A Morning Walk with Zorra
Meet a fox/cat/bear.
It’s 7am, which means it’s time for Zorra’s walk. I know this because at 6:55am Zorra woke me up—her black tongue licking my face—in anticipation, giving me a good five minutes to pull on my wool cap, strap on my boots, and down a quick cup of coffee before grabbing her leash and heading out the door.
We are in Riverhead, NY—45 minutes away from where my girlfriend and I adopted Zorra six days ago. Zorra is a Shiba Inu/Chow Chow/Jindo mix, but based on her demeanor/temperament/looks I’d classify her as a fox/cat/bear. She is 7 months old, a rescue, and two days ago on Christmas morning I took her to meet the sea.
Every day for this past week Zorra and I have been taking big, long constitutionals, my brain unfurling in that pleasant, meditative way that brains unfurl while walking, all as Zorra does her damnedest to smell the entire planet.
Today, we take a right as we leave the house instead of our usual left. I’m looking for a change of pace, to mix it up a bit. Or maybe the morning coffee hasn’t quite hit yet, because it was a bad choice. Left brings us through a small cluster of houses, eventually leading down to a charming beach. Right leads us to… a highway.
I must be distracted—my thoughts are already wandering as cars fly past us. My holiday plans were all cancelled at the last minute. Covid breakthrough cases occurring at an alarming rate, everyone a bit confused, or perhaps simply exhausted. I’ve been thinking about the Walk It Off I did with Scaachi Koul back in August, where she said:
I think everyone is going to have a fucking mental breakdown this winter. You can’t do a year—and in some countries a year and a half or in other countries two years—of incredible isolation, massive collective death with no real sense of communal mourning, no changes to the policies that made all those deaths happen, debt, job loss, the loss of community centers and neighborhood haunts and places that bring you comfort closing down, the entertainment industry folding in on itself three or four times, the books industry changing dramatically over and over again—and, for example, you sit in a bar and statistically there’s a pretty good chance that most people in said bar lost somebody to COVID—or something else—and didn’t even get to go to a funeral. Myself included.
I’m mulling all of this over as I walk along the side of a highway past a field on Long Island. Zorra is looking back at me as if to ask, “Do you know where we’re going?” and to be fair, I don’t.
Both physically, on this walk, but also somewhat metaphorically, stuck here between cancelled Christmas plans and unsure New Years plans. But before I can dwell on that too much Zorra, seeming to realize that I don’t have a convincing answer—but much more likely having simply seen a squirrel, because she is a dog—tugs on her leash and we continue down the side of the road.
It’s here that we come across the Sound Avenue Nature Preserve, a patch of undeveloped land—neither farmed nor covered in houses, unless you count nests and birdhouses, of which there are many. Immediately we are surrounded by numerous blue jays and cardinals, sparrows and mourning doves. At one point I spot a grey catbird flitting around a nearby thicket. Ahead of us a large hawk floats in the sky, circling some unlucky creature in the brush below. Zorra is captivated, but she neither barks nor attempts to give chase. She simply stays at my side as we follow the path markings into a nearby field.
It’s so lovely to have a walking companion, while enjoying the rustling silence of walking alone.
Eventually we make our way up a small hill, on top of which someone has placed an old, metal chair. I sit for a moment and look out over the land. We can no longer hear the highway—or at least I can’t. Zorra’s a dog, so she probably can. Behind us I hear what at first sounds like the ocean—and I half expect it to be. But when I turn, all I see are trees at the edge of the field filled—truly packed—with a sea of black birds. Ravens? Crows? I’m never sure of the difference. Whatever they are, one bird ruffles its feathers and then the rest follow suit, over and over again. A rolling wave of wings beating, making a shimmer of black feathers against the grey sky. Zorra and I sit, tranquil, taking it all in.
When we stand up to leave, the ocean of black birds flutters off of their branches, but only for a moment—many of the birds flying from one branch to another—before settling down again.
Behind us is a sign covered in overgrown vines, making it almost unreadable. Enough so that I’ll have plausible deniability, I think, as I choose to ignore it—crossing a break in the field’s back fence and following a tight path into the forest.
The path leads Zorra and I to a dirt road—or maybe a private driveway, but I’m not sure. The forest is big and all the leaves are down off the trees. Between the vastness of the space, the break in the fence, us ignoring the sign, and Zorra’s constant curiosity I am struck with a very distinct feeling. That of being a child out for an adventure with their dog.
We come across another sign, which almost feels welcoming. Although it might also be the type of sign a forest witch would put up in hopes of luring unsuspecting hikers to her gingerbread house in order to bake them into her human/fox/cat/bear pot pies.
Further down the lane I see another sign. This one is at the end of a driveway, big and red and vine-free. That said, it’s just far enough away that I can’t make out if it reads, “Private Lands” or “Private Bands.” Not wanting to disturb rehearsals on the chance that it’s the latter, I decide to cut back into the forest and continue onwards. Zorra is in the lead at this point, and given that I can almost make it out I’m sure that she can hear it clearly. No incredible murder of crows this time. Ahead of us we can hear the waves of the sea.
The forest doesn’t so much give way to the water as it abruptly stops and turn into a steep, sandy bluff. Zorra and I march down, or at least Zorra does. I sorta half walk, half butt slide. At one point my butt slide loses momentum and turns into what could only be called sitting. Zorra stops too, and we quietly take in the view.
At the bottom of the bluff, face out towards the beach, a “No Trespassing” sign is nailed to a wood board.
“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us, eh, Zorra?”
It’s my favorite line of prayer, but Zorra doesn’t respond. Because she is a dog.
The sky has been overcast all morning, but at the horizon there’s still a touch of pink from sunrise. Down the beach there are two men dressed in camouflage, plastic decoys bobbing in the water in front of them. Duck hunters. Up the beach, only a few yards away, are five shipwrecks, which I wrote about earlier this year.
We walk over to them, Zorra exploring the ships and playing tag with the waves. A few shots ring out and one of the hunters goes out in a kayak to retrieve the fowl that has fallen out of the sky and into the ocean.
The sun breaks through the clouds, giving the otherwise grey day some color, purples and blues and creamy white shells coming alive in the sand. My thoughts from earlier meander back into my head. Cases are up, but hospitalizations and deaths are holding steady. There are new variants that are making breakthrough cases far more common, but being vaccinated and boosted certainly still help protect one from the virus. Yes, Scaachi’s prediction for a crappy winter was spot on, but at the end of our walk I asked her, “What would make you happy?” and she replied, “To go home.” And here’s the thing, Scaachi has been home to Canada now. Twice.
Zorra and I make our way down the beach, finally heading back toward home. I’m doing my best to feel at least relatively good about the year laid out in front of me. Hopeful. Optimistic. That’s when I see it. A dead deer. Its body washed up on the beach.
The animal must have drowned. It’s both beautiful and sad. A memento mori. A sign to make sure that I don’t make too much of the sun breaking through the clouds. But before I can assign any other meaning to the water-logged carcass—project any other of my human feelings upon it, a helpless dead thing that didn’t ask to be a metaphor—I remember that I’m a new dog owner, and quickly try to navigate Zorra away from the body. I shouldn’t worry, though. Zorra barely notices the dead deer. She’s straining against her leash. Pulling me forward. There’s an absolutely enormous Irish wolfhound bounding down the beach, and Zorra wants to meet her.