In the Noble Hall parking lot at Fort Lewis College this past summer, the dogs seemed energized. The two of them pranced with a quick, eager, high step. It was fancy footwork. Well of course—we were all in a good mood: my friend and I and the two dogs, out on a walk together on a sunny, breezy afternoon.
One of the dogs belongs to my folks. Her name is Zoey, and she’s a pit bull mix, small, compact, well-mannered, and a good trail companion, exploring outside delights at the end of her retractable lead. Were she mine, I’d let her off the lead when we go for our morning walk on the paths through the tangle of brush on the hillside behind the house. But I keep her on the leash because how do I know she’ll always come back? She doesn’t complain about my lack of confidence, never pulls, and if she lingers at a particularly aromatic patch of green or an intriguing pile of stones and I call to her to come along, she always does with a friendly, reassuring toss of her head and shake of her backend. Naturally, she remembers me from year to year. This summer, two years had passed since my last visit, and I was gratified at her greeting, especially demonstrative, as if to say, “You’re really back?”
The other dog, Kaia, belongs to my younger brother, and she spends her days at my parents’ house. She’s a similar, slightly taller, short-hair pooch. The two get along famously. But when they are out together, their energy seems more than doubled, and I’m not strong enough to restrain both of them on a walk when they become excited at a deer, a pica, or another dog on the path. But now my friend was with me, and each of us had taken a dog, and we’d climbed the hill to the mesa and crossed the college campus without any incidents or surprises. Until, suddenly, in the middle of the parking lot my friend abruptly altered her path across the open space and swerved toward the grassy edge.
I was only half aware of her changing course because I’d been absorbed in looking around at the alterations on the campus since my father had retired from teaching, decades earlier. These changes had accumulated gradually over the years, and many I’d seen before, with different dogs on the end of the lead. After two years away, however, everything looked new. Sometimes I’ve felt dismay at how time bulldozes through a place, razing so much that my memories are ghosts, but that day instead of missing what was gone and feeling suspicious of the new, I felt pretty calm. Sure, some loss—my father no longer teaching, his old office nonexistent, his building altered beyond recognition. But also gain—new buildings, new vistas, and my girlhood friend on the faculty. I was witnessing a changing of the guard. Except my father retired 21 years ago and my friend has been teaching at the college for 26 years, and will herself retire in two years.
My friend called out to me, and I pivoted to follow. “Where are we going?” I asked, expecting an answer about a remembered errand in another building, or a sight she wanted to show me: a memorial bench, a new sculpture, a planter with just the right plant. It wasn’t possible, surely, that she’d lost her way and was zigzagging, trying to catch a scent as a dog might in a maelstrom of smells.
“Hot feet!” she said from the grassy edge. Kaia stood quietly beside her, head raised, eyes on us. “Hot feet!” my friend repeated, pointing at Zoey, at my side in the middle of the nearly empty parking lot, prancing in place, the hard gray surface all around us. Heat rose. It was like a sea, like a morass, but with no depth. Far from drowning in it, we didn’t even sink in, couldn’t get a firm foothold or even leave a footprint. The few cars pinning it down seemed insubstantial too. What was holding it all in place? I pictured the cars scraped off the lot, and the lot itself scraped off the underlying dirt, and the dirt pushed away by advancing machinery. The trees would fall, the cars tumble away, the shell crack under the bulldozers that a backward glance might show were already on the way, drawing near, breaking open the future, tearing out the roots of the past that anchored us. For a second, the ground seemed fragmented, not by layers of earth but layers of time. It was a glimpse of chaos more than of destruction. How unexpected for a walk on a summer’s day with a pair of dogs along and an old friend to remind me of how it used to be.
“Hot feet!” my friend urged from the grass, standing in the shade of a tree. I leapt forward, Zoey springing forward too, with a shake and a wriggle. We bounded across the lot and onto the grass.
The dogs must have been relieved to have cool grass under their paws instead of the hot pavement. Their feet were buried in the thick, luxuriant carpet, and they were sniffing among the blades, noses almost touching, finding something sweet, two old friends enjoying the moment.
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