When I Google “alone” I find a bunch of synonyms: single, friendless, solitary, lone, lonesome and more. I’m alone a lot these COVID-19 days. Today I spoke six words. Each time a meal was delivered to my door I yelled, “Thank you.” Since last March I have ridden in a vehicle five times, each event for a medical purpose such as vaccinations, blood sampling and testing. To get my mail each night I venture down to the lobby after 8 p.m. when I won’t see any other residents. Today living each day like this is by choice, but when I was much younger and living in Iowa being alone was a treat I needed to steal.
Back then at the corner where the gravel road fronting my acreage intersected with the gravel road that went by my cousin Lyle’s place stood a bullet-pocked stop sign. Leaning against that sign, drowsy from the scent of newly-mown grass, I watched the tall corn tassels moving in the breeze to the east and the slightly browning soybeans for a mile to the west. Neighboring farms basked peacefully on this warm summer day, and, with no other person in sight, the magic of feeling I might be the only human alive made me smile.
The sun warmed my face, and Baron, my golden lab, lay beside me, panting, not demanding attention, but content to be with me. He rolled onto his back with his four legs outspread just in case I wanted to rub his hairy belly.
Walking to that corner and back was our special together time. If I woke up early and needed time to calmly plan my day, we started out as early as six in the morning. On busy days we didn’t walk until late in the morning or even in the afternoon. Baron didn’t need a schedule, and neither did I.
On this day, we’d walked together to the end of the driveway shortly after breakfast. There I turned right and walked along the edge of the road. Even though traffic past our house was light, Baron wasn’t allowed to walk on the road because of the possible danger, so he dashed into the low ditch and raced through the Queen Anne’s lace and Shasta daisies and other blossoms and weeds, excited by the exercise and by the joy he exhibited whenever we were together.
As we passed the orchard, I checked the apple trees where branches drooped with heavy fruit and reminded myself to prune some back before they broke. I was pleased to see the geese gobbling the downed, rotting fruit because that would prevent disease from festering on the ground.
At the far end of the orchard, Baron slipped through the wire fence into the first green and gold field and for a while kept pace with my lazy walking, then yelped once before he raced ahead, disappearing into the soybeans, with only an occasional flash of his champagne-colored tail bobbing above the maturing grain.
As I crossed the old wooden bridge at the bottom of the hill, Baron scoped out the culvert under the road. Then he explored all the way through to the other side before rushing between the corn rows until he reached the intersection, where he sat patiently on the berm of the road, waiting for my permission for him to join me. After I dropped to the grassy sanctuary around the stop sign, and called, “Baron, come,” he swiftly crossed the road and lowered his golden body beside me.
Stretching out under the warm sun, I half-dozed and watched the red-winged blackbirds fiercely guard their nest from an attack by the red-tailed hawk that lived in the trees across from my acreage. Baron snoozed beside me, legs running while he slept, probably chasing the rabbits that got away when he was awake. I listened to the rumble of a tractor on a distant road pulling a load of corn to the elevator in town.
Back home, letters remained unwritten, weeds continued to grow in the vegetable garden, llamas needed to be brushed and the soup for lunch should have been warming.
Jack, our neighbor, driving on his way to his own lunch, stopped his pickup when he saw the two of us relaxing on the grass. With his elbow sticking out the window, he called, “Are you OK? Do you want a ride home?”
“No, thanks. We’re just out for a walk,” I said, and, standing up, brushed the tiny twigs and grass cuttings off my jeans.
“Baron, come,” I said. Baron crossed from the grassy area to the edge of the road with me, jumped into the ditch and raced home. He was standing at the end of the driveway, happy to greet me, when I arrived. After I checked the mailbox, we strolled back to the house where I started lunch, while on the porch Baron cuddled with his favorite cat while he took a nap.
Alone, yes. Lonely, never.
Award-winning columnist Phyllis Henry lives in Gig Harbor.
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