I’ll come walk your dog this winter, lest yours didn’t get the memo that schools are closed and the front door, the one by which hangs its leash, should similarly remain shut, sealed, weatherstripped tight.
My dog, Blu, died the weekend before Thanksgiving, back when the ground still yielded to a garden spade and the snow shovel hung neglected. A glorious, Belgian Shepherd-like mutt, he’s buried on a sumac-covered rise facing north, into the wind — appropriate for a sled-dog wannabe.
My protector for 13 years, Blu apparently sensed the coming polar vortex and knew his ever-stiff and weakening hindquarters couldn’t weather it. He took sad, necessary care of me one last time by signing off on his own that night, a tail wag’s distance from the door through which we departed for his walk every day. And I mean every day. Always was he waiting for any subtle signal that he was needed down the driveway. “Hup, pup! Let’s go!”
Summer heat and humidity are hard on a big, black, longhaired dog. Come November, including this past one, Blu would revert to happy, hyper puppyhood, so invigorated was he by the cold. Rare was the day or brittle, moonlit night his paws would protest the country roads and frozen lakes that composed our routes. I wore merino wool, cashmere, fleece, shearling, leather mittens, thick-tread boots, anti-fog sunglasses, face salve and protective lip balm. Blu wore his collar. I trudged, he galloped, and together we gave ourselves over to the wind.
Absent the burden-slash-privilege of dog ownership, it doesn’t even dawn on me to go walking Out There on madly minus days. OK, the thought does occur, deep inside (and from deep inside the house). My spirit craves the expanse of visual and mental white space, the moving cadence, the silent sooth of nature. I saw so much, thought so much, felt so much along those roads and paths and creek beds. Turns out that walking Blu, however far and whatever the weather, wasn’t the heavy have-to I often considered it to be. It was holy.
“A girl and her dog” no more, I’ve become a fair-weather ambler who shivers and stays indoors because the forecasters tell me to. I have excuses now. Concerns.
What would Blu have wanted ? Isn’t that how survivors find our compass, by acting in accordance with the deceased? Easy answer. With his brown, pleading eyes, that big old hound was telling me all these winters what he needed, yes, but also what I needed, too.
Loan me your leash.
Kitty Shea is a Twin Cities freelance writer and adjunct instructor at the University of St. Thomas. Follow her on Twitter: @kittyshea.