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Magic Words

January 1. 01/01. A day written in binary code.

Grannie always said that whatever you do on New Year’s Day you’ll be doing all year. In the event that her superstition was somehow based in fact and just in case its power can be conjured, I am walking. And reading. And cooking. But mostly walking.

Earlier, before the pots of black-eyed peas and rice and tomatoes set themselves to simmering, there was a long trek to the beaver pond and back – three miles spotted with tread-shaped puddles and edged with rivulets just deep enough to splash under the tap dance of Owen’s paws. Not a single car or truck passed us. Not a single rabbit or squirrel made a dash into the underbrush at our approach. Not a single interruption.

It is afternoon now. The sky is losing its earlier sheen, fading from silver to pewter. From the back door I head to edge of the yard, where heavy rains have left jagged slashes in the dirt, and start uphill across the field that, until last week, was spiked with empty cotton stalks. The road is a fine place to walk, but these empty acres are better.

Ahead of me Owen has caught scent of a deer and is streaking through the woods that run along the property line. He reappears beside me, tongue lolling to the side of his mouth and caramel-colored eyes gleaming. He is so glad to have me back.

It has been weeks since we have done this, Owen and I. Weeks since we walked without purpose or destination. Weeks since feet and paws ambled, rambled, roved. The earth feels solid and sure beneath me, the first time in a long time that anything has. I am reminded of the theologian Paul Tillich’s phrase “the ground of being.” I think I might be beginning to understand it.

At the top of the hill we turn around. Start back. Repeat ourselves, but in reverse.

I was never one for resolutions, but for a few years I made a point of adopting an aspirational word as the fulcrum upon which to move through the weeks and months. Flexibility. Spontaneity. Serendipity. Rolling them around in my mouth now I realize that they were, they are young words. Words for people whose eyesight is still sharp, whose jawlines are still straight, whose skin is still taut.

If I was going to choose a word for this year – And I don’t know that I will. – it would have to be something like resilience. Or endurance. Or courage. A word hefty with appreciation of all that has come before and prescience of all that lies ahead. A word that throbs with the hard truth that one day will be the last day.

Owen beats me home. He runs wildly from one corner of the yard to the other, surveying the place as though he’s never been there before. As though he didn’t dig the holes or drag up the deer bones or destroy the croton plant. His word for 2019 is, obviously, abandon.

I watch him whirl and leap and pounce and wonder if, perhaps, we could share. If abandon might be my word, too. If, while he is cavorting through his days without restraint, I might be giving up, laying aside, handing over to better stewards that which no longer serves me. If I might match his recklessness with some of my own, walking away from one thing so that I might walk toward another.

I go in through the front door leaving Owen to chase something I can not see. The first day of the new year is waning. I walked. I read. I cooked. But mostly I walked. And, oh, how I hope Grannie was right.

Copyright 2019

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