It’s Tuesday, early evening, and the crescent moon is a sliver in the southern sky. It’s waxing, as I speak, and is 17 percent of full; by the time I am done writing this, it will likely be just a little bit more so.
I walk my sheltie, Buddy, down Park Ave. to where it dead-ends into the southerly edge of Lake Monroe. It’s only 5:15, so the crescent is still a lighter shade of pale, no dark sky yet to backdrop it.
Buddy is still a bit half wild, not quite used to walking, even after a year, so he tugs and pulls, for no reason— other than the one only he can sense, his olfactory world so more fully defined than mine. I smell the lightest hint of a barely flowing freshwater lake, a burst of an auto exhaust, and that’s about it.
Buddy, on the other hand, acknowledges the golden retriever who lifted a leg here in the strip of St. Augustine between the sidewalk and the road two days ago; the young standard poodle who pranced through the same grass a day later; the lab-sharpei who trotted nearby, exhaling one very deep bark, the vibration of the sound settling into the tissue of the scrubby little wildflowers nearby, oaxalis, cupid’s paintbrush, something that looks like innocence. All this happens in maybe ten seconds, and by then, caught up in my higher mammal quest for movement, I urge him onward.
We walk out across the street next to the river, stopping briefly to watch the local drivers here in Sanford confuse themselves with the traffic circle—rotary, round-about—that the city installed a couple years ago. I stood here one evening and watched a guy in a beat up American pick-up drive around the circle three times before figuring how to get out of it. Cheap entertainment, I guess. Across the river street is the river, natch, and a small, human-built peninsula that juts out a few hundred yards into it, a smaller mimic of the much larger “Marina Island” between the boat slips of the downtown marina.
Many years ago, when Sanford was a functioning small farm town and most of the people who lived here had grown up in town or somewhere nearby, there was a bandshell at the end of the peninsula. I’m guessing small bands would come and play here, maybe on a Sunday, just like they did in the big gazebo of a bandshell in the city park of the small town where I lived. And locals would come in with blankets and chairs and wicker baskets of fried chicken and iced tea, families and friends letting the glorious richness of the moment fully settle in, not unlike Buddy allows all of his senses to settle in today, informing him of things he would not otherwise know.
The bandshell is gone now, and the peninsula has been renamed to its theme: Memorial Plaza, because it memorializes various wars our country has fought, from the very un-Civil one, to World War I and II, to Korea and Vietnam, and some in between. Interpretative signs with historic photos explain the various conflicts, and granite place-markers engraved with the names of soldiers rim the inside of the walk. A large American flag flies overhead, one that when unfurled, looks as if it could shelter an entire platoon of soldiers. There’s more “hardscape”—as the landscape architects call it—deeper in atop the peninsula, and it seems to create a stylistic stage, one made of some sort of igneous rock, polished smooth, like the granite.
Buddy and I walk the U-shaped sidewalk that follows the perimeter of the peninsula, Buddy stopping to lift his leg every so often to communicate with a departed scent, and me, with my eyes on the flat blue-grey of the lake-river surface, a massive body of water that is now as gentle as the bath drawn by loving parents for their small child.
A very pretty woman jogging looks at Buddy, and then at me and smiles engagingly, and the aperture of my own senses seems to quiver in a pleasant way, as if it’s proud of itself for ushering that information inside. Then, a young boy with his dad sees Buddy—and since Buddy is a sheltie, a miniature collie–he calls out excitedly: “Lassie !” and his dad grins. I walk to the end of the peninsula, as close to the water as I can get, and stand on the flat concrete ridge that overlays the bulkhead. The sun is at the horizon now, and the water around me is a light scarlet with its reflection. The heavy, strong fronds of the Washingtonian palms rimming the peninsula, respond with just the slightest hint of the reflected scarlet.
