Only an hour of light remains. Today, of course, is the first day of a new year. And just as almost every other day if I’m home, I walk our family dog. He’s a male German shepherd, brown, gray, and black, several years old (not exactly certain how many years, though, since my family rescued him several years back from a shelter in south GA). I could go on and on. He’s special to us, as fellow dog lovers will understand. Anyway, he’s brown, gray and black, muscular but with a belly (I feed him too much), ears that make visitors think we have a wolf, and a keen nose. We typically walk down and back on the blacktop lane that runs in front of our house. Nothing special about today. It was just three thirty to four thirty on another Monday afternoon, and I opened the door to step outside with my dog.
Brewster’s black nostrils alerted him to the four does immediately behind the back porch of the house. They stood with their eyes on us, and their long gray ears pointed skyward like hairy pyramids. Their lean muscular legs were the identical colors of the forest floor, which was covered with crisp oak leaves down from the gray boughs above. The deer stood in silent intense motionless energy, eyes black as oil pools, watching.
“No, Brewster. Let’s go this way,” I whispered to him, and he headed to our usual route, disappointed I did not let him chase them. But on the way down the driveway, he turned his head back three times to the deer behind as if he and they exchanged a mystery or truce.
When we got to the top of the first hill, new timber had fallen on the left side of the lane. A rotten pine with holes from woodpeckers was wedged between the limbs of an oak twenty-five feet above our heads. And the wind was sending haunting sounds through the gulch below the road to our right.
Brewster marked his typical spots as I followed behind him with the leash in my hand. When he scared gray squirrels scurrying for the oaks, he’d chase them enough for them to look down on him and me from the trees, waving their tails in alarm, and barking at us till we passed on.
The January wind was as cold as I had ever felt in GA. My Columbia fleece top left my neck exposed and I reached to turn up the collar. I wanted to keep moving, but Brewster continued to stop and sniff what seemed like every few steps. He buried his nose in the frigid downed limbs, and pressed his snout in the brittle brown leaves, then scraped them back with his paws as if he were a buck marking territory.
How many times had we walked this way? Countless. But today, I noticed how green the moss growing in the shaded spots near the blacktop was, and felt the wind sting my ears and neck, and watched my shepherd chase the squirrels up the oaks again, and listened to the fallen pine wedged in the oak send haunting sounds tunneling down the laurel canyons. I did not think of news, schedules, of politics, but only of these sights and sounds, of today’s winds, of the particular ways the moss here reminded me of the felt on the billiard table my father had in our basement when I was a boy in high school. I thought of how watching the eyes of deer makes one feel small. I witnessed mystery, order, and providence in a walk with one’s dog.