Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Where oh where?

I walk up the trail for the third time today. I yell Murdoch’s name over and over but the wind that whips through the trees grabs the words as they leave my mouth, shatters them into a million pieces and drops them at my feet.

Murdoch has been gone almost three hours. He and Jack disappeared within minutes of starting out on the trail. He tensed, leapt forward around a tree, and was gone, crashing after something through the bush. Jack returned later, showing up at his house, but Murdoch wasn’t with him.

I am not worried for some reason. It is not like the day Quincy disappeared when I was overcome with an empty feeling of loss as I watched his retreating form. Today I felt sure I would see Murdoch again even as my mind tried to play out scenarios of me walking the hills for weeks to come looking for any sign of him.

I thought perhaps I should feel worried. At least I should feel something more than hot and tired and sticky after traipsing the trail again and again beneath a sun that arrived late to the day.

In thinking that I should feel worried my brain started imagining reasons why he wasn’t returning. He was lost and would wander aimlessly until the wolves got him, or until he stumbled on to a road somewhere. I imagined someone picking him up, helping the poor lost dog, and him eating his rescuer the minute he got in their car.

He was injured, he’d broken a leg or a tree fell on him. I could hear trees crashing over in the woods beneath the gusting winds and imagined him pinned, wondering when help would arrive. Where would I even start looking? The woods suddenly seemed endless and so vast; he really could be anywhere. I pictured him dragging his poor broken body through the forest trying to get home like those dogs who follow their owners from one side of a country to another after getting lost and finding their way home.

I finally turned again and headed back down the trail. Jack had shown up at his house, I figured Murdoch must be close to home somewhere, I would go back and wait for a while and then head out for another search. I imagined a candle light vigil.

“Murds!!” I called again and again, more sporadically now as I had already covered this ground. I looked into the dark shadows of the woods on either side of the trail and wished I was a tracker, how many signs was I missing?

I returned to the road, stopped, called his name thinly into the wind, watched the trees shake their leaves crazily overhead as though the forest was thumbing its nose at me.

I glanced over my shoulder at the empty trail and started walking again towards home. I considered cutting through my neigbours’ woods, maybe he was poking around in there not so far behind Jack after all.

I turned back to look again and there he was, running up behind me as though he had been gone all but five minutes. I had no idea which direction he’d come from but the relief I felt was not the way I had imagined it. I had pictured this reunion after my other scenarios of despair.

Murdoch would drag himself towards me, exhausted after hours of running lost in the woods, I would fall to my knees and he would collapse against me, I wouldn’t care how much he smelled like whatever he’d rolled in because I would be just so happy to see him again, so relieved he was alive and he would be grateful that I was out there searching for him, I hadn’t given up on him and he would realize how good he had it. I would hug him and he would limp along home beside me.

What really happened was a watered-down relief on my part, more to the point that I wouldn’t have to walk the trail yet again that day and he stood beside me distracted by the sunshine in the trees, restless to be running again. Seeing me was more like a pleasant visit with someone he thought he might bump in to on his walk but wouldn’t have been too bothered if he hadn’t.

I clipped on his leash, asked him where he’d been – he was conspicuously clean and fresh smelling – and turned towards home, desperate for a drink of water. Murdoch started walking in the opposite direction. I tugged the leash and he took two steps in my direction and then veered to the left to check out a smell in the grass. All mushy feelings I’d had about the dog were gone. I was tired of being jerked around on the end of the leash and was so disappointed he wasn’t even remotely tired.

I tugged again and he reluctantly walked behind me but kept throwing glances back over his shoulder. I think he wanted to go swimming and then chase sticks, which had become our routine lately, but I was tired of being in the sun and I just wanted to go home. He dragged his feet behind me, already plotting his next big excursion, realizing that returning to me means going home, which just isn’t any fun at all.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Treasure hunter

Muted light from an overcast sky trickles through the trees. I stand on the deck waiting for Bear and watch leaves drift slowly to the ground through still air already carrying the rich smells of autumn.