Nearby are two homeless people, with a small chicken, sitting in the grass at the edge of the bulkhead. I have seen them here before, and have talked a bit with them. They seem worn, beat, but they remember me and the woman gets up to come over and say hi. I ask them about the chicken and they say they had it since it was a little yellow biddy. The chicken looks up from its serious chicken business of pecking at a piece of discarded potato chip and cawwks on over until it is just a foot from Buddy. The chicken then stops and looks at him, and they are both eye to eye, and snout to beak, neither moving nor making a sound for a good minute. “Mexican Standoff”, I say to the homeless woman, and she thinks this is hilarious and laughs a long hearty laugh, one that she may have first knew when she was a young woman, maybe with a family and a dog and a home with a roof. My heart goes out to her, and the notion of “six degrees of separation” is squeezed down to barely less than one.
A third homeless man is nearby, also near the water, and he comes and pets Buddy. Then after a minute or so of this, he looks up and says: When was the last time this dog was bathed? In my mind, I wonder somehow if he isn’t trying to sell me a sort of doggy bath deal; and then I realize, it’s been a few weeks. Buddy’s mostly an outdoor dog, roaming the dense jungle that is my enfenced backyard, having serious dialogues with the grey squirrels that forever challenge his territory. A lot of running and wallowing and stealthful hunting from the high weeds come into play. Nonetheless, the fact that a homeless man has been commenting on my dog’s hygiene is one of those deeply ironic moments that Franz Kafka would have appreciated.
We walk on a bit, and then sit on one of the wooden benches at the water’s edge, me on on corner next to the arm rest, and Buddy jumping up right next to me. Usually, he stands and puts his face into the wind —even if it’s the slightest hint of a breeze—that usually rises up by early evening from the river/lake. I look up to the South at the crescent moon, and see that the quickly darkening sky is contrasting nicely with the new white of the crescent so that the moon seems to almost pop out, as if being rendered in 3-D. There is a bright star-like glow, also in the south, and I know that to be the planet Jupiter, since that’s where it should be right about now.
I look for Orion because that is what I also do when I look into the night sky. Just south of Orion’s Belt, I also see the faintest traces of the Orion Nebula, a massive clusters of distant stars, emitting a light I couldn’t have seen at all when I first walked out here. I traveled to the Yucatan once and saw some of the Mayan ruins, including a cenote. I would dive into a sacred cenote years later in another part of Latin America to watch scientists retrieve the relics of a vanished civilization from its forever-dark and deep bottom, and my life would forever change because of it. But before that, in Mexico, I learned essential information about the Maya, and some of it had to do with the stars, because the night sky–indeed, all of nature—was embedded into a complex mythology of honor and fear. Orion, the Mayan believed, was Xibalba, the Underworld.
We go to the car now and drive home, some blocks away at the southerly edge of the historic district, atop the brick streets and their delightfully uneven Augusta Block bricks, under the boughs of live oak thick with moss. I pull into my driveway, next to the front walk I lined with the little coonties last year, the palm-like cycad finally coming into its own this Florida fall evening.
Inside, I feed Buddy and then turn on the water in the tub, down the hallway. Righteous observations can be found almost anywhere these days, and just because the guy making the doggy hygiene comment was homeless doesn’t make his opinion any less. Odd, yes, but not untrue.
As I wait for the tub to fill for Buddy’s bath, I check the status of the crescent moon. It is 18 percent full now, bringing just a bit more cosmic darkness into the light. I check some figures on time-light travel, and find that it takes hardly two seconds for the light of the moon to travel to the earth; for Jupiter, it takes 43 minutes. For the Orion Nebula, it takes 1,500 years.
I wonder absently how long it will take the exhalation of a large black dog to reach Jupiter, the smile of a pretty woman to finally reach Orion, the sweet and nostalgic music from a town’s band shell to reach the outer edges of the universe. Am figuring, finally, it doesn’t much matter. What matters, really, is that those behaviors have happened, if only briefly, and that once exuded, they may take on a life beyond the curvature of the human heart—perhaps even beyond the surface of the earth.
There’s no telling, really, how far the energy and light of any action—any journey— will travel, and where, if ever, it will really end.