Nocturne

Night-walk with Gilgamesh: half-way around the woods-trail that leads to the quartz dragon—30 feet of exposed stone a clear dinosaur—the clouds dispersed, clearing the Milky Way and bright, near-full moon.

Lantern unnecessary, we walked through the hemlocks, beech, maple and birch back to the open field at the top of the mountain, and played a long game of ball.

Sharp-shadowed and joyous, my Gilly in moonlight.

Lately, I ration his time with the ball, since his joints aren’t accepting high-impact the way they used to, and everything he retrieves he retrieves like he’s starring in a Jackie Chan action sequence.

I throw more grounders, shorter distances, more slowly, trying to minimize his wheels, leaps and skids: more and more of them end in a fall resulting from some joint not being there for him the way he expected it to be. He slides out more often, flips and somersaults, even—always rising casually and acting like nothing happened, but often sore later, and always visibly surprised in a way that hurts my heart.

The more this happens, the less I throw; the less I throw, the more he wants me to. It’s his drive and his delight, to sprint and catch, shake and retrieve. We aim for reasonable middle ground between his unstoppable, resilient spirit and his somehow-nine-year-old-body with its unpredictable and strange fragilities.

Tonight, he flew for that ball with total control and glee. Full of strength and solid. I let him really turn loose, and he shone, incandescent.

In the woods around us, deer, coyotes, bear, and him a wild thing too;  full of hunt and catch, full of life. Such joy in him. Such unconscious confidence in his own body. Tonight it didn’t fail him.

Since he was a pup and we took our first night-walks, they’ve always been special: there’s mystery in them, and excitement, and an out of the ordinary quality to even the most familiar places. A night-walk is a gift exchanged between us.

I know that too soon—hopefully years off still, but too soon—he won’t be able to fly and thunder for his ball at all.

I hope there never comes a time, though, when he doesn’t quiver from nose to tail when I say: “Gilly, would you like to go for a stroll in the moonlight?” –and squee with quiet urgency for the long minutes it takes me to lace my boots and find a coat.

Even if we go slowly, we’ll go. Sharp-shadowed and joyous in moonlit wilds.

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