Bear emerges from the trail. Her black shape sways casually against the glowing backdrop of a yellowing forest. She stops briefly in front of Murdoch before angling sharply to the right, skirting around the limits of his line.

I watch as she picks her way through undergrowth awash in hues of pale greens and deepening yellows. I lose sight of her for a moment behind the dark trunks of trees. But I can see by the way she moves, how she carries her head, that she’s hiding something. I call to her and she turns in the opposite direction throwing me a quick suspicious glance. Her cheek bulges on one side.

“What did you find Bear?” I ask as she spits out whatever it is into a small drift of leaves. It can’t be a bone, I think to myself as I step inside and slip on my boots, Murdoch would have been all over her.

I find Bear trying to roll a black shiny object about the size of a golf ball under the edge of the ground-level deck beneath our kitchen windows. It’s been a long while since Bear has attempted to bury any treasure. She used to do it all the time.

Bear would tiptoe around the house, head down, trying to conceal the toy or bone she carried in her mouth, and search out a safe hiding place. She bustled from room to room throwing glances over her shoulder every few seconds, convinced we were following her every step. Inevitably she would tuck the object in the folds of a sweater dropped on the floor or under a blanket or behind a chair and then lie down not more than five feet away and try to act like she wasn’t guarding something.

If we so much as glanced in the general direction of where she “hid” her treasure, she would snap to her feet, roughly uncover the object, and storm off in a huff in search of an even better spot; usually under a pillow on the bed or behind a potted plant. Eventually we would have to take the object away so she could relax and stop obsessing.

“Bear, what is that?” I ask again as I walk towards her. She stops trying to roll it under the deck, scoops it up in her mouth and slowly begins to inch away when I reach her side. Bear looks past me as nonchalantly as she can, unable to make direct eye contact. “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she seems to say around the bulge in her cheek. I reach out and lift up the edge of her lip with my finger.

“That’s the tip from Morgan’s cane!” I say. “Where did you find that?” Bear wags her tail and wanders over to the trees to lie down with her prize. The fat rubber end from Morgan’s cane was lost in the woods beneath a thick blanket of snow last winter during a firewood-scouting expedition.

It always amazes me what lost objects Bear uncovers that the woods have swallowed. Just last month she found a ball that disappeared two years ago. She came wandering out of the woods with it clutched between her teeth as though she had known where it was the whole time. She probably did.

I kneel down beside Bear as she lovingly noses her latest find. She won’t tell me where she found it; she never does even though I always ask. Instead, she plucks it up with her teeth and chews on it thoughtfully as her tail thuds against the ground, disturbing a scatter of leaves.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Car ride

Bear parades down the pathway, her tail swishing triumphantly, eyes bright, brimming with excitement, focused on the dusty car in the driveway.

She throws a glance over her shoulder to make sure I am still following, that we really are going out together in the car and this isn’t some cruel joke. When she sees me, she tosses her head with a grin and skips a couple of steps onward as if anticipation is bubbling from the very soles of her feet. I watch her knees and wince as we both stumble down the long path from our house to the driveway. It is defined by a curving line of smallish rounded rocks, not quite as smooth as if they had been plucked from the bed of a river, but just about. They are not good stones for a pathway.

“Relax Bear,” I try to tell her, but hearing her name she gallops on and then stomps and dances in the driveway.

When I reach her side she surges forward, her back end swings wildly from side to side and she cranes her neck to try and look in the window of the car. She is too polite to put her paws on the door and peek over the lip, but if she were able she would open the door herself and probably already have the car backed out on to the road.

I swing the door wide and Bear takes a running jump to help her creaky knees hoist her up on to the seat. Then she sits, her tongue hanging long and pink out one side of her mouth as I roll down the window a bit so she can feel the wind on her face and smell all the interesting smells of the world rushing past.

