I fail being alone.
Camper in the woods – just my dogs and me. The fates occupy all members of my immediate family with business trips and family trips. My mother grants me the use of her splendid white camper perched on white steed of a Chevrolet. I retreat to an abandoned corner of a state campground with one purpose – I will finish my book proposal revisions.
The transition from racing publishing diva to quiet, thoughtful writer does not go well. I’m a wreck. I don’t want to start working. I do everything else instead. I walk the dogs. I eat. I nap. I throw the ball. I drink tea. I drink wine. I play a game on my phone. I walk the dogs.
I start up my computer, then power it down, terrified. Perhaps my brain is broken. Or what if I’m just lazy and lacking in character?
I lock the dogs in the camper to walk alone. My camp is near a small river, at Rainbow Falls where the opposing riverbanks bend together like the thighs of a modest woman, forcing the water through a turbulent triangle. I walk alone to hear my own feet clop along in rain boots, steps heavy as a cow. I walk alone to quiet any nagging needs, to stand perfectly still and listen for croaking frogs and dropping leaves.
“You’ve completely forgotten how to be alone and unoccupied.” There’s no one around. I say the words out loud like a crazy person.
When I return to the camper, I go to sleep, dogs pressed in on either side of me. I don’t work that evening, but I no longer look at my phone, or eat, or pace. Ten hours I sleep.
Come morning, I wake my fine fellows and walk them out on the trail I spotted yesterday evening. Wide and straight, an old railway bed turned public trail, the path fades into infinity before and behind the spot where I catch it at “Dryad’s Rest” crossing.
A different world from the golden autumn I enjoyed last night, silver fog swallows the view. Dewy spider webs drape over branches like Christmas garlands. I clip-clop along behind my dogs, the companion thud of my rain boots against the back of my calves again make me think my steps sound like a giant, lumbering cow.
My 100-pound dog with the useless back legs follows his spritely brother down a ravine. While the younger dog climbs the slippery slope back to the trail with bounding ease, my big, black dog slides on the grass and mud and lands squarely on his rump at the bottom. He whines.
“You went down there. You can get back up.”
I walk away, assuming my fading steps will compel him to rally and figure his way. This doesn’t happen.
He shrieks and whimpers like a toddler, delicate, high-pitched cries I’ve never heard come from his rough throat. I stomp back and peer over the edge His eyes shine at me like yellow diamonds.
I find my way over the edge and down the slide. It’s the damn marsh grass, wet with dew. The entire side is slicker than buttered plastic.
I say a little thanks for my cumbersome rain boots as I land with a splash at the bottom of the ravine in half a foot of muddy water.
“Come on, Zeus,” I say, wedge my palms under his haunches and heft his weight up and forward.
Once on top of his feet, he makes the climb with minimal shoving and pushing on my part.
At the top, back on the trail while I wipe the muck off my hands onto my jean, I look across to the pasture on the other side. Three rust-colored cows stare at me. They stand so perfectly aligned and spaced that I expect them at any moment to take a slide-step to the left, say ooooo, and start a do-wop routine.
I fall in behind my dogs and we clip-clop back in the direction of our camper trailer.
Back inside, peeled free from boots and raincoat, I sit at the little table with my coffee and my laptop. I feel better somehow. I open the file, scroll to where I left off, and begin to type.