As I sit at my desk, pecking out a rough draft on my computer, the small dog paws repeatedly at my thigh. I offer some temporary solace, reaching down to scratch her ears and neck. She drops down on all fours, only to rear up again shortly after my hand returns to the keyboard. Finally, I let out a short sigh and decide to pack it in: nothing short of a walk will do, it seems, even though we’ve just come back from a morning stroll around the block less than an hour ago.
I zip the collar of my fleece up to my chin, reach for my coat, don my hiking boots, pull on my wool cap and gloves, snap the leash on the dog’s collar; and we head out the back door at a brisk pace down the deserted street in the winter cold.
We turn right at the end of the block and continue down the long grey ribbon of sidewalk to the center of town. Today the school yard is barren, devoid of children. A solitary car sits in the parking lot outside the barber shop. No one, it seems, wants a haircut on this last day of the year.
We round the corner onto Main Street and wait for traffic to thin out on the highway. Despite the crosswalk, no vehicle slows or stops for us to cross. The dog shivers and lifts her nose in the cold air. Finally, the last northbound car disappears over the crest of the hill, and we scoot across the tarmac to the other side.
I let the dog off leash at the old mill and trudge along the loop of frozen gravel road to the bank of the river. Patches of white water bubble and churn in the current. Overhead, billowy clouds press against the backdrop of pure blue sky.
I snap the leash on the dog’s collar as we approach the mill. Linked together once again, we descend the short slope to the concrete retaining wall, built to withstand the torrents that continuously lash against it.
At the top of the rise we follow the great curve of road to the cul-de-sac, then hop the guard rail and pick our way through the remnants of last summer’s brush to the concrete bulwark where the old bridge once stood.
We peer over the edge into the gorge. Just below our feet white water boils against the old bridge abutments, leaping into the air as it scrubs them clean in its turbulent descent. Mesmerized I stand, unable to tear my eyes from the torrent.
We retrace our steps back to the mill, cross the deserted highway and pick up the road to where it intersects the blue-blazed trailhead. From here we follow the leaf-strewn path through the forest back down into town.
A lone dog barks and pads back and forth behind the invisible electronic fence in a front yard, his cinnamon tail erect, curled into a full arc above his back. Tragedy has come to this house over the course of the past year; the couple that had lived there has dwindled to one.
We cross the street and huff up the hill toward the house. The air is cold on my cheek. Despite the gloves my finger tips have turned numb.
We step through the back door into a warm kitchen. I pull off my cap and gloves and rub my palms together. I unzip my coat and throw it over the back of a wooden chair.
A cup of hot coffee restores feeling to my fingertips, but the turbulence of the white water in the river still churns in my soul.