Taking a Look Back
A Walk in the Pennsylvania Woods
Since we left the Middle East to settle in my home state, Buddy and I had been taking long walks in different areas of town. In early summer, we headed for the elementary school playground, and Buddy even found kids to play with once in awhile. They always said, “Come here, puppy, C’mere!” He was seven at that time but whenever anyone saw his short legs, they assumed he was a puppy. He lapped up the attention.
In late summer, we headed for the Peninsula and strolled along the Peninsula bike path. Once or twice, we jumped back from impatient cyclists but more often than not, Buddy lagged behind until other pedestrians stopped to pet him (it was either that or trip over him). He was always ready to pass the time of day. He couldn’t understand why some passed him by and I felt the need to apologize. I didn’t understand it either.
In the fall, we headed down the hill below my house. It had the best foliage ever.
I loved the woods in autumn. The leaves crunched beneath our feet. Buddy took off after smells only he could detect, and lingered at various spots, always marking them. “Oh, Buddy. Come ON.”
He ignored me and continued doing the sniff-pee-move-sniff-pee-again thing.
We’d been exploring this part of our town for about a month. In early November. we lucked out. The maple leaves cascaded to our feet. Buddy would romp through them, tail wagging as he delighted in the smells and the feel of the smooth cover of leaves beneath the pads of his feet.
The cool air on his face put life into his movements, except on rainy days when he miserably plodded along, reluctantly placing one foot in front of the other while casting longing looks in the direction of our home. Then he became a beast of obstinacy, refusing to step foot on the clammy, wet grass alongside the road.
I liked it best after checking to ensure nothing was around to distract him, I could let Buddy off the leash.
He then traveled at his own pace, forging his own pathways from the road to the woods, skipping through the leaves in a zigzag pattern, his tail whipping back and forth as he went along.
When he got tired out, he would slow down and meet me at the road.
“Hey, big guy, ” I sometimes scolded, “You didn’t come when I called you. Do you want me to put the leash back on?” I shook my finger in his direction and tried to look strict. But we both knew it was a half-hearted reprimand. I’d meet his gaze and his face nearly always broke out into a wreath of doggy smiles as his chest heaved back and forth. He’d let out an exaggerated sigh as his stood still to allow me to clip on the leash once more. We’d then head beyond the fishing hole for the rest of our morning walk, our spirits in tune.
But on days like today, he was playful and was ready for a good run. The best days were when we saw the deer. Once we even saw a buck, a doe and a fawn all leaping across the road to disappear into the thicket. They’d been nibbling on the grass at the base of some sheltering trees until the buck instinctively looked up to find Buddy in a lather to pursue his family
If we were lucky, we’d see a deer today. “Do you think we will, Bud?”
He cocked his head in my direction, a glint in his eye, as if he were actually considering my question.
We took a detour through the woods and meandered for awhile. As the area opened up, I pointed to a tree. “See there, Buddy? Race ya!” And we went flying. “Beat ya, Buddy,” I crowed, ruffling the fur on his ears.
It really wasn’t fair. I had the advantage. He ran in a cockeyed way.
Sometimes I let him
But not today.
Feeling exuberant by my win, I threw myself down and lay in the leaves. Shielding my eyes, I stared up at the grey sky, watching the leaves trail down. It was my first autumn in years and Buddy’s first ever. He was making a smooth transition from desert dog to tramping-in-the-woods-dog. “I knew you’d adjust,” I said out loud.
The dog stretched out patiently waiting beside me, his eyes trained on me. His breath came out in in warm pants. I closed my eyes, thinking of how wonderful I could come home and experience this weather again. It had been nearly twenty years.
I didn’t have long to relish my thoughts, though. Buddy chose that moment to butt me with his head, then started climbing over me, licking my face.
“Stop it! Whoah, I’m getting up,” I groaned, pushing his wet, muddy paws off my blue jeans and his face away from me.
We started out again, side by side. A car zoomed by, reminding me weren’t far off-road. I took Buddy’s leash from my pocket, uncoiled it and clipped it onto his collar. It wouldn’t do for him to suddenly run into the path of an ongoing vehicle.
Ambling along, I was caught off guard when Buddy stopped dead in his tracks and the leash grew taut He stiffened and his tail twitched just once. He didn’t move but … obviously he detected something.
I was at a loss because of my vision difficulties. I craned my neck in hopes of catching something–a movement, some color, a sound–something! Whatever caught his attention still had it.
Uh-oh! What is it, boy?
Whatever it was, it had to be alive.
Desperate to capture some woodland creature, he jerked me forward. A split second later, like an avalanche, Buddy threw himself forward full force. I dug my heels in the ground and steeled myself against the fierce pull, holding tight. His feet pummeled the ground in place, spewing out dirt and rocks along with the excess of his energy.
I followed his frenzied gaze, and finally caught sight of the object of his attention: a doe.
Delicate in her beauty, the creature bounded by. A flash of brown. Two. Three leaps. Her lithe body both blended in and contrasted against the thinning foliage of the Pennsylvanian forest. Captivated, I watched it pass before my eyes. How natural she seemed as she adeptly moved across the road and though the trees!
Deafening silence greeted us.
The doe was gone.
Lord, thank you for this day, for this beautiful doe dashing before our eyes, for the brisk cool weather, for the whole month of watching the trees meld from yellow and green to russet and scarlet, then fall softly onto the ground.
Thank you for your everlasting love for us as we romp through the seasons of our life. Let us delight in your world, Lord. Just for a moment take us away from our worries, and our insecurities. Let us drink in your beauty as enthusiastically as Buddy gulps water from the mud puddles along the road.
Thank you Lord for the promise of snow as we observe its unique crystalline splendor from the window of those same Pennsylvania trees along our journey this new month (November 8, 2006)
You are reading “A Walk Through the Pennsylvania Woods” by Amy L. Bovaird. Reprinted from November 2006. To read more of Amy’s writing, check out her memoir: Mobility Matters: Stepping Out in Faith.