When my dog Luna was alive we would walk nearly every night before midnight. Luna was under voice control and hardly knew a leash during her 15-year life. We probably went for a thousand walks a year together, including one the night before she left this life. We would walk first thing in the morning, in the evening after work, and then, before bed, this walk before midnight. I loved walking with her anytime, but I especially loved these walks at night.
I have always loved the way the world comes down in speed and size at night. Less noise, fewer cars, fewer people. I can feel myself exhale at night, as though I've been holding my breath all day, dealing with the stress of daily life. I have to believe it's been this way for countless people over the ages--night and its beautiful darkness give us the chance to exhale, to breathe out the day's worry and breathe in the night's calm. Before Luna came along, I had seldom walked at night, before midnight, getting out into the neighborhood. Sometimes, but not regularly, not as a practice, a regular returning ritual, a set part of every day.
She would race across lawns, from house to house--even back behind the houses, finding who knows what, her birddog senses fully alive--then return to check in, make sure I was coming along. And I was, slowly, sauntering--these walks weren't about getting anywhere, or exercise. I'd just stroll along, down the sidewalk, down to the park, around the block. We seldom ran into other people. That's one thing you notice when you get out at night, how few of us are outside savoring this time. How we close our doors and shutter our windows, enclose ourselves in our boxes, watching our boxes. From windows in house after house, in whatever neighborhood we walked--Albuquerque, Reno, Ashland, Winston-Salem, Harrisonburg--glowed television's blue. Mostly, I loved this. I didn't want to see anyone. I loved having the night to myself, with my beautiful dog racing joyfully, twirling fallen leaves like a gust of wind as she crossed lawn after lawn.
But there was always a small twist of sadness, just seeing how few people were out. We know so little about night, about darkness--we ignore it, avoid it, fear it. And yet, it's so important to our lives. There were often nights so beautiful--a moon, a soft rain, huge snowflakes floating down--that I could not believe Luna and I were the only ones out.
Last night, all my shades were drawn. I watched a three-hour hockey game (my Minnesota Gophers in the NCAA championship), the blue glow of my television seeping out into the night. I was so cut off from the night outside--there could have been a herd of buffalo encircling my house, or... anything, really, and I would have had no idea. It was a night like most nights now--Luna gone eight months--where I lower my shades at dusk and don't go back outside. I suppose it's because I knew there were no buffalo encircling my house--or anything, really, out of the ordinary. It was just night. And with no Luna to get me out, I stay inside.
Except that last night I walked in my neighborhood before midnight. I changed into jeans, put on my hoody, laced my old running shoes--just as I used to when Luna used to come stand next to me wherever I was when it was time to walk--and just wait for me to take her out. Maybe it's because the Gophers had been beaten by a better team and I felt a little down. But maybe it's because I remembered that a waxing gibbous would be high overhead.
And it was, that wonderful old moon, as it always has been. Around the block I strolled, remembering, soaking up the beautiful night. Breathing again, feeling connected--to my past, to the me I love, to this wonderful world. Luna with me, every step of the way.