Monday, May 28, 2012

A new kind of crazy

The first week Murdoch lived with us, when he was somewhere between five and seven months old, I was sure he hated water. He seemed baffled by the great expanding puddles and streams of melt water that cut across our path as we hiked up the old logging road where we used to live. He refused to splash through them with Bear and Max and it made me laugh to see anything stump the tiny terror that had invaded our lives. I didn’t think this dog was afraid of anything, I only knew him as a vicious whirlwind, all teeth and flashing eyes and attitude.

That personal roadblock for him didn’t last however. I’m not sure when it changed, but suddenly he was leaping off grassy banks into rivers and ponds and high-stepping through the deepest puddles all the while trying to drink every last drop of water in sight. I haven’t really seen him balk at anything since, except this year after the snow melted abruptly in spring and he refused to step off the deck onto the ground for about a week. I thought perhaps the rounded, shifting stones that spilled out from beneath the deck hurt his feet, but now I’m starting to think it was because he didn’t like the way it felt when the cold sopping wet earth skooshed up between his toes.

What a baby.

He was fine this spring after the water dried up, stepping off the deck as usual, but it has been raining almost non-stop for a week now. We’ve had the odd sunny afternoon to burn off the heavy mists draping the mountains and hanging heavily amongst the trees, but not long enough to dry up the ground between bucketing rainfalls - the kind that can wash out roads.

So in the last week, before I figured out what was going on, Murdoch peed on the deck twice and once in the kitchen, lifting his leg on the corner of the fridge.

“What are you doing?!” I yell when I hear the unmistakable sound of pee tinkling against hardwood flooring and leap up from the table. Murdoch slinks away from the puddle on the floor as Bear stares in horror. She pushes herself hastily up from her bed and backs away as though the pee could at any moment flood in her direction. I storm down the stairs behind Murdoch. “Bad boy,” I say. “Bad. You pee outside.” And I open the door and clip him to his line.

I watch him as he trots over the sodden boards of the deck, darkened a deep mahogany after days of rain, and stops short right at the edge. I open the door a crack. “Go pee!” I say. He glances at me over his shoulder and I point assertively in the general direction of the woods.

He steps off the deck, walks about four feet and then stops, his body arching and stiffening up as if he has met with an invisible wall and then he backs up a few steps, turns awkwardly and leaps back onto the deck, tail swishing as he returns to the door as if he has finished and is ready to come in.

“You have got to be kidding me,” I mumble to myself as I grab my wellies, I am wearing my over-sized super-thick house socks and I have to stuff my feet into the boots. I stamp the rubber soles on the floor to cram my heels down snugly, making the toes of my socks bunch uncomfortably, and then grab Morgan’s work coat from the hook closest to the door and throw it loosely over my shoulders, holding it just above my head. I push past Murdoch as he crowds the door and step outside.

“Come on,” I say as the rain sprinkles lightly down through the trees and I walk to the edge of the deck and step onto the apron of smooth and rounded stones that rattle together beneath my feet. For a moment he just stands in front of the door and stares at me.

“Murds, come,” I say, tapping my leg as I take a couple of squelching steps. He follows reluctantly at first, stepping carefully from the deck and then hesitates and looks like he is about to turn and bolt.

“Murds. What’s the problem? Come here.” I say to his wide-eyed, droopy-lipped face. He comes, slowly, carefully picking his way over the wet ground. He stretches his line as far as it will go so he can hop onto the strips of cedar bark lying beside the pile of cedar logs against our shed and tight-ropes his way to the closest tree. When he’s finished, he retraces his steps to the deck exactly.

I shake my head and roll my eyes as he swishes his way happily inside. “When did you become such a diva?” I ask him as I shake the water from Morgan’s coat and hang it back on the hook.

The wet earth skooshing between his toes is the only explanation I’ve got, except that when I take him for a walk later he doesn’t hesitate at all but pulls me eagerly behind him off the deck. We stomp down the soft mud of the road and run through puddles on the trail, he even squelches off into the woods where the soft ground is laden with soggy leaves and other rain-soaked detritus.

So I find my explanation a little weak really. Is there something about that particular square of land? Is he developing some sort of neurosis? Is Cleo finally getting to him? Is he just finding new and interesting ways to be a brat? Whatever it is, he must be up to something.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Hero for a day

Murdoch’s bark is different. It is not angry or confrontational or excited. There is no accompanying zip and clatter of his line against the house as he dives across the deck to voice his displeasure at a passing car. There is no sound of a car passing. It is conspicuously quiet except for that bark.

Thinking back on it now I might describe it as sounding alarmed, but maybe it is just matter-of-fact. Whatever its intonation, it is different enough to make me react and so it does its job. It is a warning, I soon realize, Murdoch is telling me to hurry.

I get up from the table, leave my toast and the steaming pot of tea, and head for the door. On the stairs down to the entryway I pause for a millisecond as I glance out the large bay window that overlooks a tiny garden, neglected ever since we moved in, as it quickly became a thoroughfare for the dogs.

