Every night at about nine thirty, Bruiser turns to us--sometimes he's been lying, head on paws, between us; sometimes he enters the room, as if to make an important announcement--and makes it clear that it's time, time now to head out for a walk. We, on the other hand, are never ready before ten, a fact we generally explain to Bruiser, an explanation he generally accepts, and not grudgingly, because he is not a grudging dog. It's not in his nature.
Ten o'clock is the best time for an evening walk, especially right now, in the fall. In the summer, I think we can all remember ten o'clocks that were still a little sultry, and ten o'clock walks that made us all feel a little draggy. No one likes a draggy walk. I myself prefer a brisk walk, which is why fall nights are the best nights for walking--they are all the way cooled down. Bruiser likes the slight chill in the air as well. He is alert to the night. His tail curves up, and he trots along at a smartish pace, unless he scents something worth halting for. It's either trotting or halting--no half measures.
Briskness, my ten o'clock walk, is one thing you have going for you. Another is that by ten o'clock, the neighborhood has quieted down. Yes, there are occasional dogs that like to talk a good game from behind their fences, and an infrequent cat or three or four, walking with insouciance across our path, or watching us coolly from behind a truck tire or under the lamplight on a porch. But the kids are in bed, the bikes are put away. No delivery trucks or garbage trucks or mailmen to distract us. It's just us and the night air and the sprinklers, still going in October, blooms of mist bedazzling the grass and painting the sidewalks wet.
And the moon, taking its time in the sky. As we walk west, then north, then east, then south again, we reorient ourselves, finding the moon tangled in the branches of the tallest trees, or fitted into the saddle of a mountain ridge, or sailing free, high, high. We observe how quickly it begins to wane once it has been full, and then how it burgeons once it has whittled down to a sliver. Every night, it is our treasure. We even like seeing it illuminate a sky full of clouds.
I have lately begun taking a late afternoon walk by myself. I love it because I can move fast, I can put music in my ears, because it is a full measure of light and I feel free. But, my ten o'clock walk, I love the way you are a ritual to end the day, that you involve a covenant with a dog, that your mise en scene is the quiet streets of our own neighborhood, and that you are always, always blessed with a traveling moon.