Here we are, in some of the darkest days of the year. I know the days have begun to get incrementally longer since the solstice, but that change seems imperceptible. Cold weather keeps us inside, out of whatever meager, cloud-filtered sunshine the day can muster. The pandemic keeps us isolated from family and friends. I am and will be alone, except for my dogs. I have never looked forward to this time of year. I’ve always hated New Years’, with its false hopes. I hate it even more now that I have no one to kiss at midnight. Valentine’s Day approaches–no comment.

But, yesterday, I bundled up and braved the 37 degree temperature to take my dogs on a walk in the abundant sunshine. Not filtered by any clouds. Just a clear, sweet blue sky. We walked at our local park/agricultural center on a two mile track with a bonus mile loop through a swampy place by the Green River called “The Island.” The river, a deep green from its limestone bed, looked like Christmas green-dyed glass candy, in places with the sheen of vinegar taffy that my mom used to make during the holidays. We kids pulled it until our forearms ached, a brilliant way to use our excess energy since we weren’t in school. I walk this loop nearly every day of the week to clear my head, get some Vitamin D, and burn a few more calories. 

I don’t wear earbuds to listen to music or podcasts when I walk. I like the silence, which really isn’t silence because of the birdsong and wind and the gurgling of the river. The quiet lets me think, sort out my emotions, and remember my favorite times with Todd. Today, my walk was rewarded with a feast for the senses. 

Rounding the first turn, hundreds of starlings complained in the treetops at a crow that circled above. Then, sudden silence, a hushed roar as they flew down to the adjacent soybean field. As ugly and bothersome as starlings are, this fluid movement–a wave of living creatures–and its accompanying woosh was stunning and magical. I said as much to my dogs because no one else was around to talk to.

At the second turn, I searched the treetops and brush near the river for the bluebirds I often see here. They seem like a family, maybe five or six of them at most at a time. They are Eastern Bluebirds, with azure wings and peach and white bellies. Yesterday, they lined up on the walking track, soaking the heat from the sun-drenched asphalt. My dogs and I would approach, and they’d flit further down the track to pause, sunbathe, flit again. One swooped from branch to branch as we walked, as if we were following his lead.

Most days, because I am alone on the walking track except for my dogs, I talk to these bluebirds, acknowledging one as “Todd,” remembering the blue of his eyes in the blue of the bird’s wings. Some people equate cardinals with visits from lost loved ones; for me, it’s these bluebirds. 

But, the highlight of my walk today was the Great Blue Heron we saw on The Island loop on the final mile of our walk. It rose twenty feet from us over the green water, huge yet somehow graceful even with its 6 foot wingspan, gliding beneath the treetops that form a kind of tunnel over the river. Magnificent. Even my dogs watched it flap once, twice, three times as it soared upriver before they turned their noses back to the grass for scents of previously walked dogs. Todd’s daughter sees her father in the Great Blue Heron; one usually keeps vigil by the river bordering the family farm, another at a pond where the cows drink. Here he was for me today, by the river, miles from the farm.

This is how I plan to get through the next few months, these dark days of winter: searching for sunny spots, for magic in the treetops, for joy in the small, free things. I honestly don’t know any other way.


Sue Leathers is an English teacher and mother. She had a huge crush on her husband Todd Kleffman, a journalist, when she was in high school, and she'd save his columns and stories. Decades later, she and Todd found each other through Facebook. He was the love of her life, her high school crush, and she was his biggest fan. She lost Todd in October 2017 to a heart attack. She has found solace in Hope for Widows and in writing of her own journey, and hopes to help other widows by sharing her experiences here.

Sue can be found on Instagram: @susanjanie