It was as if my dogs knew we were returning to one of their favorite places. Maybe it was the smell of the salt water in the air that gave it away as my VW wagon neared Jennings Beach in Fairfield Sunday morning.

My girlfriend, Callie, and I knew full well where we were going, of course. So, with a whipping wind creating a biting chill on this early Fall day, we bundled up, loaded the dogs, leashes and balls in the car and grabbed steaming hot coffee from one of our favorite breakfast spots in Black Rock.

For the dogs, River, a five-year-old golden retriever who still very much has her puppy spirit, and Mo, a six-year-old bichon frise who often thinks he's a golden, it had been a year since they felt the sand on their paws; since they rolled in sea shells and seaweed; and chased down a tennis ball as it rolled toward the breaking waves.

Callie and I had been to the beach several times over the summer -- she enjoys sunbathing, as do I, for about 10 minutes until I grow antsy -- but there is something especially serene and inviting about the beach in the fall and winter. It probably has a lot to do with the fact that there are hardly any people there.

But there are people there and, often, if you are a regular like us you begin to see the same folks week-in and week-out. Inevitably, you develop a dog-owner network of sorts. I guess it's probably akin to parents who bring their children to the same playground all the time. For now, my dogs are my kids. And my kids bring me great joy ... most of the time.

As the car came to a stop in the beach parking lot, the ceremonial whimpers of anxiety sounded -- the doors simply cannot open soon enough for them, especially when they know a walk is in the works. When we made it to the median high tide line we cut the dogs loose and, fully aware of their surroundings, they ran free with unbound enthusiasm and energy.

First things first, of course, the dogs took care of "business" -- and so did we (those plastic bags the newspaper comes in are good for something other than keeping your print news dry).

Then we were free to walk along the shore. The frothing white waves were uncharacteristically big, I observed. Must be the remnants of tropical storm Nicole, Callie chimed.

Our beach conversations tend to range from the observational, somewhat surface level, to the existential, deep-as-the-abyss, what-is-my-life-purpose type. We are both communicators by profession so conversation comes as natural to us as eating horse poop does to dogs. If you're unfamiliar with dogs' fascination with horse manure, suffice it to say that Callie and I can shoot the breeze with ease.

I think the ocean -- yes, it's Long Island Sound, but it's still a relatively large body of water -- has a way of stirring up our innermost thoughts and causes us to reflect on where we've been, where we are and where we're heading ... or where we'd like to head.

One of our favorite beach stroll pastimes reminded me of this on Sunday. I wouldn't say I am obsessed -- Callie may -- but I absolutely love walking the shore in search of sea glass. I think it's so cool how nature has turned these shards of trash into tiny treasures. I'm no expert but my experience tells me that clear is the most common, then brown and green. Blue sea glass is always a sweet find because it seems to be the rarest.

I sometimes wonder what the story is behind each piece. How long was it in the water? How'd it get there? Who did it belong to and what's his/her story?

I look out at the water as if the answers may lie beyond the horizon. Then a splash of water and sand compliments of River awakes me from my dream-like state. Let's play, she barks.

So on we go, strolling along in this doggy dog world.

Gary Jeanfaivre is the editor of the Fairfield Citizen and Westport News. He can be reached at gjeanfaivre@bcnnew.com