Nonfiction The Upper New Review

Walking Boston

By Paula Brown

Nothing too much to be gleaned from this. It’s just a walk after all, a walk with a dog. But after weeks of mornings awakening to the leftover heat from the record-breaking temperatures all the days before, perhaps a walk on a cool morning is something. And to a dog, any dog, a walk is amazing. And this dog, this Boston Bean dachshund dog, probably thought I was just being lazy on all those hot mornings when the leash was left hanging. Now he tugs me forward, tail wagging with each step, to the end of the block where we turn right to make our usual loop over trails and sidewalks. We both know the way. Boston’s short legs propel him in a blur of quick steps while the tips of his ears flip up and down keeping time with each footfall. I rejoice in the step of my shoes on the dirt, in the night cooled air finding my lungs. I am walking for the newness of the day and the possibility of seeing another human alive who has withstood this searing furnace of a summer, for the opportunity to say “good morning” to whomever crosses our path today.

Boston follows his hound nose, darting from bush to bush, because dogs are historians after all, and for Boston the walk is about who came before. He is checking that out under rocks and bushes with great enthusiasm while the harness tightens against his chest, and he pulls me along to share in his research. Every so often he squats and pees, says “I was here!” to the next nose that comes along. We keep a quick pace. The tug of his leash in my hand links our shared aliveness. There is movement among the mesquite and the willows we pass, where birds are flitting from cactus to branch. A thrasher calls out from between the spines of a cholla, wit weet, wit weet! Boston stops to examine a sage bush. I urge him on, “Walk up! Walk up!”

It is October. We are breaking free from the house to set our feet back on the path after the relentless heat that kept us locked away for the past many months: heat that drove the batteries in the weather gage to die, heat that roasted the sidewalk into a surface unfit for a dog to touch, heat that caused lightning to set our mountain on fire, burning from one end to the other from June to July. In years past I would be walking beneath the ponderosas and white pines on trails looping around the top of that mountain, stopping for lunch at the Sawmill and sitting outside on the patio, feeling for all the world that I was on vacation in a quaint mountain town in Montana or maybe even Switzerland.

In an opposite but notable comparison, humans enduring Arizona summers behave similarly to people who withstand the bitter winters of the northern states. My coping mechanisms, reading, writing, and weaving, wear into a thinly disguised panic after months inside the house with the air conditioner grinding on endlessly and every ceiling fan spinning on high. I wonder if I will ever wear shirts with sleeves again. I tell myself, yes, it’s hot, but at least I don’t have to shovel it. True enough, but that fact offered me no solace when I discovered a juvenile rattlesnake had curled up outside my front door seeking shade. Now when I open the front door, I not only brace myself for the heat, but react to the alarm gripping me from inside, reminding me to look down before taking a step.

I want to think the heat and the drought are an anomaly, another cruel strike of fate to toss on top of the heap. But something nags me inside and I ask myself, what if this is as good as it gets? In summers past, the monsoon rains arrived late in the afternoons to refresh and cool the air, offering the desert, its people, plants, and animals a respite from the unremitting temperatures. Now the saguaro cacti bloom in an unprecedented show of white flowers not just on the tips of their arms, but extending down the sides of their stems, as if giving every last ounce of their being to ensure the survival of their species.

Boston thinks nothing of my weaving crafts or of super-blooming saguaros. He and I round the corner and turn for home. Our pace hasn’t slowed throughout our half hour loop. We come upon a patch of grass where Boston stops to roll onto his back, twisting one way then the other. My mind brings back a memory of being seven years old, laying underneath the elm tree in our front yard on summer afternoons staring at the clouds. That was another time and a different place when the weather was no more than a conversation starter or a few words in passing.

Boston rolls onto his stomach and drags his belly across the cool grass, then stands up, shakes, and moves on. We are back on the dirt. My feet crunch the ground where acacias have scattered their black seed pods across the path, like June bugs paralyzed in the morning light. Boston pauses one more time to say, “I was here!” Two blocks from home a Vermilion Flycatcher flits from tree to tree, following us along our route, then lights atop the street sign heralding our approach. What luck! What perfect luck to be walking where the red bird sings.


About the Author

Paula Brown

Paula Brown writes poetry, essays, and short fiction. Her work has appeared in Persimmon Tree, Tiny Seed Journal, Anthology Nature, Wising Up Press Adult Children Anthology, Adirondack Review, Whitefish Review, and South Dakota Magazine, among others. She lives in Tucson, Arizona with her husband and a pack of dachshunds.

By The Upper New Review

The Upper New Review is an environmental literary arts magazine based in the Upper New River basin, which intersects the states of North Carolina and Virginia in the United States of America in present-day North America. We are seeking out place-based creative works from all over the globe.