I walked the dog at dusk down the alley behind our house last night. It was just after the sun had slid behind the mountain and the light shifted to that peculiar deep shade where daytime things start fading into the shadows.
The growing gloom entices the frightened from their burrows, and we hear the quick shuffling of the leaves as a critter darts, stops, listens, darts, stops, eats, listens for sudden death. The dog hears other things I cannot, and strains against the leash, blood rushing to her ears, hunter’s heart quickening. If I let her loose, she would visit swift destruction on anything too slow to escape. It is her nature.
I sympathize, but keep her tethered, sympathizing with those potential victims more.
The wide, quiet back yards exude an air of solidity and age, guarded by huge oaks and elms and Copper Beech and towering, dour Hemlocks. They show a different face than the fronts do. Back here, there is less grooming, less concern with status and social norms. Here, tools are left leaning against sheds to rust by older residents no longer able to care. Here, the grass isn’t cut quite as often, and Nature has more of a presence.
Old carriage house doors sag against rusting hinges, grass and weeds grow in some yards, and you can read the signs.
There is one place with a brick barbecue pit that is covered by vines and wild bushes, with roots growing through mortar joints weakened by rain and too many winter nights. It has been 40 years since the kids and their cousins and friends grew up there, give or take a decade. The grandkids are already away at college or playing in a rock band, or married and living in Baltimore or California. They don’t visit the old people any more.
They did, once. They spent summers there learning about themselves, exploring the same back yard their parent(s) had, basking in the tolerant love of grandparents who learned lessons the hard way. But the visits gradually slowed until they stopped altogether, and the laughter of children stopped.
The grandparents have grown old, and maybe one has died, but the vines and wild overgrowth says they no longer believe in parties in the yard in the summer night, when children’s excited cries bounced off neighbors’ houses from a game of hide-and-seek in a pretend jungle full of scary possibilities.
The adults in that remembered, lost time sat in a circle of chairs with drinks in their hands, talking about football and schools and trips and heartbreaks and that cousin or sister everyone thinks is crazy. Those nights when a picnic table was loaded with food everyone has brought, flickering torches made shadows dance on the canopy of leaves overhead, on the lilac bush by the corner of the house. The scene could have been from an ancient campfire on the Mongolian plain, or in the forests of Europe 10,000 years ago, and only the clothes would be different.
The smoke from the bricked fire, the smell of roasting steaks and hotdogs and hamburgers and sweetcorn kept some bugs away and drew others to the feast, and made the children hungry enough to come in from the game, complaining about someone who cheated, and scratching at mosquito bites.
I stopped last night by the ruins , felt the passage of time, and savored the way life’s sweetest times are so fleeting, and all the sweeter for that, in that relentless, broad, slow flow of the River of the Present into the future.
The dog wants to follow a scent into the underbrush, but I tug on the leash and she gives up and trots down the alley ahead, head down, looking for something to chase. It is her nature.