It is bathed in that early morning light of the sun just peeking over the low mountains and filtering, soft and golden, through the trees.

Everything touched by that light is full of colour, the rich spring greens of newly sprouted chives, shoots of unidentified flowers, the patches of grass growing over the stones that once defined the garden, and the deep black of Bear’s flailing legs flecked with copper.

For that split second I think Bear is rolling in the garden greenery and I almost stop. I haven’t seen her do that in a long time and never right there, the spot where Max used to lie, but then I realize she’s not rolling, it is not playful, she’s twitching and convulsing, she’s having another seizure.

I dash out the door and crouch down beside her on the cold wet earth. Her seizure is almost past and I slip my arm under her head as her body continues to twitch, her tongue lolling out the side of her mouth, speckled with dirt. Murdoch is no longer barking. He stands just behind my shoulder.

When it is over, Bear pants heavily and stares into space until I say her name and then she is there with me again and pushing herself up from the ground and then pacing and pacing, anxious and confused.

My focus is completely on Bear. I usher her inside, yell for Morgan and then we both work to calm her down. It isn’t until she has finally returned to her blanket on the floor of the kitchen that I think of Murdoch.

He is lying at the base of a great spruce tree facing the three big kitchen windows through which the dogs can see us moving about when they’re outside, his line is pulled taut, neck stretched tall. Watching.

“His line got caught and he finally gave up,” says Morgan.

I look more closely, “I don’t think so,” I say slowly and then head downstairs to the front door. I step out onto the deck and call Murdoch over. He jumps up and trots to my side.

“He wasn’t caught,” I say as I bring him in. “I think he was worried and trying to see what was happening.”

I feel an immense amount of pride for Murdoch then. “He told me Bear was in trouble,” I say. “I think he was really worried about her.”

Murdoch’s heroics are overshadowed when Bear has another seizure just six hours later. I catch her on the stairs and ease her to the floor where one of us upsets a water dish and we're both soaked.

At the vet Bear is given phenobarbital to stop the seizures. It makes her stumble around like a drunken sailor for a week as her body adjusts. Her legs seem weak, her balance non-existent, her energy low and confused and as we worry over Bear and watch her like hawks, I can’t help but think Murdoch is watching her too and I look at him a little differently.

That warning bark, his cry for help for someone else, is the first real indication in the four years that I've known him that Murdoch is capable of thinking about anything other than himself. He's always been a bit of a megalomaniac. Perhaps he's actually starting to grow up, just a little.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Wild dogs

Eight galloping feet thunder over the packed dirt path, tear at the cropped grass, kicking up clods behind them. They slosh into puddles and squelch through mud. They crash amongst tall dried grasses from last season and send saplings clattering together as they bully their way through the tightly packed spaces of the new growth forest. There’s the snap, crack of branches, the splintering crackle of wood, the patter of water sprayed from the ends of a million hairs, and the general splash, crash of Jack and Murdoch at large in the woods in spring.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Max’s flowers

It was the spring after Max died that the citronella plant bloomed for the first time. I didn’t even know citronella plants flowered at all. We’d had this one for four years and never seen the slightest hint of a bloom.

I noticed the clusters of tiny green buds on the spindly plant in our bathroom in late April last year. There was still snow on the ground and when the first buds began to crack open revealing tightly clasped pink petals all folded neatly over one another, it felt like a tiny miracle.

Up until then it hadn’t seemed like an entirely healthy plant. Its sister plant, the one from which it had been split a few years earlier, was growing like crazy. We’d had to stake up the tangle of stems to support the weight of new leaves sprouting almost daily, while its other half seemed to languish where it sat in the bathroom between the bathtub and a wall of windows overlooking the forest. Its woody, twisted stems were barely able to produce new leaves to replace the old ones as they turned yellow and then brown and fell off.

But then, out of nowhere, it flowered. And it kept flowering for about a month, tons of tiny pale pink flowers that made me think of cherry blossoms. I watched it closely, every day looking for new blooms, and I wasn’t disappointed. Their little faces greeted me each morning, wide-eyed and fresh, and full of life.

It was a bit of a mystery why this plant suddenly flowered, and why the other one didn’t but also why everyone I mentioned it to was just as surprised as I was to learn that citronella plants actually flower. No one I knew had seen it before.

So, when the little pink blooms appeared again this year, I immediately thought of Max. I like to think he has something to do with this since it has been two years since he’s been gone and two years now that the plant has flowered.

The citronella plant sort of came with Max when we adopted him. The people who had Max before us were throwing the plant out, so Morgan brought it home. It was a scraggily tangle of stems and leaves, not a particularly beautiful plant but it was the one green thing we could keep in the house that the cats wouldn’t utterly destroy. They’d already eaten everything else.

The plant was folded into our lives along with Max and it grew quietly in one corner of our house or another, giving off a lemony scent whenever someone brushed up against it. Mostly it became part of the background, until now that is.

The flowers are not showy, but they are remarkable, mostly because they are there at all, but more importantly because I see Max in each one of those pale pink blossoms. His spirit always was larger than life.