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Happy birthday, Persey!

Today is my dog’s birthday. Although this essay will not mean much to her, I want to reflect on our friendship, 4 years of walking, and the finest season of the year.

I love walking with Persephone, my black Lab, in the fall. We have been faithful walking companions every day for almost 4 years, but in the summer it’s a challenge to stay patient, to stop at flowers and inhale deeply rather than gripping the leash and stamping through the shortest route possible. It took me until this year to admit that I’m not a summer person at all; sticky Maryland summers and increased commute traffic make it difficult for me to keep my cool or go with the flow. Plus there’s all this pressure to “enjoy the outdoors” in the summer – it’s not until autumn that I can actually enjoy being outside.

In the fall, my capacity for poetry expands. The world is in greater detail to me. Blue is more brilliant, our trees are catching fire. What is it about fall that feels wide open—is it the clearer air now that summer hazes have faded? Is it the golden mornings? Bear my limited meteorological knowledge here, but with less moisture in the air, fewer clouds form, so our sky is brighter. The sun crouches lower in the fall and winter, so dawn illuminates dust and air pollution, turning everything rosy-gold. The smell of dry leaves and whisk of wind are so welcome to me these days that our walks go from a tight 25-30 minutes to a meandering, gracious 40 or even 65. I’m in no hurry.

One of the best routes is a park near my house called Heritage Farm Park. Like any good park, there’s a community garden with a tower of fragrant mulch, pavilions and playgrounds, and fields for the smallest small-town sports teams. But there’s also a generous amount of green land for no particular purpose, and thickets, and even two walking bridges along a loop that takes a brisk walker about 40 minutes to complete. 

We’ve lived in Walkersville as long as I’ve had a memory, so I’ve spent a lot of time at this park in various company. I’ve walked there with my entire family, with my college roommates, with friends on the phone. I’ve gone on dates here. When I was in middle school, I watched my neighbor-friend’s brother play football here, and I remember reading one of my favorite books of all time on a low-hanging branch in one of this park’s trees. I took a walk with my best friend and her husband once, just before he became her fiancé. Very recently, my bridesmaids huddled with me there on the chilly morning of my wedding. I don’t know if there’s a more significant 145 acres of land in my life history. But my favorite times at Heritage have been with Persey at the end of the leash – and sometimes, with an empty leash in my hand as I watch her zig-zag over open field.

I’ve heard that friendships are nurtured and sustained by periods of time spent together doing mostly nothing. The same playgroup during your parents’ Bible study, the same old walk home from school, the aimless afternoons painting your toenails and listening to boy bands, these nothing-in-particular times are the food of friendship. So the time you spend writing research papers and eating burritos can cement a college friendship for a lifetime, and the ordinary, nothing-special routes I’ve taken with Persey have created a bond so close it’s hard to write about without exaggeration or baby-talk.

When Persey came into our lives, we tossed around a bunch of names. The myth of Persephone and her pomegranate inspired a personal family legend, and the dignity of the name for a clumsy creature with no common sense appealed to us. “A big name for a little dog.” But she grew, and as she grew into “Persephone,” I can appreciate the cyclical themes of her name and how our friendship has always related to the seasons. She joined our family in a particularly difficult January for me, and I’ve said before that she was part of my recovery. It was life-saving to me that Persey needed me in the cold months of 2014; even her warm body sleeping on my legs in between furious bouts of play was a reminder that I was here, that I was beloved.

When my Gram came to live with us, Persey gained another companion and teacher. Gram helped me teach this exuberant dog some manners—but the best thing Gram did with Persey, as she did with all of us cousins and family dogs, was to take an interest in our struggles and triumphs, and to spoil us nearly rotten. Of course, Gram’s great love for her family and for dogs is the subject of another essay. When Gram passed from our lives and this earth, Persey’s routines comforted me. Grad school, long-distance longing, a body image crisis, and a personal challenge to visit every park in Frederick County – Persey has been by my side. For many weeks of the past 4 years, daily walks have been routine; but during times of great stress or profound loneliness, the significance of our neighborhood loops would swell. The sound of my feet on the sidewalk and the jingle of Persey’s leash would form the rhythm that kept me going.

I’m in another time of transition this fall, newly-wed and newly-renting a place that doesn’t allow pets. This means I visit Persey every day at my childhood home for our walks, and often linger for an hour or two of visiting with pet and parents afterward. These walks have become vital again. So if it’s between 5 and 7pm on an ordinary, nothing-special day during this particularly gorgeous autumn, you can bet that somewhere, on some leaf-cluttered sidewalk, there’s a girl with a fanny-pack and her dog exploring. Thank you, birthday girl, and here’s to a lifetime of many more walks together.

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