We follow our familiar trail at first, but where it forks, we head down a path I haven't been on much since the ice storm of January, 2009. I used to walk this way a lot, with other dogs. Our 2 Yellow Labs knew our trails well. In fact, Baxter had a tremendous instinct for finding her way around the woods. Whenever I got off the path, all I had to say was, "Baxter, we're going home", and she'd take me right back to the trail. It's good to follow a dog who knows the way home. Barley is new to this route, but he is imprinting all this information, and soon will know his way around the woods better than Don and I do.
We wind our way through trees and deadfall, only guessing where the path used to be, until we get to the winterberry trees, which still stand just south and west of the spot where the path used to slope down sharply into the hollow. Deer had bedded under those trees recently, and a well worn deer path follows our old trail from the trees to the hollow.
In the hollow, we stand and listen to the quiet. Barley's breathing is the only sound at first, then there's the beat of wings, and soon songbirds rise from the undergrowth, flying away as we advance. Cardinals flash their crimson feathers, and juncos flare their black and white tails like pleated skirts.
We head for home, Barley running ahead. When I get back to the yard, he's already there waiting for me. At my approach, he stands up, wagging his tail in welcome. It reminds me of another homecoming.
My mother died 3 years ago, and the memory is still fresh, of Mom, in her bed, looking small and frail, her family gathered around her. We held her hands and talked about treasured memories, and sang her favorite hymns. When we got to "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms", she flew away to heaven, following the One who knows the way home. And when she got there, I like to think He stood up.