Meeting a Neighbor

I heard the town snowplow go by at 5:00 am this morning, so I wasn’t too surprised to wake up to more snow than was forecast.

Fresh snow on the deck this morning (November 18, 2022).

Around 9:00 am, when the sun brought the air temperature up to about 20F, Conall and I headed out for a run. He insisted we take a right rather that going straight at the end of our little dead-end road. Normally I avoid going right because that stretch of road tends to have lots of sharp gravel. The road going straight is smooth. But Conall gets bored easily and thinks we’ve gone straight way too much lately. With the fresh snow, I figured a little gravel would give me better traction, so I gave Conall his head.

That road quickly drops down a long hill. Conall was pulling, wanting to go faster. “Conall, easy. Easy!” I kept admonishing him. Did he know that a neighbor half a mile down the hill was outside shoveling snow? Is that why he was so eager?

I drive by the woman’s house – an older mobile home with add-ons and a shed, her black car parked next to the house – every couple of weeks when I head to the grocery story. I’ve seen her in her yard a couple times over the summer, noticed her driving by me and Conall on occasion. But today was the first time I had the opportunity to introduce myself, thanks to Conall.

Reaching the bottom of the hill where the road curves and flattens, up ahead we saw the woman shoveling snow at the bottom of her driveway. Just yesterday (heading to the grocery story), I noticed her using a snowblower around her car. I knew she was elderly; short, a little stooped, gray hair. I’ve wondered about her, and was surprised – and impressed – to see that she was doing such hard winter work herself.

As soon as Conall saw her, he started a quiet “Woo woo!” and tugged on the leash, wanting to greet her. The woman heard us, saw us, and stopped shoveling to watch us.

Fearing Conall in his excitement would pull me off my feet, I stopped and called out, “Do you like dogs?”


“He would love to say hello to you. He won’t jump on you. Can I let him go?”


I dropped Conall’s leash. The woman stood still as Conall dashed across the road to greet her, me following close behind. I was impressed with her calm. Conall is large. His fluffy fur makes him appear even larger. An Alaskan Malamute, he has a wolf-like appearance that scares some people.

“Well, hello, you,” the woman said to Conall as he sniffed her gloved hand and wagged his tail. Encased in sturdy boots, warm pants, a thick parka and wool hat, everything but her face protected from the cold.

Conall on a road run yesterday when we took the “straight road.” November 17, 2022.

I grabbed Conall’s leash (cars go much too fast on this road and especially on this curve) and introduced myself.

“Do you live near here?” the woman asked. I was pretty sure she recognized me and Conall as the pair she often sees running along her road. While I might not be memorable, Conall certainly is.

“Yes,” I said, pointing with my mittened hand toward the woods behind her house, “Just up the hill.” She mentioned a farmhouse on my road and I described where my house was in relation to it. She nodded.

I asked her name. “Shirley,” she said, then added her surname. I asked if she’d lived there long. She replied by saying she used to live in “the old farmhouse that isn’t there anymore” on a nearby road, and then “we moved” into her current home. I assumed she meant she and her husband. As she spoke those few sentences, I heard a strong Vermont accent.

“Do you live here alone now?” I asked, and she nodded. She said her husband died 17 years ago, in that way widows have, knowing exactly how long it has been. She added she recently sold her house to neighbors (pointing across the road), retaining a life estate. “But I don’t know how much longer I can keep this up,” she said, gesturing toward the two snow shovels she was using.

“I saw you using a snowblower yesterday. Can’t you use that?” I asked. Not near the road, Shirley schooled me. “Too much gravel. It would ruin my auger.” I wondered aloud if someone could come plow for her. “I could find someone if I needed to, but I’m afraid they’d pile snow where the fuel truck needs to get to. The tank’s behind the house. Nah, it’s easier for me to do it. Some days I don’t feel up to it, but a few hours later, I’m okay.”

