When I am on the Island, every night, before bed, the dogs and I go out for a long walk in the dark.
There is nowhere else on earth where I could walk alone, in the dark, in the woods, and feel so completely safe. It’s true I have my dogs with me, but they are even less worried than I, and frequently slip away into the trees to leave me to the sound of my own footsteps. On a cloudy night like this, it is so dark that only the melted dirt paths of this January thaw distinguish where to walk from the white snow everywhere.
Moses, who still carries the echoes of lupine ancestors in his soul, likes to disappear into the woods, projecting my course, to silently stalk me, later to charge out onto the path in front of me, in an unnerving fashion. It is a delightful game for him. Auggie, his apprentice, has begun to follow him deep among the cedar trees.
Their stealth is remarkable, and their ability to judge the intersection of vectors is proof that dogs understand geometry. Each has a red light-up collar: Moses with a slow blink, and Auggie with a fast one, so when they walk with me I can tell who is who. But when they dissolve into the woods and turn dead-on, their collars are no longer visible, and I cannot hear the sound of their padded feet, their bodies long and low, in stalking mode, until they are immediately in front of me, delighted by their prowess and by my praise. Their happiness shifts them from predators to pets, but there is an inner reality that is vital to remember.
These night walks are essential to their well-being and to mine. For them, it is a chance to reassess the activities of the local wildlife. The fox has been out since we walked this afternoon, and the raccoon and deer and possum. The turkeys are roosting in a tree somewhere near, and the deer are no doubt nearby, waiting for the dogs to go in before they come to feed. Their game with me exhilarates the dogs and empowers them.
For me, it is an expansive moment of the soul. Alone, in the dark, but utterly unafraid, I walk along almost invisible paths, listening to the lake, to the occasional cries of owls or foxes, and I feel that I am in my life.
Nowhere else on earth.
Some fan letters are particularly meaningful.
I wanted to tell you how much I have enjoyed your first book, although have not yet read the second. It’s always interesting to read something set in a beloved location….although one runs the risk of feeling betrayed. That isn’t the case, here!
I just wanted to tell you that Fiona’s house was owned for a time by my husband’s family, and his Aunt Helen, who was disabled, stayed there for a summer….
I, too, am in exile, south of you in Racine. My family is from the Island, as is my husband’s. The lighthouse on Rock is restored to the time of my great grandfather’s tenure there. My grandmother taught in the Detroit Harbor school and ran Central switchboard for a time. My grandfather was a ferry captain, and my son is the 4th generation in our family to work for the Richters. My mom lives in the home my great grandparents bought after retiring from the lighthouse service, and our cottage is on my husband’s family’s land…over 125 years….
Thank you for bringing the Island to life for others to see, in a way that preserves the spirit and respects the people who live there…and tells a fabulous story. It’s not easy to do all three.
Thank you, Kari.
Today is my last day on Washington Island. The ferry leaves tomorrow at 8 am and we’ll be on it.
Normally I like to walk the deck and chat with the crew, but the dogs are with me, and there’s something about the ferry ride that scares them. So we sit together in the car, and I talk and sing to them. They like that, and they usually sing along. Pete, who is undoubtedly the coward in the family, is mostly unbothered by the motion, but that is enough for Moses. When we hit the ice fields the noise frightens them both and they tremble. It seems to get worse each trip.
Last night I walked home from a dinner party in the dark with the wind screaming from the lake. Its noise and power were awesome–in the old fashioned sense of the word. The dogs leapt with joy to see me, and we went out again to hear the wind and look at the moon and the clouds. They ran ahead of me through the snow, sniffing at deer tracks. The wild remoteness of the Island is oddly comforting to me, and I feel safer here than anywhere else on earth, even when the wind leaps and howls as if it would tear us off the ground and spin us into space.
I like to say I live in exile from Washington Island, and most people think it’s a joke. But leaving this place tears at me, and even though I will be happy to be home again, a part of myself will be missing.