For those new to California, Northern California especially, the seasons are a subtle affair. Having returned home after some years in Vermont it seemed especially so. After all, October in Vermont is breathtakingly beautiful with its hills and distant vistas of vibrant colors. Still, for all its subtlety Autumn in the village is lovely. Sometimes it seems that Summer in Northern California comes in what is usually known as Autumn. Typically, fog rolls over hill and dale with a heavy, thick, impenetrable mist and then burns off around noon, to leave the day warm and sunny.
I once crossed the Golden Gate Bridge on my way to a retreat in Marin just before dawn. The fog lay blanketing the Bay, just beneath the Bridge and a clear, full moon sky rose above it in dazzeling clarity and serenity. For nearly fifty years I have crossed that bridge for one reason or another and every time is like the first time. It is so true what they say about the City by the Bay. We leave our hearts there. The Golden Gate is the entrance that opens a lifetime of love for it. Andie and I are lucky to still be living so near to that which is so dear.
The other day at dusk as Andie and I walked down the hill on our street we ambled beneath clear, deep blue skies and were bathed in the the pink/gold of fading, sparkling light, which envelops our little village this time of day at the onset of twilight. In the distance we could see the echelons of rolling vineyard rows, that often reminds people of Northern Italy. Dotted here and there are clusters of liquid Amber, Persimmon and Locus ablaze in reds, gold, burnt umber, purple and chartreuse , which reminds me of New England, but now embrace us as home. It is Autumn.
We walk often throughout the day, sometimes just around the block, but most certainly down the Sonoma County trail, were Andie meets and makes friends of hikers and dog units alike. Just this week Andie met Bella (1,2,and 3), Muffin, Duke, Lily, Winston and Oda. She is such a cheerful, friendly and delightful dog to meet that everyone we greet knows her name by now.
The Trail has a unique atmosphere, a place of serenity and constantly changing micro-climes. There seems to be an especially conscious traffic of walkers of all ages and makes, who find some peace and comfort among its alluring paths and beautiful environs. Over the years people get to know each other, even to the point that strangers know you, because so-an-so mentioned this or that about you. In this regard the Trail, itself, becomes a small village.
Yesterday, Andie and I met the Safeway check-out man, who is always so cheerful and attentive. He was walking with his wife and daughter. They fussed over Andie, who enjoyed every moment of attention with some discretion. Andie doesn’t like people who pat on her, rather than stroke her. People, who do this are generally kind-hearted, but unaccustomed to pets. Can you imagine patting on a cat?
The daughter, who seemed a ‘tween’ princess somewhat more sophisticated than her adoring parents, looked at Andie like she was a rodent and refused to pet her. To her Andie was ‘totes not magotes.’ Andie just looked at her astonished. On some level Andie just knew that this princess’s grandmother in Guangzhou Province would have probably made potstickers out of her for a New Year’s celebration.
Only a year and five months old Andie seems more like a teenager, in that she can spot out exactly what is not good for her in the foraging department, thus the need for ‘Drop It’ training. It worked successfully in the church yard lot, but on the trail it is different. She likes to walk off path, along the sides where thickets of jumbled blackberry, vines, stands of yellow Anise, Queen Ann’s Lace, Clover, broken and fallen branches and wild carrot hide a warren of ground nests and burrows.
Yesterday, among the piling heaps of yellow Oak and maroon Bay leaves that bank the Trail Andie sniffed and dug out a fantastically colored, turquoise blob of gum—-‘Drop It!’. Another score was some Owl barf, which I managed to scoop up and put in Andie’s post breakfast plastic bag, which all dog walkers are expected to carry to avoid any unpleasantness where walking shoes meet the trail, or where some little dog, like Pugs, might decide to stop and eat, thus depriving their loving humans a slobbery icky kiss. Naturally, living in our very, very progressive part of the valley, we carry organic fiber bags that look like plastic, but are biodegradable and in emergencies are actually eatable during times of economic collapse and recession.
Somehow Andie has managed to turn an anguished grief into a warm and abiding present. She stays close to me throughout the day, but now seems to claim home and feels secure to wander about the garden unattended looking for those dried plums and falling apples that once fulfilled her dog’s hunting nature. On the trail it’s acorns, which she picks up and carries for a ways before dropping. Now, that the seasons are in flux again, I stage a Potemkin-like apple find every few days to delight her efforts. Said apple after having been discovered is always trotted like a prize to her sacred territory atop our bed. Fussy housekeepers might cringe at our widower and dog-daughter housekeeping arrangements, but the joy is worth it.
Nighttime is my favorite phase of the day. Andie, who is generally in motion throughout the light hours, retires early, around 7:00, while I am watching the usual horror and banality on the TV or switching over to FOX News for some comic relief, or tuning into CNN and calling Anderson Cooper an ass*ole for being so rude to Democrats lying their very best to be sincere and save us all from the Trumpster, who is a moron and a blowhard. Yes, it’s true I think in ‘run-on’ at the end of a tired day.
Just when I think America is totally doomed—-AGAIN, Andie comes and stands on my chest, turns around once or twice and settles down into a curved ball of fur, her head on my heart. My breathing puts her asleep in minutes and my world becomes heaven for a spell. It’s hard to describe the feeling looking down on that tiny figure asleep over my heart, but I know for a time of joy that those broken pieces upon which she has chosen to rest is the very heart of healing and peace.