I park by the entrance to the woods, aware that it’s nearly dark. It had rained all day, and this was the first chance I’d gotten to take the dog for a walk. I try not to let the neighbor’s ghostly decorations, including a skeleton and witch, influence my decision.
Even Josie, who usually springs from the car eager to explore the smells and sounds, hesitates leaving the safety of the car. She looks up at me, her expression saying, Are you sure about this?
I press on. Josie has always been good about coming when called and doesn’t wander, so I don’t bother with a leash. We are well into the darkening woods on a narrow leaf-covered path when I realize I should have brought my phone. Besides being able to call if I get in trouble, the phone’s flashlight could be handy.
I hear rustling nearby. Squirrel? Deer? Thinking about the bear who was spotted in these woods years ago, my fears escalate. Vicious predator? Wolf? Mountain Lion? Should I turn back?
Feel the Fear and Face it Anyway. The title of this popular book, one sitting near my reading chair at home, flashes in my head. I hike on.
Darkness, I ponder, should have several names depending on the degree. I’m thinking about the differences between dusk, twilight, and full dark when my toe hits something hard, and I nearly stumble. A stump. I see it’s covered with green moss. My eyes, I realize, have adjusted to the low light.
Three paths come together, and unlike the famous Robert Frost poem, I do not choose the one least taken. I’m happy during these Covid-19 days to choose the familiar any chance I get. Still, I admit, like night vision, it’s amazing that we’ve adjusted as well as we have. From the use of masks, plexiglass dividers, curbside pickup, call-in groceries, working from home, Zooming to stay connected with family and colleagues, and spending more time outdoors, we’re moving forward.
The quiet makes me realize I haven’t seen Josie for a while. I call to her. No answer. I call again. Nothing. I listen. One thing about walking in the dark is that all my senses seem super-charged.
I peer through the darkness, concentrating on shapes or movement. The moon has slipped behind a cloud and since Josie’s totally black, spotting her seems impossible. I concentrate on listening. No rustling, whining or barking. I recall one time when she’d been running in the woods with a leash. It had gotten wrapped around a tree and held her captive. Even though I’d called for several minutes, she’d never answered. Thankfully, I’d eventually spotted her that time. She didn’t have a dangling leash on tonight, though. If only she’d bark to let me know she was in trouble.
I freeze in place and call. “Josie!”
Had she taken off after a critter like a rabbit or skunk or porcupine? My heart seems to be in my chest.
I imagine the worse, that a predator has swooped in and grabbed her. I begin the “should-haves” which include having grabbed a flashlight. I stand paralyzed, feeling helpless with guilt and dread.
Then, the moon peeks out from the cloud. I scan the surrounding area. There! I see her.
“Josie!” I run toward her. She’d gotten behind an old fence and couldn’t find the opening again. Her tail wags as I give her a long cuddle.
Yes, these are uncertain times, but we are finding our way. Josie and I reach the car and unlock the door. Before going inside, I glance at the distant moon. Keep shining, Moon. Brighten our path toward home.