Cars and trucks and motorcycles roar past us by seemingly inches.Â My husband and I are on the shoulder of the highway making our way to a gravel road where we walk our dog, Booker, twice a day.Â Â Booker pulls on his leash, filled with trust and dog innocence.Â Heâ€™s intent on the joy of discovery, a frog here, and grasshopper there, but Iâ€™m on high alert.Â Navigating this busy stretch of thoroughfareâ€”even though considered relatively ruralâ€”makes me nervous.
One day when I was perhaps seven or eight years old, I was walking with our Samoyed, Bucko. Â Our mission was to check the water level in the swimming hole that existed on the far end of our pasture, and next to the highway.Â The â€œholeâ€ was just thatâ€”a depression where the culvert running beneath the rural highway diverted water from one swampy side to the other.
In the early part of summer the water looked black, but was fairly clear.Â As the heat of July and August took itâ€™s due the water became shallow, thick, and rusty.Â Nasty, even.Â But, my brothers, my cousins, and I swam in the hole for as long as we could. Sometimes weâ€™d even see our adult neighbors splashing around on hot July evenings.Â Â They behaved like us kidsâ€”floating on inner tubes and laughingâ€”except they kept bottles of beer in hand or nearby.Â Weâ€™d always have to be careful after they had spent time in our swimming hole.Â Broken brown glass cut our feet on more than one occasion.
It was a different world back then.Â My parents never worried when I wandered off for hours at a time.Â This was a community of farm families.Â Everybody watched out for each other, for each otherâ€™s animals, and for each otherâ€™s possessions.Â Nobody locked their doors, and most vehicles had keys in the ignition.
On this particular day, as Bucko and I ventured along the shoulder of the highway, the world seemed colored by gold air and warm breezes.Â The grasses undulated and glowed with backlit splendor while bugs hummed a wordless, but catchy, song composed by nature.Â I was happy and carefree.Â Bucko, getting old, stayed mostly by my side, but occasionally wandered off to sniff some delicacy I chose to ignore.
I was nearing the swimming hole when I heard the sound of a car coming from behind.Â It was a long way off, and the only car Iâ€™d seen since Iâ€™d been on the road.Â Unconcerned, I kept walking.Â Bucko stayed with me, but he had caught the scent of something and was tracking it with his nose to the ground.Â As the car came closer, and I can still see it play out in my mind as if in slow motion, Bucko stepped onto the highway.Â He was still following whatever smell was attached to the earth, oblivious to the automobile.Â I wanted to step onto the road too. Â I wanted to grab his collar, and pull him back, but I was frozen.Â My mind kept saying the car would swerve around him and it would be okay.Â But the car didnâ€™t swerve.Â It never even slowed or tried to avoid Bucko.
The sickening thud, the blood, the body of Bucko spinning into the ditch, left me standing like Edvard Munch’s The Scream.Â The car kept going but my world stopped.
I ran to Bucko and watched his body convulse in pain.Â All that was golden only moments before became blurred colorless shapes as tears wrenched free of my body.Â My legs felt like lead as I covered the distance home.Â Barbed wire fences, the creek, the barn, finding Mom.Â Help!Â By time we drove back to Bucko, he was dead.
Mom kept asking me to describe what happened but I was crying too hard to form complete sentences. Â Part of me kept thinking I should be dead tooâ€¦I almost stepped out to reach for his collarâ€¦what stopped me?
That was a long time ago, but the memory has not faded.Â As we walk along the shoulder of the highway, inches from cars with distracted drivers, I feel Bucko next to me.Â But no, it is Booker.Â The golden thread of that day that connects past to present is with me still.Â As are the tears.