I have come to know evenings well. I’m out there every night now, sometimes just for half an hour, though that’s rare, usually for an hour or longer, trudging along very slowly behind my old dog. It’s clear that the number of these evening walks is finite. I’m not sure if we have only dozens of them left or maybe still a hundred or more; we’re playing things by ear.
I wander around with Leshi at sunset, past the doggy landmarks of peed-on bushes, the bleached out moose jaw, and chewed up sticks, in an effort to get her to empty her bladder so less will dribble on her blanket overnight. She walks ahead of me, her head nodding in the rhythm of her arthritic steps, wrapped up in the things an old dog thinks about.
It’s quiet out, the land softly slipping into darkness. The willows and cottonwoods begin to glow as the sun dips behind the horizon, more of an inner luminescence than the blatant riot of colour they display during the day. It’s something I never noticed before, one of the things I’m learning on our nightly walks. I follow Leshi past these torches of yellow and orange, of red like so many scabbed wounds, gently reminding her every now and then of our mission by pointing out favourite pee spots. She stops, sniffs briefly, and looks at me with big eyes.
“No piddles? OK, let’s walk on then.” And we carry on again, our progress into the thickening darkness loudly announced by a robin. There have been so many of them lately, slowly getting ready to leave. The staccato bird call almost seems to echo in the silent woods, making me want to shush it. I pace myself. I’m tired, my body already shifting to a winter sleeping pattern. I’d rather sit inside the cabin with Sam, the log walls bathed in a mellow light from the oil lamp, and surrender to my yawns and heavy eyelids. Instead, I’m cruising around with a dog who will not pee.
Some evenings we’re both disgruntled, Leshi and I. I’ve dragged her out into a downpour, made her get up and go out even when she’s not feeling well, just so she won’t leak on her blanket too badly during the night. On those nights we shoot each other resentful glances, stuck with each other’s company, slaves to Leshi’s ungovernable bladder, until finally she pees and we can hurry back inside.
But mostly, it’s like tonight – peaceful, tiring, as the light vanishes behind the mountains. We discover little things on our walks: strange mushrooms, a raven feather, and one time I almost stepped on a toad. Another time we found bear scat full of juniper berries and needles. I didn’t know bears eat juniper; maybe when there are not enough other berries.
A loon calls somewhere far away, his cry full of longing drifting in on the slight breeze. They’ll be heading south soon, too – the great emptying of the North in preparation for winter is underway. The afterglow of the autumn leaves fades slowly as if they were hooked up to some celestial dimmer switch, a general bleeding of colour until the world is grey. Roots and rocks on the trail blur into invisibility, only to be found by our stumbling feet. I could turn on my headlamp but I like the darkness better. It wraps itself around us, draws us in.
Leshi finally feels the urge I’ve been waiting for, stops and gives me a saucy look as she squats. I laugh and praise her lavishly. “Oh good girl, what a good girl! Let’s go back to the cabin, hey?”
She bunny-hops a few paces, her spindly hind legs bouncing off the ground in unison, her tail flying up and down, then settles back into a slightly faster pace than we were walking before. The darkness keeps swallowing her on the narrow, winding trail, then surprisingly gives her back to me when I hurry and catch up. Finally, the cabin’s windows shine through the trees, spilling yellow lamp light into the night. I shoo the old dog inside, feel happy and lighthearted that I’ve had another walk with her. We’ve escaped the darkness yet again.
Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.