Tuesday, November 8, 2011
I hefted the wheelbarrow stacked with firewood through the forest, bumping its fat tire up over roots and zigzagging around trees. Somewhere to my left Murdoch thundered past, I could hear him kicking up dirt, crashing over fallen trees, snapping off dead branches as he ran hidden in the shadows; behind me the determined footfalls of Bear, swishing through the leaves.
I stopped to unload the wood near the house and turned to find Bear standing inches away with a stick clamped firmly in her mouth, its stripped length protruding from between her lips like an over-long cigar. When she saw me looking at her she dropped the stick, her eyes brightened and she stomped her feet, squaring her shoulders, and backing up a few steps. Anticipation shivered through her body as she readied herself to dash off in any direction or leap straight up in the air, high enough to clear a small building.
A groaning-whine half-bark escaped her lips as I said “Okay Bear,” in an extra-calm voice, “Just one. But you have to be careful.” Bear often conveniently forgets she has bad knees. “I’ll throw it to you,” I said as I stooped to retrieve the stick from where it lay between us on the leaf-strewn ground and watched as Bear’s eyes widened, her feet stomped faster and the words I’d said bounced unheeded off her forehead.
I tossed the stick gently to her across the three-foot gap between us and she threw her front legs up in the air in a half-jump that was completely unnecessary. She snapped her jaws shut around the stick with a decisive splintering crack and then proceeded to shake her head as though she had just caught that cheeky red squirrel that chitters at her from somewhere in the pine tree by the driveway. She paraded in a circle as I finished unloading the wood.
Bear fell into step behind me again as I returned on the path through the trees to round up more wood. The empty wheelbarrow clattered and banged noisily over rocks and roots, drowning out the sounds of Bear’s feet behind me.
When we stopped, there was a moment of silent peace before Murdoch burst onto the scene like a superhero running late for the big rescue, chest puffed out, eyes ablaze as he caught sight of Bear dancing around with her stick. He cast about the forest floor and then leapt forward, dragging out from beneath the leaf litter a stick that was twice the size of Bear’s.
Bear’s jaw dropped, releasing her stick, and she sashayed over to where I stood as I took the bigger stick from Murdoch and tried to find a straight path through the trees where I could throw it.
I wound up and glanced down at the two black dogs with identical expressions of unbridled excitement plastered across their faces. “No Bear,” I said firmly. “Where’s your stick?” I pointed in the direction of her stick as I released Murdoch’s. It arced up overhead into the trees, hit some dead branches and dropped like a stone to the ground about five feet away.
Murdoch leapt and pounced and flowed around trees on the line the stick should have taken. He was a good twenty feet away when he turned at the sound of it hitting the ground and came bounding back over deadfalls and tiny saplings.
But Bear, who watched the whole thing unfold, bolted forward the minute it landed and scooped it up in her mouth just as Murdoch arrived. She turned her back sharply to him and trotted away as Murdoch grabbed the end of the stick.
Bear stormed forward, trying to wrench the stick away from Murdoch. A guttural snarling growl, hearkening back to her wild ancestors, rolled up from somewhere deep inside her and I had a flash of a fur-flying battle, white teeth bared, talon-like claws unsheathed.
But it never happened.
Murdoch let go. He actually listened to her and stood staring at me as if to say, “Well, now what am I supposed to do?” I returned his stare with a shrug as Bear trotted off the trail, propped the stick up on end against one front paw and stood chewing on the other end, spitting out chunks of wood with a certain triumphant vigour.