Monday, October 24, 2011

Defiant? Me? Never

We stood in an alcove of trees, Murdoch and I, just off the trail and listened to the low rumble of idling engines, the rabble of voices raised slightly to be heard over the din. I held Murdoch’s leash tightly in one hand, his collar in the other as he cocked his head towards the noise.

“Murdoch, sit,” I said, trying to sound casual, even though he knew what was coming and the time for being casual was already past. He sat stiffly.

I waited and looked across the sodden path to the trees that straggled at the edge of the forest and gave way to the view of low mountains in the distance. The sky, gunmetal gray and heavy, hung low overhead, absorbing light from the landscape so the mountains and trees looked like cardboard cutouts painted black.

The voices quit and the engines revved and I braced myself as the first ATV trundled into view around the corner. I smiled and nodded as I jerked the leash and tightened my hold on the collar to keep Murdoch from leaping forward. “No, it’s fine,” I said in response to apologies from the people riding past, as though they were the ones with the crazy dog.

There were four of them and for each one that drove by Murdoch lunged and bucked and reared up, his wiry frame becoming one corded muscle, completely overtaking his brain. And yet, I managed to hold my ground, instill some sense of control in the chaos. It was going to be okay, I thought, and then the other dog appeared around the corner and time stopped.

It was an almost imperceptible pause, a hiccup in which the very air ceased to be when Murdoch’s energy changed shape and the two dogs locked eyes. In the silence of that moment there was just one leaden thought in my head: “Oh crap.”

I swear I saw the same thought flit across the other dogs face and as time resumed, his spirited skip faltered and, with head slightly bowed he changed direction to run on the other side of the trailing ATV.

Murdoch bolted forward yanking me with him, his power somehow doubled, shrugging me off as though I were a bothersome fly, as if his bucking and leaping of moments before was just a silly game for my amusement.

I dug in my heels and leaned back against this surge. “Hey!” I yelled just before my feet slipped out beneath me and I was on the ground. I wrapped my hands around his collar and he hauled me sideways through the grass as he inched closer to the trail with each lunging stride.

The dog had already slipped away, disappearing around the far side of the group and as the last ATV putted out of view, the raw engine sounds becoming one low rumble in the distance, Murdoch stopped pulling.

Just as quickly as his energy exploded, it dissipated and as I picked myself up from the ground, gritting my teeth in frustration, embarrassment and anger clashing furiously in my chest, Murdoch casually cast his eyes about the woods as if to say, “Well that was fun, now what are we going to do?”

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Water logged

When Murdoch is wet he is all jaw. His hair, normally shaggy and wind-blown, clings to his body, sleek and shiny. His long legs become toothpick skinny and even his feet, which seem huge when he’s dry, are bony; the usually frazzled hair, now sodden and heavy, defines each toe.

This past summer Murdoch lived in the swimming hole. Every day he dashed down the bank and waited in the shallows, water up to his knees, for me to throw a stick so he could plunge in, sending up white cascades of water. If the swimming hole did not freeze in the winter, I am sure he would paddle through it, steam rising from his fur, while snowflakes drifted down and melted into the black water around his head.

But in the late days of September beneath blue skies and the summer heat of a fast moving autumn sun, winter seems months away and Murdoch splashes enthusiastically around the pond, snatching up ripples in his mouth on his way to retrieve the stick.

He emerges from the water, bounds up the path and appears at the top of the slippery slope streaming water behind him from a rat-thin tail while it sheets off his sides. He drops the stick and stands for a moment, stares at me, contemplating my next move. Is it worth it to shake off before turning again for another cannonball into the pond?

I hesitate a moment too long and as I step forward I barely notice the cock of his head before water is flying from his fur, corkscrewing down his body as his lips wobble, his ears flap and his backend shivers down to his tail. His hair stands off his body as if electrified and I am soaked.

“Thanks,” I say as he stomps his feet in anticipation, eyeing up the stick in my hand. I let it fly up over his head to splash again into the water and he turns, kicking up mud as he leaps down the hill after it, water sloshing in his belly.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Encroaching storm

Chestnut scurries through the kitchen, his belly mere millimeters from the floor as though his legs have vanished and his body now rests solely on his feet.

It must be serious, this lowering sky.

Wind has surged around the house all day, but it gusts now and the trees outside my window bow violently to one another. Chestnut squeezes himself in behind the bathroom vanity; his “safe room” when disaster seems imminent.

I cringe too when the wind blows this hard, when the trees bend more deeply than seems natural and their branches whip aggressively, erratically at the sky. They are like little boats tossed about on a vast squalling sea. I wait for the splintering sounds, the loud cracks and the hollow crashes of falling trees. I cross my fingers against the storm.

The power goes out as rain clatters on the roof and I watch twilight fall four hours too early. Through the trees the sky glows an eerie yellow, a light too heavy to travel. It falls dead outside the window.

Bear stretches out on the kitchen floor, a dark shape blending with the other dark shapes in the room beneath a tinny light that casts no shadows. I wait for her to panic, but she seems quite unconcerned by the descending storm today, even as thunder circles overhead.

In the entryway Murdoch sprawls on his blanket while Cleo snoozes on top of his kennel. Chestnut is the alarmist of the group, cowering somewhere behind the wall, expecting us all to blow away in the storm.

I contemplate lighting candles against this false twilight, but decide against it for now. Instead I lie down on the floor beside Bear, curl myself around her, my body following the shape of her back. The hair on her head tickles my nose and I drape my arm over her shoulder.

I close my eyes and breathe in Bear’s smell. Her muscles twitch as she relaxes, drifting away while thunder rolls heavily in the clouds around the house. I listen as her breathing gets slower and deeper until it becomes a low rumbling snore. On the wall the clock ticks loudly. Rain clatters on the roof.