I’ve started taking a walk each day to try to battle my isolation fatigue.
Typically, I begin by walking north. In a few steps past the end of the driveway, I am off our property and walking on the smooth, damp sand of the road. Throughout my walk, I must listen for approaching cars from either direction. Pedestrians are not that common on our road, and many drivers enjoy the wide, open vista and straightaway in front of our property to rev up and go. If a car comes, I will wave. It pays to be neighborly.
Even though it’s now December, it’s still worth taking a look at what transpires in our fields. Commonly, I see crows and ravens. Chickadees flit around in the short trees. Sometimes, the turkeys make themselves visible as they endlessly search the fields for morsels. Two weeks of rifle season has made the deer scarce, though evidence abounds of them crossing our road daily.
Heading up the hill to our north, I start thinking about finding a good throwing stick. I’ve been visiting the neighbors’ Border Collie daily for nearly a week now, and we’ve developed a bit of a routine. I find something nice and throwable as I approach her territory. I crest the hill and I can often see that she’s in the dooryard near the road.
Our routine starts with her bow, inviting me to play. Her gaze fixes completely and resolutely on the stick. I wing it as far as I can away from the road in a westerly direction. Three years on this road and I know that this particular dog has no regard for the hazard that cars present. She fetches, makes a few chomps on the stick and returns. About one in three times, she doesn’t see where the stick landed and looks at me like I’ve deceived her by faking a throw. I shrug at her and we each go looking for a new stick. When I car comes, I try to hold her attention so she won’t thoughtlessly bolt into traffic. I often walk a little past where she will go, and then return for a second session while I walk by the house southbound. I walk on the wrong side of the road for that second throwing time just to keep her where she belongs. Stick time ends once I pass the far end of the barn on the property where the dog lives. She never passes that point with me.
I was informed of the dog’s name by a neighbor recently, but I can’t recall what it is other than that it is feminine and contains two syllables. She has never allowed me to touch her, nor has she approached me to sniff or inspect. This relationship is purely based on stick provision and throwing, nothing else. She is an older dog, likely older than 12 or so. I do not, strictly speaking, have permission to play with her, but neither have I been asked to stop. I have never been acknowledged in any way by her shy and reclusive owner. Selfishly, I plan to continue this activity because it’s really a highlight of my day, and I think the dog takes pleasure in it, too.
Once I am over the hill and out of the dog zone, I can enjoy the prettiest vista on our whole road. From the top of the hill at the Kirshner Farm facing south, I can see Mount Mansfield, Camel’s Hump, Elmore Mountain at the head of the Worcester Range and Woodbury Mountain. This view always provides beauty and pleasure in any weather.
Heading back towards my house, I usually now pass my own driveway and walk a little south. You’d think I’d just continue north to get more steps in, but the road turns to pavement there, speeds increase and the road winds around a few blind turns that I wouldn’t feel safe on. Plus, the houses are a little closer to the road and I’m not paying social calls. Heading south, I’m patrolling the lands that we manage and paying a quick visit to the quiet cemetery to the south of our property. The St John of the Cross cemetery holds several generations of French and Irish catholic families that lived in the area. The earliest graves seem to date from the mid 1850s and the cemetery is still active. It’s clear that the lives of previous inhabitants were hard and generally short. Most people born in this area in the 1870s and 1880s lived only into their 40s, 50s and 60s. As was common at those times, there are also many graves of infants and young children.
I usually turn around to walk home after the cemetery. Again, the road gets busier and blind-er, and it’s risky enough already to walk on such a fast road that doesn’t have a good shoulder. I’m usually not tired by the time I turn right into the driveway, but I’ve at least stretched my legs and gotten a little fresh air and sunshine in these dreary days. If my walk is late, I will transition directly into caring for the sheep. Chores are minimal and everyone is waiting for the waning and the waxing of the light.