I am sipping wine at a vineyard near Portland and Sam is throwing up in a suburb of Chicago.
Sam had puked on the kitchen floor and then several times on a bedroom carpet, and now she was being fed only rice, hoping this would settle her stomach. I learn of her troubled belly by way of a text from my ex-wife, who, along with my son, is watching Sam while Leslie and I are away. Our marriage was seven months ago, but because of my teaching schedule at the college, Leslie and I waited until April and my sabbatical to honeymoon and travel Oregon’s coast, its forests, and the wine country in the Willamette Valley. Now we are 2,000 miles away and our dog is sick.
Sam is simply out of sorts, I assume. She’s sharing space with my son’s dog in a new house, playing and running at the dog park, sleeping in a different place, and like many of us while on vacation or traveling, her constitution has become unbalanced. This is what I believe. But my mind also goes to the dark side. Did she get into something? Eat something she shouldn’t have? I try to dismiss my worry. She’s not even two years old yet, I remind myself. Sam is a young, healthy dog. Her throwing up is like a an over-excited child eating too much pizza and cake while attending a kid’s birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese’s. Sam is partying; she’s on vacation. Like that child, I tell myself, Sam will be fine. Her youth will get her through it.
* * *
Our Oregon trip is a more than 600-mile tour that includes a stop at an old friend’s home north of Salem. In the early morning after the first night of our stay there, while both of our wife’s are still asleep, my friend and I talk over coffee.
“So, what are you noticing?” my friend asks.
“Getting older. I’m creaking more in the morning. Taking longer to get going,” he says. “And I’m losing my hearing.”
“Yeah,” he sighs. “My wife wants me to get it checked.”
“Certainly I’m finding my flexibility is low,” I say, ignoring my friend’s concerns about hearing. “I need to work on getting loose.”
My friend and I are about the same age, early 60s. We are both relatively active. He used to run marathons. I never ran have. Never even considered it. If it counts, I ran two 5Ks ten years ago. I always hated running. But I do walk when I play golf, hiking on this trip, and I try not to be a slug. But I could always do better.
“Age just wears on you,” he adds.
That night, while trying to fall asleep, I think about my friend’s words. There’s been a lot of walking and hiking on this trip—the Rogue River Trail near Union Creek, the long walk around the lake in Bend in the shadow of snow-covered mountains, the five mile hike at Smith Rock watching rock climbers cling to stone cliffs. Age may “wear on you” as Mark says, but I’m pushing back as best I can. Someone important once said or wrote, “There’s nothing like a mountain for helping you remember.” This seems most appropriate now, remembering when I was forty. Wasn’t it just yesterday? Sometimes I feel forty. I do tonight. Then, as it does in those hazy minutes just before sleep takes over, my mind wanders and I think of Sam. How is she doing? Is she better? Have there been other episodes of throwing up? It’s troubling me now how we left Chicago five days ago. I had forgotten to say goodbye to Sam. We had agreed to leave her at the house to be picked up later by my son. But the morning of our departure, Leslie and I had ordered an Uber ride to the airport, and when it arrived, we had hurried with the luggage and to lock the door, and I had not kissed Sam on the forehead, had not given her a hug, had not told her we’d be back. It’s a silly thought. Still, I don’t like that I had not given her a proper goodbye. I know Sam is in good hands; I know she is getting everything she needs and more. But is she well? Has she stopped throwing up? I want to take her for a walk right now. I want to venture out. And I think: Do I walk Sam for her or for me? Do I do it to ward off the creeping menace of age? Are the walks to keep Sam young or to keep me young? It’s been said that walking—moving the body made for motion—is living. I guess that’s why the two of us walk—to live forever.
Before too long, I am asleep.
* * *
The day after our return to Chicago, Sam and I head out in the early morning. It’s cool, sunny, quiet. The plan is for a short walk, just enough to brush off the long flight and to reacquaint my body with the time zone. For Sam, it’s a welcome home to the neighborhood. She is showing no signs of the earlier sickness. The episodes had been fleeting, and she has the usual spring in her step, that familiar prance.
We head east and then north on one of the usual journeys, and I can see up ahead a man and a dog, walking slowly, methodically. It didn’t take much effort to get close and now we are some fifty yards behind them. I know this dog. It’s the old Golden Retriever that I’ve seen sitting like a lump in its owner’s lawn. This elderly dog—overweight, certainly arthritic, and apparently deaf—it is slogging forward. The dog’s walker is patient, moving unhurriedly and deliberately, allowing the leash to stretch out as far as it can and the dog to go wherever it wants along the grassy parkway. Sam and I take a turn east again and they move in the opposite way. But as we part, I can now see the walker’s face. He’s a young man, maybe in his early 20’s. He appears tired, for it is only 6:30 in the morning. But yet he is content somehow, this young man with this old dog, tolerant and understanding of the dog’s labored march, aware of what the dog must remember—those long-ago hikes when its legs moved with athletic ease and its paws touched—if only momentarily—soft, damp grass. I’m not sure the young man sees us, Sam and me, as we move away. But if he does, I wonder what he thinks. Does he see the allegory, the metaphor, the coincidence of a young man and an old dog, crossing paths with an old man and a young dog? Maybe it is only me who ponders this, the one looking for meaning somehow, when the truth is the young and the old are endlessly crossing trails, touching each others lives, aware and thoughtful of each other, or finding frustration in the recklessness of youth and the deficiencies of age.
The young man and his dog disappear around the corner, and Sam and I head for home with Sam’s heart beating like that of a playful little girl, pulling hard on her leash in a youthful effort to chase a squirrel darting up a maple tree.