Walking With Willy

by Alan Stark on January 17, 2012

I’m in my full fleece that makes me look like a walking fuzzball, backcountry mittens with the strings for my wrists so I don’t loose them and a sheepskin hat that gives me that raffish Elmer Fudd look. Willy is in his black winter coat with the white chest and his harness and leash.

He’s a six-month-old Portuguese Snow Dog and clearly the best thing that has happened to us all year. Like his Dad, he is totally disciplined, not at all hardheaded, plays well with others and doesn’t bite very much.

On the way uphill, he bounded through the snow kicking up crystals that sparkled in my headlamp. To the right are four evergreens covered in white lights. We go over and just look at them. Willy wants to keep going, but the trees remind me of Christmas seasons past, some spent with you, and I smile at the memories.

We head downhill in the open space between houses and toward the frozen lake. I’m glad that, as cold as it is, there is no wind tonight. If we are lucky, we might hear Coyote before we finish our walk. She and her clan live up a gully in the foothills.

We are now walking between the foothills and the lake and heading north. There is no moon yet as I look out over the ice and catch the reflections of Christmas lights. I want to stop and take it all in but Willy isn’t contemplative; he wants us to keep moving. Ahead of us is The Pitch that my ex-running partner claims gets steeper every year. It’s a dog-leg trail up to the mesa and the trail north that leaves just about everyone breathing harder at the top. He could be right about the steepness — but maybe not — none of us are willing to admit that we are slowing down a bit.

The Pitch doesn’t bother Willy, but I’m puffing a bit when we reach the top. There are a few houses to our right, but for the next mile, it is just open space and a snow-packed trail. Willy settles in beside me as my breathing returns to normal.

For a while, the only sound is the crunch of my boots on the snowpack. But then I hear a chopper and see the pilot has left on her landing lights. I’m guessing that someone is getting a holiday sightseeing tour of a lifetime. As the chopper gets within a half mile, it occurs to me to flash my headlamp. I’m a tiny speck of light in a field of darkness below them. Several seconds after I stop flashing my light, the pilot flips off her landing lights and then turns them on again. I laugh out loud at being recognized on the ground. Willy is now looking up at me as if he thinks I’ve lost it. This will not be the last time in this lifetime that I’ll get a quizzical look from Willy.

We keep walking north. I shut off my headlamp again and there are maybe a million stars overhead. Willy indulges me as I stop and just stare into the night sky. Off to the east, the sky begins to glow. When we turn around in a few minutes, we’ll get to see moonrise.

Our walk tonight is on my house route. I couldn’t even begin to estimate the number of times I’ve run this trail along the foothills in all seasons and sorts of weather. In the summer, the highpoint is seeing a field of blue larkspurs that last for several weeks and in the winter the highpoint is hearing Coyote talk to her clan.

We turn at about a mile and half from The Creak House and see the tip of the moon ease over the horizon. Willy and I watch as a soft white light appears on the foothills and slowly slides downhill to light our way home. I can see perfectly now and switch off my headlamp to walk home in moonlight.

Several hundred yards from the top, of the pitch I hear a “yip” and know that a coyote chorus is about to begin. We stop and listen. And then the coyote clan is all yipping and there is dog laughter and joy and Coyote wants us to know that for this moment in time all is right along the foothills.

We reach the top of The Pitch and look out over the lake and north Boulder. Sometimes it’s hard for me to believe I’ve been this lucky, that I have love in my life, and live in a place like this. I’m not religious in the traditional sense but I can’t help but occasionally whisper, “Thank you,” to whoever might hear.


A passage is about movement, motion and traveling. I have a mantra that has kept me alive in the worst of times, both in the mountains, when everything that could go wrong did go wrong, and in my head, where my fear of impending doom can simply shut me down. It is just this: “Keep Moving … Keep Moving … Keep Moving.”

Alan Stark is a very slow trail runner, has a road bike with a number of miles on it and has led three sea-kayaking trips off Vancouver Island and usually returned with the same number of people he left with. He is a partner in Boulder Bookworks and shares a home with this blue-eyed person.

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