In the early mornings, I walk my dog. Early, before the kids are up. Early, before I’ve had any coffee. Early, when the sleep still clings to the corners of my eyes, I put on yesterday’s clothing, and I go out. Now, in this season, it is always dark at this hour. Dark in varying degrees depending on the moon’s phase and the cloud cover, but always dark. The sharpest mornings are the clear ones, the cold ones. I walk down the driveway with my eyes on the sky, Orion the Hunter tilted sideways above me, watching. My breath hangs in the air, frozen, and I move forward, lengths behind my eager dog, who has been waiting with painful patience for me to don all my layers. He wears the same thing today that he wore in the middle of July. I imagine he thinks I’m tedious, but he puts up with me, nose in the door jamb. He is unwilling to miss its opening.
Most days I turn the corner and walk a few houses down, under a street light, through the heavy shadows still sleeping stretched out across the street, and stop at the bottom of my neighbor’s driveway to wait. But on the days my neighbor and her dog don’t join me, I cross the street early and continue on in silence. I wait at the street lights. The light turns, green floods the pavement, and I cross. Sawyer lifts his leg at the base of the street light, the bush we pass next, the foot of a tree: Sawyer was here, Sawyer was here, Sawyer was here. Invisible dog graffiti.
Paws on pavement, boots on gravel, we turn off the sidewalk and into the Conservancy. On the darkest mornings, if I’m alone, I keep one eye on Sawyer as we start down the wide path. If he’s all excitement and unbounded energy, I relax into the rhythm of my steps. But on occasion, I’ve seen him alert in a different way, attention on something I can’t perceive. I tell myself he hears an animal -- a doe, a vole, another dog -- but the hair on the back of my neck stands up. My antenna is swiveling, trying to pick up whatever signal he senses. Stop being a baby, I tell myself as I assess the cell phone in my pocket, my feeble self-defence skills, the likelihood of Sawyer’s ability to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. On these mornings, when I’m alone, when the clouds cover Orion and the moon, when I’m alert and on edge, I turn around early, only going as far as the water tower. I won’t go down the big hill beyond that point. The darkness looks deeper from here, an ocean I’m afraid to swim, even though I’ve been through it hundreds of times before. We retreat back to the sidewalk, the street lights; cross at the cross walk again and back up our driveway, where a light is on in the bathroom. I go into the house and start making someone’s breakfast. I drink my coffee and make the lunches. Through the window I see the sky lightening, the suggestion of the sun. The street looks different from here, in this light.