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Our Time, by Debbie Clarke Moderow. Wednesday March 9, 2016

09 Mar 2016, by Debbie Moderow in Dog Journeys

It was the perfect final stop for my cross-country book tour: Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, Vermont. I’d come of age skiing on nearby Stratton Mountain, and fly fishing the local waters of the Battenkill and Mettawee Rivers. Now, after promoting Fast Into the Night at events in Seattle, Bellingham, Portland, Minneapolis, Boston, and Newburyport, going north meant staying with family and reconnecting with old friends. The book tour might have been the culmination of an eleven year publishing dream, but my return to New England was a celebration of my roots, grounded in the farmland and rolling landscape of Southern Vermont.

 

After driving from Boston, my sister Vicky and her husband Jim welcomed me to their home in Weston. Their over-the-top hospitality centered around their wide old-brick fireplace, the labradors who lie on its hearth, and conversations with old friends nourished by red wine and home-cooked meals.

 

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My sister and my old ski coach Stefan, playing music on his saw in front of the fireplace.

 

My brother Pete, compromised by several decades of Parkinson’s disease, lives in Equinox Terrace, an assisted living facility located in Manchester, thirty minutes down the road. These days it’s not particularly feasible to talk to Pete on the phone, and he’s unable to travel. We don’t have many chances to connect, so that first morning I left Vicky and Jim soon after breakfast and drove past Northshire Bookstore,  straight to Equinox Terrace. I couldn’t wait to be with my brother.

 

Sixteen years older than I am, Pete has always been my hero. When I was a little girl, no matter what was going on inside our Connecticut home, Pete directed my attention to the world outside our window. He showed me the hummingbird that hovered over the azalea, and the raccoon who meandered in our back woods. He pointed out the geese honking overhead, the enormous pileated woodpecker hammering on the old oak tree. Long before I understood anything about seeing, I delighted in following my big brother’s gaze.

 

Of course, those memories are nearly six decades old. Last week in Vermont, as I walked from my rental car toward the front door of Equinox Terrace, I recalled more recent excursions that Pete and I shared: fishing for striped bass in the Boston Harbor five years ago—when he delighted in motoring his boat to frothing water where terns dove for smelt, competing with stripers engaged in a competitive feeding frenzy. Pete and I also got together one year ago, when I picked him up at Equinox Terrace and we drove along back country roads. That day a wild turkey, one of Pete’s favorite species, meandered alongside our parked car as if coming out to say, “good morning, so happy to see you.”

 

Last week, carried by the momentum of these memories, I walked into the welcoming light of Pete’s new home and spotted him sitting in his wheelchair. Waiting. He didn’t see me at first.

 

“Hello Pete!” I said, in hearty version of Clarke sibling-speak.

 

At the sound of my voice, Pete straightened. His face erupted into a wide pre-Parkinson’s smile.

 

“Hello Deb!” Pete reached out to pull me into his arms. Then he muttered, “Let’s go!” With urgency, he pointed the way down the hall, and so I pushed him in his chair. When he motioned to the right I wheeled him into a room where a circle of residents were listening to someone reading.

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“Step Step Step,” Tom said in a hearty Vermont accent. “With each footprint comes a breath. Inhale, Exhale, Inhale.”

 

Those familiar lines halted my own breathing. These were words from my memoir, describing my panic having lost contact with my Iditarod dog team two hundred miles into the race. Tom paused to introduce me to the group; then I sat down alongside Pete and listened to the rest of the chapter. During those pages I was reunited with my dog team and survived miserable rough miles through the Happy River Steps and Dalzell Gorge. I crashed repeatedly, and grew irritated by a helicopter hovering overhead. Finally, when reaching more manageable terrain, I experienced profound relief.

 

The chapter ends like this: “Bound in love with my huskies, I know where we stand. The Happy River Steps and the Dalzell Gorge…are behind us. So are my fears. Now that we’ve endured the first third of the Iditarod Trail, I’m able to see her full promise. It does not matter how many miles we still have to travel, and it makes no difference that there are no guarantees we’ll reach Nome. This is our place. Our time. I’m burying my face in Spur’s soft neck when Juliet gargles, telling me to get going.”

 

I’d never heard anyone read my book out loud before. It felt like I was peering through into the landscape of a dream. When Tom closed the book, I answered questions for the residents. They thanked me, but I knew the real gift was the other way around.

 

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Posing with Pete before my presentation at Northshire Bookstore

 

Pete and I spent good times together during the next three days. He came to my presentation at Northshire Bookstore. He and Vicky sat in the front row, nodding familial support as I read aloud. Then, on my final day there, Pete and I embarked on another drive. I might have been holding on to the steering wheel, but Pete told me exactly where to go. We passed through the picturesque town of Dorset, then turned onto a dirt road that ascended a hillside overlooking old farmhouses and winter fields. That’s when we spotted the hawk.

 

“Look at that!” my brother pointed at the raptor perched on a tree top. Then, the magnificent bird took flight—and so did our spirits. He swooped over the field and soared away into a stand of trees, before returning into view. We inched forward in the car and the bird arced over the road we traveled. We drove a little further and it happened again: a winged creature granting the two of us a promise.

 

Then it was over: the hawk was gone.

 

As we drove back to Manchester, where we knew we had to say goodbye, Pete relaxed into his own thoughts and so did I. Side by side, we savored our afternoon’s adventure—as well as the silence. At that moment, my brother and I knew exactly where we were. It made no difference that we weren’t certain where either of us was heading, or how much time it might take to get there.

 

It was our time. Our place. All in the midst of a book tour.