It was quiet out, as though the world was holding its breath, afraid to move 'less the warmth of the day and the season be startled away and replaced with clouds and wind and gray. Dunc sniffed the edges of the path, found a nice tall clump of grass to examine for a few moments and then redoubled his efforts at leading me in the direction of his choosing. Not long into our walk we caught up with a woman pushing a tiny beaming face with a mop of blond curls in a stroller. As we pulled alongside them Dunc slowed his pace and huffed once or twice to catch her attention. She looked at me and smiled, but when her eyes settled on Roo her pace slowed and something in her turned and caught itself.
"Your dog is beautiful," she said. "We have––had one the same color. Her name was Maggie. We had to put her to sleep three weeks ago."
"I'm sorry for your loss," I offered. "Was she with you a long time?"
She smiled and nodded and loosened her grip on the stroller just a bit. "Yes, she was fifteen. Last year when she turned fourteen we threw her a big birthday party and all the family came. And not just the dogs. Everyone. We didn't think she'd make it to fifteen." She looked away and out at the lake, which caught the colors of the sky and somehow made them truer than the originals. "But she did. Fifteen plus three days."
"You're very blessed to have had so much time with her," I said.
Duncan stepped up beside her and brushed her leg as he passed. She smiled and reached down with one hand to stroke his back. Her fingers traced the curls on his shoulders. "He looks so much like her. Same color. Same curls. They could be twins." A flash of embarrassment crossed her face as she withdrew her hand and placed it back on the stroller.
"Would you like to pet him?" I asked. "I think he'd like that very much."
She faltered a moment and then came to a slow and awkward stop. Duncan eased up beside her and without being told sat down. She clicked the lock on the wheel of the stroller and then knelt before him, watching my face for any sign of impatience or weariness. I smiled and nodded.
And then she buried her face in Duncan's chest, ran her fingers over his ears and down his shoulders, entwining them in the long hair on his back. She pulled herself into him and Duncan merely sat and watched, sniffed her hair, breathed softly in her ear. I dropped the leash and let them sit together on the lake path. She hugged him tightly, played with a paw and kissed his cheek, causing his tail to thump once or twice. I was proud of him and not at all shocked by her sudden display of emotion, and yet there was a part of me that felt obligated to say something, to offer some word of consolation. But that was not my part to play. Duncan had led me here for her and for him. My job was to remain silent. So I turned and looked out on the last colors of the day and listened to the gentle splash of the ducks skirting the beach, the silence of the moment, the very soft sighs of the woman grieving her loss.
There is too much noise in this world. Not enough comfort and quiet.
Next time what I'd do is look at
the earth before saying anything. I'd stop
just before going into a house
and be an emperor for a minute
and listen better to the wind
or to the air being still.
When anyone talked to me, whether
blame or praise or just passing time,
I'd watch the face, how the mouth
has to work, and see any strain, any
sign of what lifted the voice.
And for all, I'd know more -- the earth
bracing itself and soaring, the air
finding every leaf and feather over
forest and water, and for every person
the body glowing inside the clothes
like a light.
("Next Time" Mary Oliver)
Sometimes the walks are not for me at all, but the silence I have to offer to the world.