Bear is an expert passenger now, having spent countless hours in the back seat of our old car, trundling over back roads through tiny towns halfway across Canada and back again. But I remember the first time I ever had Bear in the car with me. She was two years old and I picked her up from Morgan’s house to take her for a long walk at a conservation area slipped in between fields of corn in southwestern Ontario, a small forest amidst a sea of farmland.

That day she leapt onto the front passenger seat and sat tall and proud as I pulled the car out of the driveway. We turned right and then right again and the car bumped onto the dirt road out of town. Giant corn stalks marched along either side, hemming us in as though we drove through the thick of a forest. The late afternoon sun hung low in the sky before us, silhouetting the corn stalks ahead and making the ones that lined the road shine a brilliant golden green.

Bear perched eagerly on the edge of her seat, anticipating grand adventure. I was so excited to have her with me I kept running my hand over her fur and throwing giddy glances in her direction.

It was all very "Norman Rockwell" until a plume of dust bloomed ahead as a truck pulled on to the road. I squinted to make out the shape of the vehicle lost in the backlit dust cloud and it took me a moment to realize Bear was no longer sitting beside me. When next I glanced in Bear’s direction, her bum was where her head had been, tail tucked firmly between her legs, and her head had disappeared in the shadows of the foot well as she tried to dive to safety.

I watched in bewilderment as she wiggled and pushed and jammed her muscular 80 lb body in to the small space between the seat and dashboard. By the time she got herself situated, curled in a tight ball that filled the entire foot well, the truck was long gone. She looked up at me with bugged-out eyes as if to ask, “Did you see that?!” and then tried to slither awkwardly over the console and put her head in my lap.

Bear has faced down much bigger beasts on wheels since that day and now acknowledges passing vehicles with barely a bat of an eyelid. In fact after about five minutes on the road, Bear is already bored. With a couple of loudly inhaled nosefuls of air, Bear sighs deeply and then settles down on the back seat with a grumble that sounds very much like “are we there yet?”

Monday, September 5, 2011

Jack of the wild wood

“He strides across the land, his golden coat glistening in the sun, his tail a proudly waving flag. With each step the ground trembles beneath giant paws tipped with claws of steel. These woods are his; from the flat open lands of scrub and new-growth trees to the pungent swamps to the towering trees that travel up the side of mountains and run along their peaks.

“Jack knows every inch of this land, becoming almost invisible when he needs to, slipping through the woods like a ghost, catcher of rabbits and chaser of foxes. He leaps downed trees with a single bound and scales gray trunks to scan the treetops. Squirrels don’t dare to tread where Jack has been. They scurry silently away beneath underbrush, but nothing escapes Jack’s sharp ears, his powerful nose.

“Deer cannot outrun him. Bears refuse to lumber across his path. Song birds and ravens scramble to safety amongst a flurry of wings and eagles wheel away from him against endless blue skies. One snarl and flash of his gleaming white teeth and the forest falls silent, his presence fills the spaces and his bark shakes the leaves on the trees.

“Locusts swarm down the path in front of him and he scoops them up in his mouth with one fell swoop. Snap. Crunch. And he continues along the sun-bleached dirt trail, strutting over rock, swishing amongst the grasses and wading through swamp.

“Wearing a clever camouflage of cold gray mud, his fierce brown eyes peer out from a face streaked with white and black and miss nothing as he stalks the woods. He surveys his domain, challenging anyone, anything, to get in his way. Jack, the conqueror of the forest, holding sway over all the beasts, none dare enter his woods, he is a legend in these parts, a bold warrior, a…”

“Jack!” The booming voice stops him in his tracks. “Go Home!”


“Thwarted again by his arch nemesis The Neighbour, the hero turns slowly, head down, tail lowered, and tiptoes away. He moves like smoke on the wind, disappearing amongst the trees as though he never existed. The Neighbour will soon forget he saw him and once again Jack will stalk these woods, his woods, where none are safe from his piercing eyes, his kingly roar.”