthfuls of snow like a child does a snow cone. Sometimes he takes little leaps as if to show his absolute joy.
 
So we’ll be out in the storm and then we’ll sit by the fire and snuggle after I dry him off. What a guy! This dog is so much fun. He’s so very true. I am so grateful for his unconditional love.

22.

22.  I had to spend a few days without Leo. Yes, swimming in Florida was renewing, the sea, the sun and sand wonderful and yes I needed the vacation, but how I missed my furry boy and our walks.

I thought a lot about a walk we took last year during hunting season. We were being careful, walking up the dirt road wearing our orange vests, staying in a residential neighborhood, doing the right thing. Leo was setting the pace, really in the zone, and we were moving quite fast. No cars passed us, no trucks, no people. We were alone on the road surrounded by large wooded lots. That was when I heard the unfamiliar sound. Surely not a car, not a bird, but what was it?

The galloping was the clue, the clip-clopping of hooves rushing through the brambles and past the trees but I didn’t have time to react or name the sound because precisely at that very moment, the large buck cut through the brush, his head down so low the large pointed rack of antlers appeared long before the rest of his body.

Leo stopped short before I did. We stood there while the buck tore across the road just eight or ten feet in front of us. Leo turned to look back at me, his eyes wide, as were mine. How close we came to being struck by that animal, by being gored.

Leo turned to go back to the house and I agreed that we had enough of a walk for one day. But the vision of the buck stuck with me and made me remember yet again, that we can plan and plan and yet never know what will happen when we least expect it. Lesson? Stay present and be grateful. At least that’s what I get out of things like this.

21

21 – There are times when I can quiet my heart. I can breath deeply while I walk. I can slow myself down. Like tonight when Leo and I went out, again in the dark. I especially like walking in the dark these days. There’s a certain calm out there that comforts me. There are no cars on our dirt road, no interruptions, no voices. Just peace.

It surprised me tonight when all of a sudden there was a hatching of small white moths, hundreds of them, maybe millions. One moment they weren’t there and the next moment they were. They came out of nowhere and fluttered like snowflakes all around us, but they fit into the peace, didn’t disturb it.

They made me smile for some reason. I don’t know…maybe just because they were sort of decorative and non-threatening. They looked like the snow in those little water-filled globes that you can shake. I don’t know what those moths do. I hope they don’t cause any damage to plants or trees.

But yes, it was a good night. Leo kept a good pace and didn’t stop to sniff for chipmunks. And I didn’t cry. Not even once.

20

20. I think my heart is actually broken. I mean I can feel the crack in it, really. I told Leo I was sad and needed a walk even though it was already dark and the road was sloppy with muddy melted snow and ice, so I put on our gear, the lights, the hunting vests. We took off.

I started crying when the drizzle turned to dancing crystals of snow. Not sure why except my heart hurt so much I could hardly think. But just then I remembered a conversation I had with my friend Bill Styron in the early eighties. We were walking with his dog Aquinnah in the West Chop woods. I loved walking with Bill. I learned so much from him.

My father had just died and I was so very sad. I told him my heart actually felt broken. It surprised me, that I could feel such pain right there in my heart.

“That’s the thing,” he said. I stopped and looked at him. He had a twinkle and I saw it right then.

“What is?”

“That’s the thing. We all have broken hearts. There’s no escaping it if you feel, if you live and love.”

Something about remembering that comforted me.

Leo stopped in the middle of the road and looked over his shoulder, continued, then looked over his shoulder again. I asked him if he heard the deer I saw when I came home from work? There used to be three deer. Now I just saw one. I hoped the hunters didn’t get the other two. How sad that would be.

“But that’s the thing Leo,” I said, and he stopped and looked at me. “We all have broken hearts. There’s no escaping it.”

19

19 – I started thinking about it one rainy morning while walking, watching Leo step around the puddles. Smart dog. Good choice. The Springers used to walk right through the puddles and splash mud all over their bellies. Not Leo.
 
So it made me think about choices, about choosing to think it was a good day or calling it a bad, hard day. Same day.
 
The rain picked up. It was pouring now, but Leo and I kept our pace. No need to rush home. We liked walking in the rain. To us, it felt like a good day.
 
Later that day the sun came out and we took our second walk. Brilliant afternoon and though Leo and I were walking the same road that we’d walked that morning, I felt terribly sad. The wave of grief that hit me was bigger than it had been the past few days. My heart felt heavy, full of stones where only this morning it felt light and free. Now, dead husband, dead best friend, was all I could think. Turn it around, I heard myself calling. Same day. Turn it around.
 
But I couldn’t do it. So we walked. I wept. The expansive green field, the rolling meadow where the horses grazed remained unchanged. Same field, same horses, same me and Leo, but now, all I felt was my broken heart and heavy grief.
 
That was the precise moment the chestnut horse, that gorgeous strong animal with the muscular legs and long dark mane, the one that always just stood there and ignored me, looked up and started running towards the fence where Leo and I were standing. And just when it seemed the horse would crash right into us, it turned and jumped high into the air as if to remind me that life is good and not to be wasted. Then he strutted towards us, snorting and nodding his head.
 
Leo moved closer to the fence. The horse lowered his head and stretched his neck under the fence so he could sniff Leo. They were nose to nose. Yes. Oh yes. Leo, let’s remember this moment. Let’s remember this good day.