My appointment runs late, so by the time I get home the sun has already set. Only the afterglow remains to backlight the trees, transmogrifying them into shadows of crooked old men frozen against the horizon. Though the incoming storm darkens the sky the color of blueberries, I know I have time for a quick walk.
I park the car, run inside, and grab my two dogs, Tonya, my lab-pit bull girl, and The Babyeater, a chow chow mixed with German shepherd, a dog I regretfully have to isolate when my sister’s kids come over.
She doesn’t want to go, but I know the storm is miles away. Tonya hates storms. She’ll take on a grizzly unless it’s raining. I tug her leash.
“Come on girl,” I say as we walk outside, watching over my shoulder to make sure my cat Ellie isn’t around to follow us. Ellie likes to lead the pack, a comic sight I assure you, this little white wisp of a ring-tailed cat leading these power breeds.
There’s a reason cats are feared in the animal kingdom. They are the fiercest predators, built to kill, with every part of them designed specifically for that kill, from their rear legs engineered for the perfect pounce, to their eyes structured to detect movement in less than 20% of the light a human would need. Ellie is an inveterate predator, competing for rabbits and snakes, and I have seen her snatch a kill from both Tonya and The Babyeater.
If it weren’t so late, I would let her come, but I live on a lake with a healthy coyote population, and though Ellie is a fierce adversary, I don’t want her tracking us at night, prime hunting time for coyotes who notoriously hunt in packs.
The Babyeater doesn’t want to go either, but he‘s always resistant to the walk. Like a pureblooded Texan, the thought of walking anywhere befuddles him. He often hides when he hears me reaching for the leash, but he’s an obedient dog (unless kids are around), and he comes when I call, and he usually enjoys the walk once we’re out in the fresh air breathing the crisp winter wind, his black tongue dangling from the side of his smiling mouth.
“What’s the matter with you guys?” I ask as they both turn in circles tangling their leashes. I unknot the mess they’ve made then head out into the inky remnants of the day.
I know this trail. I walk it every day with my dogs, sometimes twice, and I welcome the time I spend disappearing from my cul-de-sac onto the horse trails that circle the lake, a place more magical than Oz.
The woods are my cathedral.
Mornings the turkey vultures and peregrine falcons compete for carrion left by coyotes or bobcats. I watch them dart through the air, chasing each other away from kills. Though considerably smaller, the falcons always win, those crafty warriors of the sky.
Evenings, those same birds infest a dead Poplar tree to sleep. We’re careful not to wake them, and we skirt around some marsh grass to pick up the trail on the other side of the tree.
The Babyeater stops to pee. He’s a bottomless fountain, and I often think he might one day be the answer to the world’s water shortage.
Tonya whimpers. “Baby girl, storm’s not close yet, relax,” I say with a quick tug.
Finally, we’re working a rhythm on the trail. Though the ground is soft from all the winter rain, we manage to find a groove, our gait steady as a bass line.
The woods at night sing a different melody. Not the jazz of the daytime, with the buzz of the bees and the chirping robins that always remind me of Ella Fitzgerald.
The evening plays a disparate tune, something classical, like a lost Chopin nocturne. C# Minor No.2 perhaps, where owls, whip-poor-wills and loons harmonize with bullfrogs and coyotes who bay at the moon.
I love you.
The words come quickly on the evening breeze. Lyrics just for me. Words translated through these natural instruments through the rhythm of our footsteps. I hear them very clearly in this place, in these woods, words I haven’t heard or said in so long.
I love you.
Tonya looks back at me with a big smile. Probably just her energy I sense. Or perhaps my own projection.
The Babyeater stops for another pee.I take the moment to watch the storm crackle and cackle in the distance. The sky blinks a Morse message:
I love you.
So clearly I hear them.
For a moment, I’m lost in these words, until I remember myself with a laugh. Though my Downward Dog has improved, I discount the idea that I might be on some yogic path. How I envy those happy people and their benevolent energy.
Tonya starts hopping from one foot to the other as The Babyeater sticks his head between my legs, nearly knocking me over. I find my footing and scan the vicinity. I know why he’s afraid, and I know why Tonya is dancing.
But I’m distracted. The words keep resounding. I’m dizzy with them, like a Darvesh, and I reconsider the power of my Downward Dog.
I love you I love you I love you
Loud and strong. A palpable energy that covers me so completely. Like my lost childhood blanket.
Tonya whoops, and that’s when I see him. Canis latrans. A young male coyote with a yellow pelt and a black tipped tail. He stares at me with muddy eyes, and I dare not move though I know he won’t hurt me.
I love you, he says again, before turning and disappearing into the shadows of the crooked old men trees.
I love you, too
hoping he’ll come back.