Fall comes next week, officially, astronomically.
It used to come sometime in the week after Labor Day, then to the holiday and earlier as schools opened sooner and sooner. Oddly, September seems to be our first and last gasp of a normal summer, people still on the streets as the days turn crisp and the nights cool. My dog is happy with the weather, the lessened traffic on the road balanced by the deer reappearing. She lies in the yard and waits, then stands in the yard and barks, then goes to drink from the horse trough, then comes back to lie in the yard.
Autumn came to me — or I went and got her, with more than a little help from a friend — seven years ago this coming Tuesday, Sept. 22, the first day of fall in 2013. It fell that year on a Sunday, the only day of the week the boat schedule allowed a road trip to Northfield, almost on the upper boundary of Massachusetts, and back. If we hadn’t gotten lost in Worcester, twice, coming and going, we might even have made the next to last boat.
But we didn’t, so took the opportunity to stop at the Dollar Store, wake the baby up and set her down on grass, then go in pick up things I’d not even thought about, a little collar, a tiny harness — which I may have used once, before it was outgrown — and what seemed the smallest dish but one which I would still be using but one day decided she deserved better.
People gave me more items, some important, some luxuries I hadn’t thought to buy, toys and treats and impossibly small puppy beds she outgrew almost as quickly as the harness, but which served a good purpose for a bit.
It was an easy fall, warm into October, and I left the door open after the first few days, certain she would not wander far beyond the yard, glad, for once, that the fields were overgrown, and created a natural boundary a curious but cautious puppy would not venture past. She came to town with me and sat outside the gallery where I still work, her red leash attached to a plastic chair, one of those little beds at the ready. She slept in the fall sun, watched traffic and greeted strangers.
There are very few people, I quickly learned, who can resist a golden retriever puppy.
Autumn slept in my lap, she rode on my shoulder, and I found myself wishing, as I do not remember with my other dogs, she would never grow bigger, never lose that puppy softness, that sweet puppy smell.
She grew fast and one day the plastic chair to which she was tethered was not heavy enough to hold; she ran across the sidewalk, first to chase something, then to escape the chair chasing her. Before I knew it she was adolescent gangly, then she was sliding across the yard, her zoomie undone by the slush snow that had covered the grass. A month later she was bounding in a drift, never caring that snow quickly turned into ice between her toes.
Years passed and I worried about her, my sweet girl, kept home because I was so afraid she would wander, get hit by a car, follow someone else home, get in trouble somewhere, and I worried my fears stifled her life.
Then the horses came and her world opened up to new people and different visiting dogs, and these big, almost magical animals that have never frightened her in the least. Autumn walks among them like a barn cat, mindless of their big hooves, nuzzling from the ground bits of feed fallen from their mouths. She comes in, sometimes, and puts her head in my lap and I realize her neck is wet from leaning over the edge of the trough to drink. There are even more deer to spot and chase with the fields clear.
We think she fancies herself another one of the horses, but with house privileges. Then she lies on her back and one of them nibbles her long toenails and I have to wonder if there is some communication taking place on a plane I do not understand.
Seven years, I think, and how the world has changed. The last two sunsets have been softened by smoke carried from great fires on the other side of the country, fires that have turned far away skies orange and shut out the sun in a way not even Block Island fog can accomplish. It is a season of multiple storm systems wandering around the Atlantic, some slamming into land.
Then, Autumn comes and sits beside me, asking no more than to be petted. A treat would be nice, too but it is not mandatory. Unless I move…