Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A successful morning stroll

Every morning after breakfast, just as the blackness outside our windows is diluted to a cold blue light, Bear gets up from her bed with a grunt and heads for the door. With a glance over her shoulder and a stomp of a paw she demands to go outside for her morning wander in the woods. Sometimes she is gone for more than 20 minutes. We're not sure exactly where she walks, sometimes she comes back up the path from our driveway and sometimes down the trail from our woods, the trail that eventually leads up the path to that dog on the hill.

One morning as I sat at the kitchen table drinking my tea and waiting for her to return, I caught sight of her black shape swaying confidently down the trail, weaving around errant sticks and sprays of dogwood emerging at precarious angles from the hardened snow. I imagined the sound of crunching ice beneath her feet as she marched proudly past the kitchen windows, her prize clamped triumphantly in her mouth.

Where did you find that, Bear?

A week later, she came home with the other one.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Snowflakes on noses

It snowed again, after a week of warm weather and rain and snow washed from trees to freeze as sheets of ice on the ground. It fell for two days, off and on, in a drifting, dreamy kind of way, accumulating just enough to make everything pretty again.

In the late afternoon I stood outside with the dogs after hauling two days worth of firewood out of the forest and watched the flakes fall in slow motion from a patchwork sky of evening blue and gauzy white cloud. The sun, riding low in the sky, cast a buttery light all day through the softly falling flakes and as it rode its shallow arc towards the mountains I could make out just a hint of pink about the clouds and on the now white branches of trees.

I threw a tree limb for Murdoch and a tiny stick for Bear. The tree limb had been Bear’s a few days ago. She stomped and barked and whined until I slid it along the ice so she could pounce and then chew on it, ripping it apart splinter by splinter. Later that night she had another seizure and although she bounced back quickly and insisted she was ready to play the next morning, the tree limb lay neglected for a couple of days where Bear had left it, wedged between the trunks of two trees.

Bear told us she was going to have a seizure that Friday night, nudging us at the table where we sat. When I took her to the stairs thinking she had to go out, I recognized the wide-eyed look on her face and the muscle twitch that we now know precedes her seizures. Morgan carried her to her bed, making it just to the edge as her body tensed up, and I sat on my knees on the floor, with her head in my lap and we waited for the convulsing to stop.

Then we gave her a great big bowl of food, having figured out by now that after her seizures she is starving and food helps calm her down so she doesn’t pace aimlessly, panicking on tired legs that give out frequently so she falls hard on the floor over and over again.

She stood scarffing down her second bowl of food, swaying on her feet while Morgan held up her back end and I held up her front, and we couldn’t help laughing a bit at her Labby determination to eat at all costs.

The snow started to fall on Sunday before the sun rose, tiny flakes drifting so casually down against the black backdrop of early morning I didn’t even notice until the dogs returned from their morning pee with sparkling diamonds dotting their fur. And Bear was back to acting like a puppy, galloping through the snow, kicking up sprays of white.

It wasn’t long before Murdoch discovered the tree limb caked with snow and frozen slobber. He picked it up as though it were a twig and brought it to where I stood, dropping it with a hollow thunk, frozen wood on ice. I hefted the five-foot long “stick” as far as I could, which wasn’t very far at all, wincing when it clattered down on his back and head or as he twisted his jaw to catch it, toppling end over end. I let him wrestle with it on his own and I plucked a tiny stick from the snow for Bear, who pawed the ground and demanded we play.

As she chewed her twig to bits I stood there and watched the snowflakes sift down through the dimming icy blue light. I watched them land on Bear’s face and back, tiny six-pointed stars of intricately sculpted glass. They were just exactly what you would imagine a snowflake to be and, landing gently on Bear’s black fur, they were absolutely perfect.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Peanut butter monsters

Steam roils up from the short, round kettle spout. The cap with the tiny hole that pressurizes the steam is flipped up so it doesn’t whistle piercingly. Outside the sky is just starting to lighten. Behind the dark outlines of trees is a backdrop of indigo. The sun is still behind the mountains but the snow on the ground is already starting to glow.

