Monday, January 3, 2011
Who IS that dog? Oh… right
Our forest is wrapped in white and seems to glow on its own; a pale light filling the space beneath a moonless sky of cold, silver stars. Snow clings to tree branches, weighing them down. On the ground it lies almost knee-deep.
Chunks of wood, cut from a fallen tree, crash and clunk into the sled as Morgan and I gather up firewood. Murdoch dances around us, leaping at snow sent spraying from the wood as it flies through the air.
“Here Murdoch,” I say, holding the handle of the sled out to him when it’s full. “Pull this back to the house.” We stand for a minute and stare at each other then he looks at my feet and wags his tail. “Kick snow in my face!” he says. I shake my head and begin pulling the sled up the hill, digging in with each step through the deep snow. Murdoch leaps effortlessly up the slope ahead of me.
Near the house, on a particularly steep incline, I pause and watch as Murdoch buries his head in the snow, snuffling after a scent. Yellow light from our kitchen windows spills out onto the ground here and when he comes up, it looks like he has something black and furry clutched in his teeth.
“Murdoch,” I say. “What have you got?”
He glances sideways at me as he wanders further away. In the dark I think I can see the shape of a gnarled claw sticking out at a bizarre angle.
“What is it?” Morgan asks from behind me.
“I don’t know,” I say, somewhat wearily. “Some kind of animal.” Morgan and I stand knee-deep in the snow for a moment and I imagine a great chase through the dark, around trees, tripping and falling and scrambling through the snow to catch Murdoch’s retreating form as he nimbly leaps and dodges and swerves his way through the forest.
At the edge of the pool of light, Murdoch drops his catch to investigate, secure in the fact, I’m sure, that neither Morgan or I have yet made a move to take it away from him. I sigh deeply and say, “Come here Murds,” because I’m not really sure what else to do.
Murdoch turns his head in my direction then looks back at the frozen black shape in the snow. “Murdoch, come,” I say again, and he actually does.
There is a split second of stunned silence and then an explosion of “Good boy, Murdoch!!” from both Morgan and I as he trots towards me, leaving his catch behind.
I grab his collar and I’m promptly pulled to my knees as he twists around and cranes his neck to watch Morgan clamber through the snow towards the animal. “It’s a bird,” Morgan says when he reaches it. He lifts up the frozen dark ball and I wrestle a stronger hold on Murdoch as he tries to lunge forward. “One of those tree chickens,” he says, a grouse or maybe a partridge.
We are still talking about Murdoch’s non-Murdoch-like behaviour ten minutes later when we are unloading wood outside our front door. Murdoch is safely sniffing around on the other side of the house at the spot where he found the bird, and for a brief, fleeting moment I am in a semi-euphoric state. It is as though we are a normal family with a trustworthy dog who does not need to be kept under lock and key.
Whenever I am outside with Murdoch and he is not attached to anything solid I have to be always thinking two steps ahead, listening for the rumble of approaching cars or the high-pitched insect whine of snowmobiles. I can hear them coming from miles away, and have refined it to a point that eight times out of ten I can tell if a vehicle is going to turn on to our road long before it is within turning range.
Whenever I hear a vehicle approaching, my heart gasps in my chest and my brain goes into panic mode, “Quick! Distract him!”
“Stick! Stick! Find me a stick!” I will yell loudly, trying to drown out the sound of the approaching “prey” because I can see he hears it too. His head is cocked to the side and his eyes are focused in the distance and we stand like that for a moment, in a kind of standoff, as we both listen and imagine and I realize my brain is trying unsuccessfully to think faster than my dog’s brain.
It can be exhausting.
This night, I am too relaxed after the bird incident, distracted by the potential of Murdoch to actually be a good dog that I don’t hear the car turn on to our road. I only become aware of it after I see Murdoch streaking past in a blur, like a shadow that’s broken away from the darkness around the house.
“Murdoch!” I yell in a panic as I swivel my head round and see the trees lining the road light up as headlights stretch along its length. By the time I start running, Murdoch is already standing in the middle of the road, straight and tall, ready to take on whatever is behind those bright white orbs.
It is our neighbours’ car and it slows down to maneuver around him then speeds up again. “Murdoch!” I yell, but he is chasing the car, racing it, and disappears down their driveway.
I run along the road, my boots clomping over the packed snow, my snow pants swishing loudly. A familiar feeling of panic and adrenaline and embarrassment roll around in my stomach obliterating the euphoria of moments before as though it never even existed.