Monday, April 4, 2011

That is not a stick

Murdoch and I walk smartly down the trail towards home. I glance sideways at him trotting amiably at my side and I’m momentarily elated. It is as if he is a well-behaved dog with no agenda, but I remain guarded, sure this is the calm before the storm, at any moment our comradeship will be torn asunder.

It is early spring but everything is still covered in a thick layer of snow. The trail is firm underfoot, compacted like cement in the shadows and easy for walking. In the sunniest spots the top layer has become the consistency of a slushie and makes an agreeable swish-crunch sound as our feet tramp through it, side by side, in perfect step.

Overhead the sun beats down so strongly if I close my eyes I can imagine it to be among the first days of summer. I breathe deeply of the fresh, sun-drenched air and imagine for a moment Murdoch is the perfect dog, before he leaps ahead and pounces on a stick.

“Okay Murds,” I say, disappointed our connection is broken. “Bring it here.” I take the stick from him and hear the rattle of Jack’s collar behind us on the trail, his feet kicking up sprays of melting snow as he runs to catch up.

Jack, whose nose works far better than Murdoch’s, had taken off after a scent that Murdoch couldn’t seem to follow, which is often the case. So it was just the two of us on the trail for a while with Jack somewhere in the surrounding thick of the forest.

“Quick,” I say to Murdoch. “Here comes Jack.” And I throw the stick as Jack’s yellow shape runs past me. Jack’s favourite game is to try and wrestle sticks from Murdoch’s strong jaws, but as I look at him from behind I see he has a stick of his own.

But it’s not a stick and as Murdoch stops, stands tall and stares with great interest I see what is hanging askew from the side of Jack’s mouth is a pair of mottled gray legs. My stomach drops as I recognize the feet of a rabbit that had been in the midst of changing its winter white coat for the brown one of spring.

We stand frozen for a moment. “Murdoch,” I try, knowing full well I have been rendered invisible. “Come here.” Jack and Murdoch stare at each other for a minute before Jack turns and wanders slowly off the trail into the midst of a scattering of saplings. Murdoch walks stiffly behind him. Great, I think, this is going to get vicious. Now what do I do? I follow a few steps behind with Murdoch’s leash in my hand.

But to my surprise Jack relinquishes his prize and steps away as Murdoch investigates what I now see is just the back half of a rabbit. I take a couple of long strides to try and make up the distance but, no longer on the trail, my feet punch through the still knee-deep snow and tiny ice pellets tumble down into my boots. Murdoch glances back, then scoops up the rabbit in his mouth and leaps away, just out of reach.

I chase him around and around the tiny stand of saplings, back onto the trail, then off again, the whole time trying to ignore the crunching sounds as Murdoch devours as much of the rabbit as he can while running from me.

When I lay my hand flat on his flank, he stops. I reach forward and grab his collar, and only fumble a little bit as I clip on his leash. I drag him away from the trees and back on to the trail. “Drop it!” I say, even though I know it won’t do any good.

I try not to gag at the wet, gurgling noises as he chokes down more of the rabbit. It is as if he is attempting to swallow it whole. I’m trying to decide how to get it away from him without having to touch the remaining slobber-soaked and slightly bloody leg when it drops to the ground.

I pull the leash tight and drag Murdoch away. We both look back over our shoulders to see Jack emerge from behind a spray of dried up weeds poking through the snow and saunter over to reclaim his treasure.

Breathing more heavily than before, walking a bit more quickly, I tug sharply on the leash and continue down the trail. Not given much choice in the matter, Murdoch resumes his companionable trot beside me. All things considered, I think to myself, that went quite well.

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