After the concert we go back to Joan’s house. The mountain road climbs through the darkness and stretches through the cold, clear night all the way to the heavens. Bright and defined constellations serve as guiding beacons up the winding driveway because there are no other lights here. We are in God’s country now.

I point the headlights of my car at the door and grab a flashlight, making my way past discarded wood piles and garden stones to the chipped cement steps and long walkway that leads to the front door. The path would be perilous if I had not done it so often and will be more so in the days ahead as water, ice and snow replace the decaying leaves and dirt along the way. I wonder as I often do how Joan does it day in and day out -- pugs underfoot -- without tripping and breaking her neck.

Inside the living room, she has turned on the incandescent lamps and the string of colored Christmas lights that beckon year round. A soft, orange flame smolders in the woodstove. I love this view at night, staring through the long row of glass at the warmth and wonder inside. It is not the stuff of a Norman Rockwell or Thomas Kinkade painting, no rosy cottage glow or rose-colored glasses through which to view this scene. There is stark reality here – sub-zero temperatures each winter, cold brittle hands stacking firewood, a scarcity of creature comforts in true New England fashion, but tonight we are not there yet. It may be mid-November, but the temperatures are cool, not yet cold. And, in spite of the hardships in forging a life here, each time I visit, I view the scene through the lens of love.

Joan putters around inside, surprisingly still in her dress clothes although she arrived back from the concert before us. The downstairs pugs – blind, black Puddleglum and scarred, fawn Soup gather around her. Tonight that is all that are down here, the rest of the brood upstairs in their respective rooms. Joan has already put their food on the stove and laid out the makings for hot cocoa.

I informed her we can’t stay long, but I want to snap a picture of Gryffindor, the puppy she kept out of the last litter. I push my way into the room and am greeted by the smell of wood smoke and dog, a pungent mixture to which I have become accustomed. I move away the clutter of papers that Joan is perpetually sorting and warn Puddleglum in a loud voice and no uncertain terms that he better not try to pee on me tonight – the two of us engaged in an ongoing battle, which usually results in him marking my leg.

Joan motions to the flurry of activity at my feet and I look down to see a living, breathing, bundle of joy. Gryffindor runs and jumps and leaps beneath me, wiggling in between. I am used to puppies at Pugdom and all are precious and sweet. I thought Gryffindor exceptionally handsome from the get-go. Puppies, like all children, seem to possess an extra portion of energy and playfulness, but this is something else. At first I can’t pinpoint it, but then it hits me. Gryff reminds me of my deceased puppy Mira, the pug I claim was the most joyful creature I have ever known, human or dog. Mira, like Gryff, bounded through her short, sweet life with extra verve as if there was an inner fount of happiness energizing each step. I pick up Gryffindor and see this fount reflected in his eyes. There is lightness to his being. I wish I could snatch him up and take him home.

“Joan,” I gush, “He’s special!” He reaches out with his tender tongue and licks my lips in agreement. I will keep my eye on this boy.

For now I turn my attention to the mug of hot cocoa that Joan hands me and the extra large marshmallow that skims it’s surface. These are her special touches that bring warmth to this scene and melt the New England frost. With childlike glee we sip and smile, watching the puppy, reveling in the company.