I fingered the blue wool coat with its velcro straps and eyed Sammy. Bare-tummied Sammy, who is built for long walks in summer heat, not leisurely strolls in winter snow.
Sammy hates his coat. He sees me pondering it and hides under my chair in the living room. I check the temperature gauge tacked to the window. 35 degrees. I peer out at the back yard where all the bushes and trees hold their arms to the still-dark sky. No wind.
"OK, Sammy," I finally concede. "No coat." I pluck his harness off the hook by the back door and sit on the desk chair just in time for him to barrel into my lap.
Ultra-furry Charlie, long strapped into his harness, starts running in tight little circles of anticipation by the back door. I zip my coat, pick up my gloves and check the desk clock glowing in the darkness.
5:15AM. We'll be out the first outside today, before anyone in the neighborhood is up. My favorite time to walk.
I open the back door and two noses push open the storm door. I follow the dogs down the three steps but they wheel back and snuffle at something on the top step. As I reach back to quietly close the door, I notice the yard and driveway are a seamless blanket of white snow, perfect and smooth. Except for tiny footprints that tattoo their way from the back of the house, down the driveway and up our back steps.
I look closer. They look like cat prints, and it seems the cat spent some time on our top step while DaBoys were blissfully pawing their way through doggie dreams last night.
Satisfied that the intruder is gone, DaBoys pull me down the driveway and into our morning walk. Our first visit is to the young maple across the street, where grass stubbles its way up past the thin half inch of snow. From there, we turn west down the sidewalk, out of street light range. I'm the first to blemish this snow, but DaBoys find a scent in the grass and pick up the pace as they sniff and snort along its trail like little detectives.
Further along, the Wilson's uncut straw flowers and ornamental kale make a tapestry of their snow blanket. Two perfect tire tracks stripe the snow from garage to the street, evidence of Cathy's early shift in the ER.
Already, the sky's inkiness has burnished to navy against pinpoints of stars. DaBoys stop to water a fire hydrant.
Miles off, a train lumbers away. The last echo of it's whistle barely threads the early morning air. I take a deep breath. Not enough snow to scent the air but enough to clean away the musky smell of fall that lingered yesterday.
Both dogs move on past lawns neat as graves beneath the thin snow. We turn down Parkview, a half-moon shaped street tucked away nearby. Big old trees, manicured flower beds and friendly people make this one of DaBoys favorite destinations for daytime walks. But I like Parkview best just like this. I thief my way through this neighborhood unwatched, while it is still quietly put away for the night.
It's peacefulness is what I'll steal to begin my day.
Almost right away, though, we find evidence of visitors before us. A rabbit has looped it's way from Merrick's hydrangea bed to the woods. The prints it left behind - dots for the front feet and dashes for the back feet - look for all the world like Morse code.
Further on, the Harrold's new cat has made it's way home from it's nightly explorations. It's eyes catch a glow from the yard light as it waits by the front door, puffed and patient as a hunter.
We make our way around the first bend. Houses rise up on our left with their generous lawns spread out before them. At their back are yards that slip down long, wooded hills to the quiet expanse of a city park.
A little gust of wind cartwheels a lonely maple leaf and it stitches its way across the snow in front of us.
In the Simon's driveway I spy a string of pawprints, probably from the family of raccoons they feed in the winter. Along the hedge that rings the Henry's yard are the perfect staccato prints from the deer who wonder up from the park to feast on leftover plantings. DaBoys are unimpressed by how perfectly each hoof print was left in the snow.
Craftier animals have explored the lawns overnight, leaving the snow on the sidewalks undisturbed. The dogs follow each scent through the grass, their noses scooping along the snow as we make our way around the second bend and back toward our street like ghosts.
At the corner, I turn to look back. We have been messy interlopers; there is evidence of us everywhere. My footprints waggle down the sidewalks, crossed by smaller prints from the dogs. Deeper drifts along flower beds are left churned up by snuffling noses. There's a patch by the Thompson's old walnut tree where the grass has been brushed clean. Evidence of our stop there lies securely tied in the poo bag I'm carrying.
We turn toward home, Sammy finally giving in to shivers. I think of his warm doggie coat back home on the table and wonder if he'll ever let me put it on him.
The sky has blued a bit, already bruised by the morning. Soon, it will have the daytime look it carries for everyone to see. Then, lights will go on, streets will be filled and lives will be lived.
But perched here on the tipping point between night and day, the world's stillness is fresh and special like a gift.
We turn down our driveway to join the outbound prints we left in the snow a mere 20 minutes ago. We follow them to our backdoor, up the steps and into our warm house. I hang up leashes, wipe off icy feet and hand out treats. The smell of the coffee I left brewing is too much to bear and I make my way through the dark house to the kitchen. Cradling the steaming cup in my hand, I tiptoe to the living room and open the draperies. Upstairs, Ken is still sleeping. I sit in my chair by the window, holding my cup high until DaBoys settle on my lap.
All the world is still.
The furnace hums on, and then back off.
I listen to the creaks in the bones of this hundred year old house.
Already, both dogs have fallen asleep. I listen to their breathing and sip my coffee.
Outside, the street lights wink out one by one by one.
Up above, the stars are bowing out of the waning night sky.
They leave behind the first blush of a fresh morning, unashamed and hopeful.
It is good.