Monday, August 27, 2012

The dog on the hill

Two black dogs beneath a sweltering sun, made hotter somehow by the passing thunderstorm and lifting of cool mists in the morning that draped everything in refreshing gray.

The dogs went on an excursion through the woods to that squat house on the hill behind our property with no trees and a gorgeous view of the mountain, but no shade. Bear dragged her feet home as I led them back down the trail. It was too hot for her that day, the air heavy and wet in its heat. Not quite cloying, but almost.

The day before was the first time Bear turned around in the woods before she reached her spot, the spot she usually walks to before sitting or playing stick or being told to turn around. She looked at me over her shoulder after stopping on the trail, her brown eyes almost apologetic, sheepish, beneath those black eyelashes, and she asked if we could go home. She decided herself that the walk was over and we turned and followed her back through the woods, over downed trees and under others, swishing through the undergrowth and arriving at a moseying sort of pace back at the house, on to the deck and inside.

The next day she instigated the escape. I know she did. She was the first to disappear. What more could Murdoch do but follow her?

I saw a flash of black between the clamour of tiny tree trunks and the membrane of green, lighted from behind by the passing sun. I heard rustling leaves and the whoosh of panting, hot breath. I thought they might come back. I called again and again and then all I could hear was a slight flickering of leaves in the almost non-existent breeze and the lighthearted call of birds and in the very far distance the low rumble of an airplane.

I knew then that Bear had made for that house on the hill and Murds followed, not that he hasn’t gone on his own plenty of times. Not that I haven’t emerged from the overgrown weeds at the edge of the forest to find Murdoch’s backend sticking out of the white dog house as he polished off the food of the dog who lives there while that dog stared on in deflated disbelief. Not that I haven’t had to replenish that poor dog’s food dish more than once or untangle him from around his dog house after Murdoch chased and intimidated him.

But for a while Murdoch seemed to forget. Or at least concede that it wasn’t necessary for him to bolt up that trail and eat that food and it certainly wasn’t worth it if it meant I would keep him on leash at all times because of it. So, for a while he blasted through the woods around us, content with his freedom and not bothering that dog. But once Bear instigated an excursion up the hill, how could he not go?

How could he not eat that dog’s food and intimidate that dog outside his house and flaunt his freedom? Not that the other dog hasn’t had his freedom too. We’ve seen him at a distance from the windows of our house in the spring slipping amongst the trees like a ghost, before the calamitous growth of green shortened our view through the woods.

It’s Max! We thought at first, just glimpsing the shapes of the dog and not the whole dog himself. His backend seemed to slope down like a German Shepherd, his tail hung low like Max’s. But he’s too black to be Max, I said, though I wanted it to be him. I wanted it to be his ghost slinking about in the woods, watching the house and being part of the forest.

But I know now it was that dog whose sweet face greets me each time I emerge from the woods looking for my dogs or bringing him a bowl of food to replace that which Murdoch ate.

We have never met those neighbours. Their driveway emerges on to a completely different road than ours. Their house is not visible from any part of our property. It is a mystery as to when they are there but I wonder sometimes if they’ve seen me coming out of the woods to embarrassingly round up my dogs and drag them back in to the trees and I wonder what they think.


  1. With your artistic employment of language and your easily flowing narrative structure, you've unveiled a beautiful story about not just two dogs but actually four. I love the way you bring real life to the material be it the natural landscape or the distinctive character of the dogs. Murdoch plays his usual Puckish role while meditative Bear silently melts into nature. I especially like the closing as Max appears as if by wish. The neighbour's dog, as a ghost "slipping through trees", becomes lost Max and we hear your heart skip a few beats. I also like the way you unobtrusively place yourself and your thoughts into the frame of this heartfelt narrative. It all seems so seamless, Heather.

  2. Ian MacLeod has said everything I wanted to say. And far better than I could have.

    A lovely post

  3. Thanks for the commments. I really appreciate your thoughts. This was a fun post to write, it pretty much wrote itself actually, so I'm glad you enjoyed it!