Monday, November 8, 2010
I stand in the forest on a thick blanket of burnt orange and brown leaves jumbled together below a tangled bare canopy of skeletal fingers like umbrellas blown to bits in a wild storm. I can feel a dry, brittleness through the toughened outer skin of the gray-brown stick I hold aloft and wave over my head to get Murdoch’s attention.
“How about this one?” I yell, trying to be heard over the loud rustling and snapping sounds of Murdoch attempting to wrestle free a small tree from a tangle of underbrush. It’s like an elephant is crashing through the forest.
Moments before, as we crunched our way through the leaves laid down amongst the forest that encircles our house, I watched Murdoch, free from his leash, slowly widen the gap between us. He leapt over fallen trees and rotten logs, head down, nose buried in the leaves. I could see the wanderlust emanating from him as he weaved his long, black body around trunks of gray and white.
Walking in our woods is different from walking the trail at the end of the road. Our forest is crisscrossed with thin, barely distinct paths that inspire a sense of adventure. Traversing our woods feels more like a pass to freedom than walking the well-defined, one-track road into the mountains. I am more concerned about Murdoch’s great escape from our woods than I am on the walking trail.
“Murdoch,” I shouted ahead to his retreating shape. My voice bounced off his back and I could feel the line fast approaching that would render me completely invisible to him as he careered off through the trees. I wouldn’t see him again until he was good and ready to be seen.
I shouted a little louder with a hint of desperation, “Find me a stick.” If anything will slow him down it is this magic phrase.
Murdoch stopped mid-trot and spun around to face me. “Find me a stick Murds,” I shouted again and could see the spark of excitement ignite his eyes as he lengthened his neck and scanned his surroundings before pouncing, predictably, on the biggest stick he could find.
I watched for a minute as he clamped his teeth around the end of the fallen tree. Every ounce of strength and pent-up energy shimmying through his muscles amalgamated, morphing into an ocean of power funneled through his compact frame to gather in his jaw. It was as if he had wrapped his entire body around that tree to heave and yank and pull on it, a giant tooth being wiggled loose.
In his intense struggle with the downed tree I witnessed Murdoch fulfilling some deep-rooted primitive part of himself. That power, concealed in his slim, wiry body was pure energy solidified. It came not only from shear strength but also a deeply felt stubbornness and determination. Those things that make him so challenging to train and even love, are the same things that make him so impressive and, at times, awe-inspiring.
I heard the splintering of strained wood giving way and marveled again at his focus, his fortitude, his power, and then I rolled my eyes. “I’m not throwing that for you, you know,” I said and began looking around for a stick of a more manageable size.
I have to wave this new stick right in front of his eyes before he releases the tree. The preceding battle has only served to rev up his energy and I hold the stick above my head again for a moment, his full attention now on me, the woods suddenly silent.
“Are you ready?” I ask. Brown eyes flick to my face then back to my arm, widening as though defying the stick to try and elude him. Anticipation shivers through his body and sets his leg muscles quivering beneath black hair that can’t quite decide if it’s shaggy or sleek.
I wind up and he lunges, then I throw the stick in a perfect arc through a maze of trees. Murdoch springs after it and snaps it up in his jaw with an almost angry authority. As he barrels back towards me, he lets the stick fall from his mouth and changes course at full speed. A sneak attack. When he pounces on the downed tree again I imagine the muscles in his body turning to malleable steel as he gives two powerful yanks with his jaw that reverberate all the way down to his toes. I shake my head as I pick up the forgotten stick and begin walking away into the trees.
I hear a snap and a crack and then Murdoch is by my side. He glances up at me and I see an almost sheepish satisfaction flash across his eyes before he glimpses the stick in my hand and I send it flying through the air.