We Walked the dogs at Wagon Hill


It’s been a lovely week or so of much travel, family, spirit, presents, and too many carbs. I flew from Washington DC to Boston on the 20th to spend Christmas with Brian and Sam in Dover, NH, the home we’ve lived in together–and now apart–since December 2000. We purchased the 1900 two-family in July 2001, just months before 9/11.


Living room of Dover house, spring 2016

I flew back to DC on the 27th, drove to my sister and her family in Lynchburg, VA yesterday, the 28th. My younger sister, Dianna and her clan (including my 85-year-old father who is also visiting and whom I will drive back to his Mississippi cabin in a few days) live along a ridge at the Blue Ridge mountains. Internet service is sketchy at best, and given this, the holiday, and my travel, I’ve not written much these past days. Today is excerpt day. I opened my laptop in this Lynchburg Starbucks across from Liberty University and planned to find a few fragments of the book to post. Instead, when I opened my word docs, a folder revealed a few pieces I wrote this fall. The following is one of these written while I was in residency in Vermont. I’d always intended to document my whole journey–that is, my story with Jan, as writer and artist, mother, teacher, wife. Wife separated from her husband now nine months. So, it’s just right that in this moment I laid my eyes on this piece first. I hope you will get something from this, as I do.


We walked the dogs at Wagon Hill, a local community-supported piece of land outside the UNH campus along Route 4. As you drive past, depending on the light, you see the old wagon’s skeleton resting atop the hill’s spine. Standing next to it, looking west, the land falls and stretches out to the sandy shores of a crystalline bay.

We’ve walked here before. With a three-and-a half year old Sam pulling his thick, orange plastic sled behind him, to the wagon and a little beyond, to his first solo flight among a throng of young and old people whooshing down the slickened snow. He went alone. Sat rigid-still, not looking left or right. Three and a half, by himself all the way down, because that’s how he wanted it. I swear some parents looked at us sideways.

Then, we hiked through the woods, on the paths below this rise, searching for that sudden open draw leading down to the forest floor. Bushwhacking on his sled. Laughed as he went for it, hitting roots and flying off one side into thick snow. We’ve taken this loop we’re walking on now, with and without dogs, to the short jutting peninsula offering a three-quarters’ round view of the bay and opposite shoreline. I sat there once, in early Fall, at the end of that outcrop of rocky, root-veined, hard-dirt land on a large rock with Sam, not even three. The Mom we walked with snapped the photo of us, a thumbnail, me crouching next to his little body, my reddish hair long and blown back in a strong wind. The photo, in a wood frame the size of my palm, now sits on my desk.


Sam, age three or four, and cousin Genna (my neice here in Lynchburg, now 23!)


This path we’re on reminds me of another just miles down the road in Maine, Vaughn Woods, where we’ve also walked many miles, at the water’s edge, with and without dogs, young Sam running ahead to hide behind trees, to spook us when we approach. As we head to the finger-like outcrop, I am suddenly disoriented. One woods melds into the other, until for a second, I can’t be sure which one I stand in. The paths of each tangled up like threads in my mind, the memories of me, Brian, a small Sam running, hiding behind thick trunks, sending imaginary arrows soaring from the invisible bow.


a different dog walk at New Hampshire shoreline


Maybe we have been teleported,” I giggle at Brian’s back. And we have. From then to now. All at once. This place we find ourselves in not us anymore but two people reaching for wholeness and consciousness and rooted-ness independently, walking with the ghosts of us. Remember when …? And…?  Memories dance around us like the fairies Sam once built houses for on Monhegan Island and in our own gardens, where at night, once Sam was asleep, Brian hid his own handmade runes, flat stones he’d picked up at the beach, the river bed, and using his Dremel, etched ancient-looking figures into one side. Magic.

We are there, watching small Sam racing up the path before us, howling and hiding behind thick tree trunks. We are here, rounding the same corner overlooking a short drop to one side, obviously, now, too small, too short for a run.  Following the dogs, remembering. And it is not hard. This us, a couple both aware we have come to an end. Even if we aren’t ready to let go.  And the memory of that us cemented in the rutted paths, the muddy muck revealed at this low tide, the towering trees, the blue bay bathed in a shimmering fat streak of an autumn late afternoon falling sun. I can live with this. I want to. img_4151-002



About dhaines54

Dawn Denham (formerly Haines) lives in the hill country of North Central Mississippi where she's writing a book about her mentor at the Eastman School of Music mezzo-soprano Jan DeGaetani and teaching writing at Oxford High School. Her work has been published in Poets and Writers magazine, Brevity, Zone 3, Literary Mama, and WILLA. Her book with authors Jacqueline Raphael and Susan Newcomer Writing Together: Transforming Your Writing in a Writing Group was the first book of its kind published in the US. Her essay Aleatorik about her mother’s death won the 2012 Solstice magazine Creative Nonfiction prize chosen by Jerald Walker and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She received an MFA in Nonfiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts, an MA in Rhetoric and Composition from the University of Arizona, and a BM in Voice from Eastman School of Music.
This entry was posted in Excerpt from Book, Home, Images, New England Fall, Photo, Reflection, Uncategorized, Wagon Hill, Durham NH and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to We Walked the dogs at Wagon Hill

  1. Pingback: Friday Roundup | The Stream and the Broken Pottery: a blog by Dawn Haines

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