Reflecting

The three-day Columbus Day weekend is always a popular holiday for New England leaf-peepers, so as I was driving back to Keene from Massachusetts on Monday afternoon, I encountered stream after stream of cars with out-of-state license plates leaving New Hampshire, toting canoes, bicycles, and backseats full of kids back home. The drive between Massachusetts and New Hampshire was lovely, like driving through a yellow, orange, and red kaleidoscope shot through with golden light, and I felt honored to live (at least part-time) in a place other people only visit.

Overgrown

It was still light when Reggie and I arrived back in Keene, with the late afternoon sun already starting to settle toward the western horizon, so I stopped by the Ashuelot River on the way to my apartment, figuring Reggie and I had enough time for a dinnertime stroll before dark. The leafy banks of the river were more colorful than the last time we’d walked there, and the park itself was more crowded, with far more locals enjoying the park on a sunny afternoon than we’d typically see on an early-morning dog-walk, when Reggie and I typically have the trails to ourselves.

It felt good to be back in Keene, good (as always) to be walking, and good to be bathed in the deeply angled, golden light of autumn, New England’s prettiest season. It also felt odd to be back in Keene and yet among strangers, as if my erstwhile neighbors were invading a place that has always felt as if it were mine and Reggie’s alone. These days, I realize that I, not those other walkers, am the outsider: commuting each week between Massachusetts and New Hampshire, I feel as if I have less and less claim to a landscape I see only three days a week, and then only hurriedly. When Reggie and I walked along the Ashuelot in September, we walked on a Wednesday morning when we had time to enjoy the solitude of the scene; on Monday afternoon, I was mindful of the setting sun and a long Monday night to-do list, preoccupied, like Robert Frost’s famous speaker, with “miles to go before I sleep.”

Virginia creeper

Walking is how I understand any landscape, whether I visit as a local or as a tourist, and these days in Keene I feel like both. Last Friday, I surrendered my New Hampshire driver’s license in return for a Massachusetts one; next, I’ll switch my car title and registration as well. Soon enough, I too will have out-of-state license plates when I venture into New Hampshire, thereby announcing myself as merely a transitory interloper in a state well accustomed to tourists. It’s been over three years that I’ve lived with one foot in two states, and it still feels strangely unsettling–not uncomfortable, but odd as I move between the alternating predictability of two different daily routines in two separate worlds. Where (if anywhere) do I truly belong; where (if anywhere) do I have the deepest roots? Or does my lack of lasting roots–my ability to migrate between two addresses, each with closets full of my things–point to the mobile nature of modern life, where our meals, our phone calls, and our personal interactions can all happen on-the-run?

Old man's beard

These are the in-between days here in New England as we transition between seasons, and these are the in-between days of my life as I migrate back and forth, back and forth, between my once and current homes. Where am I at any given moment or any given day? My home these days is perpetually “here,” wherever “here” happens to be.

The title of today’s post is one I’m particularly fond of. “In Between Days” is the name of an ’80s song by The Cure I’ve always liked, and it’s the title of two old blog posts and the implicit theme of a third.

The Wikipedia entry for that old Cure song describes its “lyrical themes of ageing [sic], loss and fear” as “not particularly reflect[ing] the upbeat tempo of the music.” Perhaps I’ve always lived, unsettled, between worlds.

You can click here for more photos of the Ashuelot River in autumn. Enjoy!

Ashuelot River from footbridge

The Ashuelot, like any river, has two sides, and last Wednesday, Reggie and I took a quiet walk on the wild side.

Tattered and turning

I typed that opening line because I liked the music of it in my head, then I did a quick blog-search to review the other times Reggie and I have walked along the Ashuelot River. Sure enough, I’ve used this opening line before, more than six years ago:

The Ashuelot River, like any river, has two sides. You can access the east side of the Ashuelot River by parking in the lot for Blockbuster Video on West Street, where you’ll find the river tumbling over a dam right behind the long-out-of-business Taco Bell. There is a landscaped park on this side of the river which culminates in a smooth gravelled fitness path. This path enters the woods and skirts the river all the way to Route 9 on the edge of town, where it crosses the river on a walkway and then snakes under the road toward Wheelock Park, where it ends.

