Into a darker woods, we now travelled, the trees now kept closing in upon each other and upon this narrow road. Our moonlight world had become a shadowland. And in this shadowland, I began to remember how shadows give birth to shadows. There are the shadows of daylight things that we know must be there, but there also begins to appear the shadows of nighttime things that we fear might be there. Shadows of the wolves that prowl in the uncompleted spaces of one's soul.
There. And there. And over there. Intermingled among the intermittent shadows of the trees, a shadowed life does move. There. And there. And over there. Even the lanternlight that swings beside me back and forth seems to flicker in this ever-deepening shadowland, as if the Old Man were saying to me over and over again "Be calm. Keep moving. Do not tarry here."
My grandfather slows and then draws us over to the side of our road. He lifts high his lantern in order that I might read a wooden sign/. In peeling paint of black and white it read, NEW HARMONY 1/2 MILE.
"The Stepping Stones must be just up the way, probably round that coming bend," my Grandfather said to me. We hurried on.
At the pace of brave men fleeing, made that broad turn and then suddenly, quite immediately, the road emptied into a vast, broad expanse of sparkling moonlight. As the woods had been darkness, so this new world was brightness, as bright as night can ever be, And the sea of light not only filled our eyes, but also our ears, or there was the laughter of a thousand tiny waterfalls trickling over a grand ballroom floor of massive flat stones, now washed in the icy, shallow waters of the Frazier River and in the frosted tallow light of a Canadian midnight moon.
The Stepping Stones stretched out before us, a boulevard of flat, table rocks, laid out as if God had, in some ancient past, set them each one by one. One massive stone lead to the next in a graceful leftward arc from the bank on which we stood to the bank so far across that we could barely make it out from here.
Grandfather gave a check with his eyes to see if I were ready, then seized my hand. The Stepping Stones were not as friendly as they first appeared. The veil of water that passed over them was but a moment from becoming ice. Our boots left footsteps of crackling ice. One stone and then a large step over to the next stone. A few steps more and then maybe an almost leap unto the next.
Then maybe four stones across, I say coming toward us from across the stones, a silvery figure. "Oh, the wolves," I first thought. "But no. This silvery figure was too small, too straightforward in its approach to be a wolf. A dog. A dog? Out here?"
Grandfather and I checked with each other to see if we had both reached the same conclusion. The dog kept coming and we kept moving toward it. We all three stopped about two stepping stones apart. The dog remained where he was and we decided to approach.
"Hey, fella," my Grandfather addressed this new found pilgrim, "whatcha doing out here in these parts?" My Grandfather slowly offered his hand for the dog to appraise as friend or foe.
The dog was no more than knee-high, surely not a lost sled dog. Grey and white patches with a splatter of black spots. A collie like face with tinges of palomino gold around his nose ... and then I caught sight of his eyes as Granddad began the universal sign of man-dog peace, a scratch behind the ears ... the eyes, they were blue ... silvery-blue, like the blue of summer skies ... and they gazed right into you ... somehow with loving grace.
My Grandfather was thoroughly enjoying this very unexpected fellow traveller. My Granddad always had this way with animals, but especially with dogs like this. He always had a four-legged, tail-wagging partner all his life. Whenever I saw my Grandfather off alone by himself, he still kept within sharing distance, his dog. Now that I think of it, the dog was always more present with the old man when the old man was trying to be alone.
Not long ago, we had buried his dog down by the river oaks, and we had cried.
Without a question asked or a command given, the blue-eyed dog who met us there on those river stones, turned his course, and with us travelled on.