We talked about Conall – “He’s big!” – and having pets. “I’ve had dogs, and cats. I don’t have any now,” Shirley said. I sensed sadness in that admission, even loneliness. I mentioned how senior pets often need foster homes, maybe the local shelter could find a match for her. She nodded, noting she used to know the shelter director but then the shelter moved…. “And what if I got sick, or had to be away? Someone would have to come care for it.”  

She mentioned again that she didn’t know how many more winters she could handle. I said I’d moved to Vermont from Idaho’s mountains about 18 months earlier, a place equally snowy in winter, so I understood how challenging they are. Commiserating, I said I didn’t know how many I had left in me, either, that I’d be 66 in a few weeks and winters don’t get any easier. I could see she was surprised at my age, given I was out in the cold and snow, running with an enormous dog.

“I’m 83,” she said in reply, smiling while tossing me a glance with an impish twinkle, having clearly one-upped me in the tough old bird category. Internally, I marveled at her age, in part because of how well she manages such heavy work alone, but mostly because she has the most beautiful face. Soft, smooth, wrinkle-free skin, with plump rosy cheeks and sparkling green eyes. Extraordinary.

Worrying Shirley might get chilled if we stood still talking too long, I said Conall and I needed to finish our run. “It’s nice to meet you, Shirley!” I said as we departed.

“Bye,” she said as we disappeared around the curve in the road.

On our way back, Conall began pulling on the leash as we neared Shirley’s driveway, hoping to see her again. She wasn’t there, but a space about six feet wide across the bottom of her driveway had been neatly shoveled, down to the dirt. As we ran past, I looked up toward the house and saw Shirley stepping into the covered porch outside her front door. She turned, saw us, and we exchanged waves.


Moving to a new place – on the other side of the country, knowing only two other people in the state, at the height of Covid-19’s spread and worries – has been daunting. Add my introversion on top of not wanting to get sick, and I’ve been a recluse. Which is okay; I’m happy living alone, with the companionship of my dogs, “talking” daily to friends via email and on Facebook. I’m never lonely. My new, close-by neighbors are nice, there for me if I need them, and I’ve met a few other locals. I do, however, miss talking – actual talking, out loud – to others on occasion, which made this morning’s chat with Shirley even more precious. Each new connection gets woven into the overall tapestry of my life, making it better, and stronger.

Conall enjoying the first snowfall of the season, November 16, 2022.

[I didn’t take my phone on this run, thinking It’ll be short and I won’t see anything new or interesting. I was wrong. No photos of Conall greeting Shirley. The photos included, of Conall and snow, were taken today and yesterday.]

11 thoughts on “Meeting a Neighbor”

  1. Beautiful. She sounds wonderful, particularly the way she greeted Conall. I love it when someone is enthusiastic about meeting Bear and Teddy. It tells me so much about that person. I’m glad Conall got so much snow (and you too). I see why you wondered about what happened to our snow. That kind of landscape happens 5 miles to the west in the foothills and mountains, not on the valley floor.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think I’ll be checking in with Shirley often. I sense there’s a lot she can teach me.

      As for snow? Yeah, here, early season, it seems to come in inches-deep dumps. But looking at last year’s photos, I won’t be surprised if in a week or two, the ground is bare again, like last December. It seems winter’s snows don’t stay until January.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I wish an Alaskan Malamute would also greet me. Haha. Your neighbor sounds lovely, and fit. I hope you meet more nice people! It also snowed yesterday in Germany and the heating at our place is broken. Super happy to be here in The Ph!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. How nice that you got to meet Shirley. Like you, I’m very happy to go days without speaking to anyone other than my cat, but I think it’s important that we try to show our smiling faces to the neighbors occasionally. Loved the video of Conall enjoying the gorgeous snowfall!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Having a dog with you is a good way to start a conversation. Glad you got to meet one of your neighbors. I wonder if there is anyone in the neighborhood who could help her regularly when snow piles up. Shoveling is hard work!

    Liked by 1 person

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