I turn off the burner on the stove and swish some boiled water from the kettle into the teapot before dropping in two tea bags, filling the pot and snugging on the tea cozy. Then I wait for the toaster oven to ding. Bear has already demolished her breakfast and is back on her bed pretending to sleep. I can hear Murdoch clanking around in his kennel, the rattle of kibble inside his food ball, as he rolls it around and eats what falls out.

When my toast is done I pointedly do not look at Bear as I quietly take the jar of peanut butter from the shelf and place it carefully on the counter. The less fuss the better. Bear will definitely get some peanut butter in her Kong. She gets it every morning. But we’re running low and if Murdoch doesn’t get any today it will not be the end of the world, as long as he doesn’t know about it that is.

Murdoch doesn’t appreciate peanut butter the way Bear does. For her, it’s like enjoying a bottle of fine wine, she takes her time, makes sure she gets every last drop out of every molded corner of her Kong. Murdoch, on the other hand, the dog who will eat anything, licks up the peanut butter so fast and sloppily I’m sure he doesn’t even taste it. He then abandons that to troll for food, leaving peanut butter still caked to the inside of his Kong, which Bear then finishes later when he’s not looking.

So I move silently in the kitchen as Murdoch’s food ball continues to rattle around in his kennel, setting a plate on the countertop with barely a sound, pulling a knife from the mug on the counter where we store our cutlery without a clink, opening the door of the toaster oven without a squeak.

It used to be that I would just have to cut a couple of slices of bread, pop them in the toaster oven, or just think about peanut butter and I would hear behind me the quick clip, clip of toenails on the hardwood floor. There would be a rubbery thud of the Kong being spit out on the floor and I would look down to see it roll in its awkward, cone-shaped arc and skid to a halt at my feet against the kick board beneath the kitchen cupboards.

I would turn and make eye contact with Bear standing behind me in a solid, determined stance.

”What?” I would ask innocently and she’d stomp her foot before the word was even out of my mouth.

“Just give me the peanut butter and nobody has to get hurt.”

But now that it takes more of an effort for Bear to get up off her bed, she resorts to boring into the back of my head with her eyes. So I walk quietly towards her bed, pick up her Kong from the floor a few feet away without saying a word, give Bear a knowing smile and return to the counter.

I twist open the lid of the peanut butter jar and I swear it doesn’t make a sound, but suddenly the rattle and clatter of Murdoch’s kennel stops. I stand completely still in the silence and picture Murdoch’s face turned up towards the kitchen, his ear cocked just so, listening. And I wait, not moving.

And then he is leaping up the stairs, taking three at a time so his feet barely touch the steps at all and he trots to my side, neck craning, nose probing the air, eyes wide. “Peanut butter? Awesome!”

“Okay Murdoch,” I say, shifting out of silent mode and letting the lid of the peanut butter jar clunk on to the counter. “Go get your Kong.”

Murdoch turns and clatters down the stairs, spins around, and then clatters back up again.

“Kong, Murdoch,” I say. “Bring it.”

He runs back down again, grabs his ball and then drops it when I say, “No. Kong!” I know he knows this. It takes about ten tries, but he eventually manages to bring his Kong up the stairs and drop it at my feet. By this point it is slick and dripping in spots with slobber. I pick it up carefully from the floor and after I spread peanut butter on my toast, I sweep up a dollop with the knife and split it between the two Kongs.

I carry Bear’s to her bed where she takes it delicately from me, careful not to lose any of the peanut butter inside. Murdoch follows behind and when I turn to him he snaps into a sit and I hand him the Kong. He grabs it in his great jaws, the whole thing fitting easily in his mouth, and turns on his heel, slinking away as though he has just stolen some great treasure.

I settle in at the table to crunch through my toast as Bear works away on her Kong beside me. I can hear Murdoch in his kennel messily slurping up his peanut butter, licking faster and faster as if it is a race. Two minutes later he is back in the kitchen licking crumbs from the floor, and I’m pretty sure I see Bear roll her eyes.