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Messages in those falling leaves

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Stares can say so much more than words, or in the case of dogs, barks, whimpers and even whines.

Ollie was giving me the eye Sunday morning. It was 6 and the first light was filtering through the trees outside the kitchen.

His eyes were beseeching, almost painfully pleading. He stood watching my every move and as I grabbed my cap his tail wagged slowly. He wanted to go for a walk, not just any walk, but a walk down the dirt road and then through the gate into the New York state park where the road is little more than a pair of ruts.

Carol glanced at the thermometer. It read 36. We hadn’t had a frost over night, but the grass was heavy with dew. Much earlier in the morning – the red glow of the digital clock read 3:15 – I was awakened by the brightness of the room. Moonlight streamed from a starry sky, the yard outside illuminated in the cool light. The rain and wind of Saturday was gone; we were going to have a clear day.

But it was 6 and really not much brighter than moonlight.

We’d need to wait, just to be certain not to encounter the porcupine, fox or sunk Ollie’s predecessors aroused. Of the three, the porcupine was the most fearsome. Binky, 85 pounds of a Doberman and Greyhound mix, was no match for the critter that stood its ground in spite of his yapping that soon turned to yelps of pain. We rushed him to a veterinarian 60 miles away outside Albany where stoically he sat without so much as a whimper as she removed quills from his nose and tongue. He was a remarkable dog.

We’d wait until the sun. Ollie just stared, the message clear, “can we go now?”

Carol put out his bowl of kibble. I made a pot of coffee. Ollie just watched. He didn’t touch his food and he wasn’t interested in our breakfast plates even though we both made sure to leave him a taste of omelet.

He wanted to be on the road.

Carol stood and went into the adjoining room, the dog room so named because of all the pictures of my parents’ dogs. She returned with a harness. It was what Ollie was waiting for. He raced for the door then stood patiently as Carol placed it over his head and lifted his leg through the strap. We’ve learned the harness is better than the collar, which he had learned to slip out of.

Next was the leash, a 20-foot lead with a stainless steel clasp at one end and a loop at the other. For good measure, I ran my hand through the loop and took a couple of wraps around my wrist.

Ollie was ready, straining for the short walk in the woods before arriving at the road. Mist clung to the carpet of damp leaves and downed branches. I spotted a few mushrooms as we climbed to the road. Its gravelly surface glistened with moisture. The first rays of sun sliced the treetops, a spotlight on a palate of orange, yellow, red, browns and green.

Head down, tail twitching, tugging on the leash to the point my arm stretched out, Ollie breathed in the scents of a new day. In Warwick, Ollie takes deliberative walks. He pauses every few feet to sniff something – it makes no difference whether a stick a tuft of grass or a hydrant – and then leave his mark. There’s no such tallying on the road to the point overlooking the lake in upstate New York.

Rarely does he stop, and when he finally pees, it can take forever.

Although the brightly colored canopy shone, an equally brilliant carpet filled the shoulders of the road. Orange-red leaves of sugar maples spotted a floor of yellow beech, tanning white and red oak mixed with faded pine needles. Tall green grasses and lacy ferns poked from the embankment. Most of the road was clear of leaves with the exception of a giant oak leaf, the size of a dinner plate. I made a note of the location planning to retrieve it on the way home.

I looked up just as three does, their white tails up with alarm followed by a fawn leapt across the road heading up into the forest 50 yards ahead. Ollie strained at the leash, but he didn’t howl as usual at the sight of deer. At their point of crossing, he stopped; raised his head sniffing and then strained to pick up their trail. I pulled him back to the road and, resigned, he resumed the lead. We crossed into the state park where in sections the path was choked with acorns like marbles under foot. I chose to walk on the grassy center.

I paused to listen for the retreat of the deer, the rustling of a gray squirrel or the chirp of a chipmunk as it raced across the path. But the woods were silent with the exception of a sharp sound as if a rock had been thrown. It had to be a falling acorn. I waited to hear more, but there were none. Ahead, the path lifted and curved to the promontory overlooking the lake. The lake was clothed in rising mist. Canada geese were out there somewhere honking.

I turned to head home. Ollie wasn’t happy. He wanted to carry on. He stood his ground. I yanked. Thankfully, he wore the harness. His collar would have slipped off. With no chance of a prolonged trek, he again pulled ahead. As we rejoined the road I kept a watch for the giant oak leaf. There were leaves, but not this one. Perhaps a passing vehicle, although I had seen none, had blown it off the road. Maybe another walker had marveled at its size and picked it up.

Like the fish that got away, it was already bigger. That’s the way clear fall days and dog walks should be remembered. Leave the porcupines be.

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