The day was delightfully cool with a breeze to lift the black flies because they were here, on this Friday in early June, especially in the parking area when we arrived, Sam, my standard poodle, and I, without Lucy my other standard who would soon be eleven and could no longer hike for more than a couple of hours. This was Mount Kearsarge North, a small mountain that presented itself like a larger hike, climbing steadily through woods then over open ledges, gaining 2,574 feet in elevation before reaching the top where the view opened to 360 degrees.
Sam stopped on the trail and looked back. When we hiked with Lucy, the two dogs vied for first place, pushing past each other on the narrow trail, the sides of their packs brushing, and I couldn’t help thinking that Sam missed Lucy as much as I did. Perhaps, it wasn’t missing in the same sense, but he seemed to understand that something had shifted. He hung back most of the way, stopped with me as I stood and looked at lady slippers lining the path, drawing in their beauty like breath. Near the top and growing in dirt between rock, laurel bloomed, deep lavender flowers that somehow reminded me of dragonfly wings.
At the top, the breeze picked up. Sam and I took shelter behind a rock outcropping where I hitched him to a branch, and he lay, head lifted, his body alert as if on guard, and I thought to myself, What a lovely dog. Then, I wondered, Was Sam waiting for Lucy to walk over ledge and down into our secluded spot? The hike had been easier without. She had an edge, holding hikers off with her barking. I couldn’t trust her; she could nip. Still, I missed the old girl, and leaning back into rock, eating my peanut butter sandwich, surrounded by these mountains, I thought about the passage of time. How long before, like Lucy, I would have to give up these heights for a lower climb? Perhaps, this gradual diminishment prepared us. When Dad’s time came, he was ready. And although Mom’s dying was not long, one week in a hospice unit, she, too, seemed, if not ready, comfortably, resigned. Both my parents left this world peacefully and with love, and I know what they would tell me right now, their voices chorusing: Enjoy the day. Stop brooding.
A tiny gray bird with a yellow beak and white on its tail and belly feasted in a patch of unripe blueberries, and sitting here, I was returned to a day just last month when I was walking along Grand Street in New York City, with Adam, my grandson, who was seven. He stopped to pick red berries, growing on bushes lining the sidewalk. I wanted him to hurry up, but I didn’t want to say that: Hurry up. So I said, “Adam, the birds need to eat those berries.”
He argued, his voice firm, his features set. “No they don’t,” he said.
“They do, Adam,” I said.
And I walked on, hoping he’d follow. He did after a while. Then, he opened his hand to show me the berries he’d picked, saying, “It’s okay, Grammy, I left lots for the birds.”