Greeting the New Year

This first day of January and a new decade, I took my dog Hannah out with me to spend some part of the day in nature. It’s an annual activity, a way to greet the year. We’ve gone hiking, snow shoeing, and cross-country skiing in the past. But as the years pass her stamina for such things is decreasing, and her joints are growing stiff.

Hannah is eleven years old now, though much younger at heart, and still loves adventures. So today we simply went for a walk.

I decided to take her back to one of my favorite, less traveled spots close to the house, a small but open park by the Hudson River. People fish and bring their boats in the summer, and there are ball fields and a playground. I like it best for the open fields that run alongside the road, and the few trails that wind through the surrounding woods. On warm days, Hannah can swim.

Hannah can sit for only a moment.

The weather in my part of upstate New York today, however, was brisk and very cold, windy, too, with little snow left on the ground. Rain and warmer temperatures had washed most of it away, leaving thin sheets of ice in places.

But less snow would mean easier walking for Hannah, so off we went to see the river.

The park is officially closed after October and the main gate shut. People park outside it (just like I did), and walk around to the main road. Flat and open, this part is what makes it a such nice trek all the way to the Hudson. The only downside is the Adirondack Northway roars by just up a steep slope, so it’s never truly quiet. But most of the time I don’t hear it after awhile, and just see the space I’m in.

This morning when we arrived at the park, there was only one set of tracks in the road’s icy crust. Shortly after we started off, a man approached with his dog, a pretty spaniel happily off leash and running fast. We greeted each other, and he left. Then Hannah and I had the park to ourselves.

A downed tree marks the trails leading into the woods.

I remembered other times going there with her, and with my dog Gordon, too, who died just over a year ago. Black, big, and furry, he loved the snow and cold, and would have been so happy out there today.

Whenever I brought my cross-country skis, Hannah would run in the tracks behind me, stepping on them, tripping me up. Gordon was always more polite, and made his own way. Snow shoeing worked better, though when the snow was very deep, Hannah had to hop through it instead of walk. Gordon would move like a black bear, slowly and steadily pushing his path through, chomping on snow.

Hannah and I walked along the same route today as we have so many times before, taking Gordon’s memory with us. It was hard suddenly not to think of him being there.

Most of Hannah’s life, Gordon was with her. From the first day she came home as a small, hyper puppy, to his last ten years later when I had to make the awful, sad, and sudden trip to the vet with him. I had adopted him from a shelter to be a friend to my dog Doug (yes, just like the dog in Up, though mine came along first) who had died just before I got Hannah.

After Doug was gone (someday I will be able to write about him, I hope, without crying the entire time), Gordon and I both needed new life in us. Playful and feisty, Hannah came and brought that with her in spades.

She wrestled with Gordon when she was small and doomed to lose, and on through their lives together, until the time when Gordon grew tired and she was most often the winner. They were always good to each other, and rarely truly fought over anything. He was a big, protective older brother, full of love, but sweet and shy, too. I miss him still.

After he died, Hannah was very lost for awhile. It took a long time for her to be herself again. My three cats grew up with and loved both dogs, so they were some company for her and eventually helped her heal.

But dogs don’t know about death, why their friend is suddenly gone. In that way, at least, people have it easier.

As we walked through the park today, the wind rough and the sky debating between clouds and sun, Hannah running happily (if more slowly than in years prior) through the fields and along the river, I knew one day I would lose her, too. One day I would walk there alone, or possibly with another dog I haven’t yet met. But it would not be her, the first puppy I ever had and raised.

In a second she’ll check back for me, I just know it.

Even though it froze my fingers taking off my gloves, I stopped and took a lot of pictures today. I made a video, too, of her running and nearly wading into the chilly river, still wide open and full of strong currents. She would have swam if I let her.

After an hour, it seemed time to go. We remained the only visitors to the park until we were nearly back to the main gate.

Several people were starting along on the road with two dogs. I put Hannah on her leash, she was very tired by then and ready. Three children ran up to us to pet her, which she greeted in her usual shy but happy way, and a woman brought one of their dogs over to sniff noses. Hannah’s tail was wagging the entire time, and I’m always glad when seems interested in meeting others.

Used to all the solo attention, she has gotten to like being an only child, I think. But this other dog, a shepherd with one floppy ear, was friendly and sweet, and she liked saying hello. The other visitors and I wished each other a happy new year, and went on our ways.

Back at the car, I had to lift Hannah in. I knew this would probably happen, that she would be sore and unable to jump into the back seat (a ramp may be in order soon). She accepted my help unwillingly, and, at 70 pounds, she has some reason to be nervous about my ability to provide it. But we made it in, and made it back home to chill by the fire the rest of the day.

Now, as the first day of this new year ends, Hannah is fast asleep and I’m sitting on the couch writing, with my cat Clark purring contentedly in my lap. We are all warm by the fire. I’m so grateful to have them with me, especially because I know that won’t always be the case.

I think it was a pretty good way to begin 2020, being outside in the fresh, cold air, seeing even just a little bit of the world, and remembering old friends and meeting new ones. After all, it really is a day just like any other, except in what we make of it.