I do some of my best writing when I walk the dog. She knows the word “walk” and does her doggy dance, toenails clicking on the tile floor in the front hall, as I click the leash on her collar. Sometimes it feels like an interruption of my work to take her out, but as soon as the front door closes behind us and I breathe in the fall air — pungent with the scent of leaves and nuts — I forget that I was ever doing anything besides walking through the neighborhood, looking up at the trees through a steady drifting down of yellow leaves, enjoying the clear blue sky with the sun shining at such an angle that I know winter is coming but is weeks away. It is during these walks that just the right words come to me, forming and reforming in my head in rhythm with the slaps of my shoes on the pavement, and I realize that walking is not an interruption of my work, after all. Later at home, the staccato of my fingers tapping on the keyboard will echo the rhythm of my feet, translating it into these words on the screen.
Lately I have seen another woman walking a dog through our neighborhood. A number of our neighbors are regular dog walkers, but this is someone I haven’t seen before. She is a small woman with dark hair, somewhat older than me, and she walks a little dog of indeterminate breed. We haven’t met yet, but I’ve waved when I’ve been out in the yard, calling my dog to my side: “Girlfriend, come!” The dog is not supposed to leave the yard without permission. Sooner or later, I figured, I would meet the woman while we are out walking. And today is the day.
She is ahead of me, but turns — waiting — when she hears us coming. “My dog is friendly,” I tell her, in the ritual of dog walker meeting dog walker. “Is it okay if she says hello?” The other woman is willing, but warns me that her dog has been a stray, wary, defensive. The greeting may not go well. Sure enough, my dog’s tail-thumping enthusiasm overwhelms the little fellow. He growls. We pull our dogs to our sides, introducing ourselves. We begin to talk.
“It’s okay,” I tell her, gesturing to my dog. “Girly was a stray, too.” She used to cower when I raised a stick — a broom, a rake, a shovel — until she lived with us long enough to realize we weren’t going to hit her.
“What did you say your dog’s name was?” the woman asks.
The woman is laughing now, saying she had seen me in the yard before, had heard me calling Girlfriend. She had gone home to tell her husband how friendly the new neighbor was. “But then again,” she’d told him, “maybe she was just calling the dog.”
Her little guy is Quincy. Whoever owned him before kicked his back teeth out. No wonder he’s defensive.
Our dogs at our sides, a safe expanse of pavement between them, we learn something about each other. She and her husband recently moved here from south of the river. She had worked as a teacher for 36 years, starting at the district in what had been my hometown and moving to a district in suburban Kansas City. Now she’s retired.
“I didn’t want to work full-time anymore,” she tells me. “I wanted to work part-time, but with my years of experience and all my degrees, they said they couldn’t afford me. Now I’m trying to figure out what to do with myself during the day.”
She had volunteered to tutor at the school up the road but hadn’t heard back from them yet. In the meantime, she is walking her dog.
We will meet again another day, I know. Our dogs are becoming restless, wanting to sniff more of the neighborhood. For now, our paths diverge.
On the way home, the sky that had seemed so brilliantly blue before looks empty. I know it is time to start writing again, writing about education.This is what I do with my day while my daughter is in school. I write and walk the dog. Sitting at my computer again, though, I can’t shake a feeling of unrest. I keep thinking about how much I had loved back-to-school time when I was a child. The words are typing just as they had formed themselves in my head on my way home, but something is missing: an image.
Picking up my camera, I go back outside. Aiming the lens, I focus. With my camera, I take a picture of that brilliant empty blue sky.
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