I live and write on Lingít Aaní, and gratefully acknowledge the past, present and future caretakers of this beautiful place, the Jilkaat Kwaan and Jilkoot Kwaan.

This morning we walked with a whole pack of dogs– it’s pretty funny how my friend and I are both down to one dog, but we babysit others. This week we have six large dogs between us. We’ve been avoiding the flesh freezing north wind blasting down the Chilkat River beaches by looping up on the  protected woodland trail, and then walking the exposed shore with the wind at our backs. Yesterday when we reached the south end, some of the dogs ran up toward the road, and we hollered to stop them, and realized we only had five. Turns out a sixth, a guest dog, had come in the house while I was lacing up my boots, and had stayed in by the warm fire. We didn’t even notice she was missing, what with all the cold wind and the rest of the dogs. We let her out on the second loop, and she leapt and circled and ran off with the pack. 

Sometimes even a big dog is easy to miss. Sometimes we don’t notice the obvious. 

And sometimes, everything we worry about is made irrelevant.

We ran into friends walking just one dog, all wrapped up against the wind and marching in a purposeful way. (It’s so cold there is no choice.) I wasn’t sure who they were, all bundled as we were, until we met face to face. 

It is the one year anniversary of the death of one of the women’s sons. We all four hugged. We didn’t say much, except “I love you” and “thank you” and walked together a bit, until they went their way, with the wind at their backs, and we went ours, against the wind but into the shelter of the trees, with softer hearts from the exposure to all that love and loss and rough weather. “Most people keep the shade pulled down over their heart,” my friend said, through her muffler. 

“Really?” I said and turned to see her. “None of us do that, do we?”

“No”, she said and her eyes were moist.

 I would not have it any other way. Like Mary Oliver writes, I don’t want to die only having visited this world, do you? Don’t you agree that those of us lucky to be walking in this wonderful, sacred, and holy place we love so fiercely, with our dogs, and families, and friends and neighbors, owe the ones who no longer can, at least that much gratitude? At least this much joy? At the very least the cream of our hearts?