A HEAD UP IN THE AIR IS NO GOOD AT ALL

A gloomy fall day with rain predicted for the next couple of days. I wrap myself in the gray wool shawl that Bernie had gotten me from Colombia years ago even as Harry gets busy smelling my butt. He’s not being a pervert, just smelling my pants to see if it’s the black walking pants or the black yoga pants. It’s the black walking pants and his tail smacks right left right left very fast. I put on sneakers and pick up an umbrella in case of rain, and off we go.

Once in the woods, Aussie rushes forward as if late to a meeting, and Harry, the younger brother, runs after her. I may or may not see Aussie for a while, but Harry will be back to check up on me, after which off he’ll go to find her again. He gets upset when he can’t figure out where she went.

I finally get to the creek; nobody’s there. I lean back against the tree that’s half a foot above the water, barely avoiding Harry who gallops down the trail and into the creek, drinks, and lies down blissfully up to his neck in the cold water. In early summer he was so afraid you couldn’t get him to wet his paws. He wouldn’t drink there, wouldn’t cross the bridge, wouldn’t scamper through anything liquid. Now he splashes through the creek after Aussie, who just made a rare appearance, emerging happily soaked on the other side.

We haven’t had much rain so the ground is dry in the middle of the creek, which makes it easier for them to cross. After many rains the creek becomes a sea, but now they’re already hungrily scanning the other side, their next frontier.

I don’t mind their scampering off. I like to be alone here.

We so much want to stay in the Land of Light. Years ago, Bernie asked me to write Instructions to the Cook. We were walking together down Ashburton Avenue towards the Greyston Bakery around 1990 when he brought it up, describing how it would be his “Zen manual” for doing community development work.

I listened for a while, and then ventured the opinion that while all that was well and good, the book also had to contain the dark side. It couldn’t back away from discussing the hard work and burnout, the many people who left, the lack of money that took us to the brink time and time again. I couldn’t imagine writing a book that was just full of bright and optimistic teachings.

He didn’t want that at all, of course, and eventually got Rick Fields to do the book with him. It was his best-selling book. The only “dark” piece in it was the last chapter, almost an afterthought, about his first street retreat in 1991.

Bearing Witness was more my cup of tea, and that was the book I wrote with him: retreats at concentration camps, street retreats in Holy Week, etc. Light without dark didn’t interest me; the dark had to be there. Sometimes, in my case, a little too dark.

“See you later, alligator.”

“Aussie, you’re back. And here’s Harry.”

“Not for long. We’re off!”

“Where are you running, Auss?”

“I’m chasing something, can’t you tell?”

“And where are you going, Harry?”

“I’m chasing her.”

“Aussie, what are you chasing?”

“Animals! Don’t you know anything? Can’t you smell them? Can’t you feel the movement in the air? Aren’t you awake? I thought you’re the one who’s all about being awake, so where are you?”

“Well, right now I’m walking away from the creek and back to where we left the car.”

“I know what you’re doing.”

“What am I doing, Aussie?”

“You’re thinking! That’s what you’re doing.”

“How can you tell?”

“How can I miss it? You’re not looking around, you don’t have your nose up in the air like a proper sniffer—“

“Not all dogs sniff the air, Aussie. Harry, for example, puts his nose down to the ground—“

“You don’t notice what’s under your feet, you don’t smell the bear scat that’s just behind that shrub, you have no idea an owl is looking down at you from high up that tree, you don’t sniff out all the good things of fall. You’re just walking with your head up in the air. What good is that?”

“A head up in the air is no good at all, Aussie.”