Dried Queen Anne's lace

They say (and I’ve blogged) that you can’t step into the same river twice, and indeed the wild side of the Ashuelot Reggie and I revisited last Wednesday is not the same river we walked six years ago. Blockbuster Video has gone out of business (although locals still refer to its parking lot on West Street by that name), and the long-forgotten Taco Bell is now (and has been for years) a successful Starbucks. More importantly, both Reggie and I are six years older than we were the first time I blogged the Ashuelot River’s wild side, and although I don’t feel substantially worse for the wear of six years, Reggie’s changed. Last Wednesday Reggie and I walked on the wild side of the Ashuelot–the side that doesn’t have smooth, improved paths, where fewer dog-walkers, cyclists, and joggers go–because the paths there quickly peter out into underbrush, and as slowly as Reggie walks these days, I’ve learned to measure our walks by depth rather than length.

Buckthorn

When Reggie was younger and more energetic, we’d walk from the so-called Blockbuster parking lot on West Street to the underpass of Route 9 and back without a second thought: that was a moderate, easy stroll for us. These days, Reggie walks far more slowly, and he spends far more time stopping to rest and sniff: it’s impossible, I’m learning, to hurry an old dog. Reggie and still take our morning (and sometimes evening) walks around the neighborhood, but now that Reggie’s more than thirteen years old, we take those morning walks much more deliberately. We aren’t in a hurry to cover ground; instead, we’re intent on appreciating the ground we cover.

A few weeks ago, for example, Reggie and I went to Goose Pond, where the two of us have walked (and Reggie has waded) many times in the past. I knew it was unlikely we’d make it all the way around the pond, a walk that took us a few leisurely hours in the good old days when both of us were younger, but I figured we’d have a good time walking to the pond and back, if not further, and I was right. This time at Goose Pond, Reggie and I took our good, sweet time walking from the parking lot to Reggie’s favorite wading spot, where he muddied his paws and sniffed while I did a quick scribble-sketch in my journal: walking with a pencil and sketchbook, I’ve learned, is something that goes quite naturally with walking an old dog. When we both were done, Reggie quite naturally turned back the way we came, toward the car, as if to say “That’s enough for today, Mom,” and indeed it was. We squeezed an entire pond’s worth of looking, sniffing, and appreciating into a slow, half-hour walk there and back, and nothing more was necessary.

Sumac leaves

This summer, my upstairs neighbor in Keene had to put her thirteen-year-old German shepherd to sleep; this past week, one of my teaching colleagues said goodbye to her similarly aged Basenji. Each of these and other losses remind me that any time spent with an elderly dog is golden. For the time being, Reggie’s spirit is strong even if his energy is diminished; for the time being, we’re not yet ready for talk of the rainbow bridge. Still, I’m not naive enough to think that time won’t come, eventually; as J mentioned when the film version of the book Marley and Me came out, “I don’t need to see that movie, because I know how it ends.” When you know where the winding path you trod leads, you can make a conscious choice to enjoy every step as a time to cherish and reflect.

This is my belated contribution to last week’s Photo Friday theme, Reflect. I’ve been remiss when it comes to posting recent pictures of Reggie, so let me make up for that by linking to a lovely set of photos J took with Reggie in our backyard this past spring: proof that the Old Dog is still pretty damn handsome, and very experienced when it comes to lounging.

Ashuelot River ice

I walked Reggie along the Ashuelot River early this morning, figuring we’d spend the rest of my usual grading day at home hunkered down against the predicted snow. Instead, the predicted snow never showed up, this morning’s flurry of dandruff-flakes leaving nothing to shovel or even sweep: a tease of a snowstorm that swerved south.

Snow and snowdrop

Throughout this week’s meteorological mood swings–thaw then snow then sleet then thaw–I’ve been scrambling to keep ahead of my schedule, with my online classes settling into their third week while my face-to-face semester started yesterday. At Keene State this term, I’m teaching two interdisciplinary “Literature and the Environment” courses: one on the “Literature of Birds and Birding,” and the other on “Rivers and Literary Imagination.” This morning I used these classes as an excuse to go dog-walking along the Ashuelot River, figuring any birds or riparian creatures I saw would serve as grist for the pedagogical mill.

I didn’t get any photos of the muskrat I saw grooming himself on the icy flank of the river, nor did I capture any images of the chickadees I saw foraging in the pines or the downy woodpecker I repeatedly heard calling from nearby trees. I did, though, record this sign of activity from a creature who apparently has been busier than even I’ve been these days.

Beaver sign

Click here for a photo-set from today’s dog-walk along the Ashuelot River. Enjoy!

Frost crystals on redbud seed pods

Today in the midst of collecting a several-foot-tall pile of essay portfolios, I took Reggie for a midday walk by the Ashuelot River. The ice storm that crusted my car in Newton on Monday morning produced wet snow here in Keene…and today the trees were fringed with a feathery fur of rice-sized frost crystals. It’s difficult to photograph white on white, but I managed to snap a handful of images to share. Enjoy!