Monday, April 23, 2012

Puddle jumping

It was a cold day when Bear found the puddle on the trail beyond our woods. Our feet crunched over damp, slightly frozen leaves as we wandered past small patches of snow still dotting the forest.

The puddle must have been ice-cold. I watched as Bear trotted up to it and stepped carefully into the deepest part, stirring up the leaves that had settled to the bottom. And then a slight change in posture, a bend of the knee, a sheepish glance over her shoulder and I knew what she was thinking.

“Bear,” I said, thinking of frozen toes and soaking wet knee braces. She straightened up, looked right at me. “What?” her expression seemed to say, “I wasn’t going to lie in that.” And she walked on slowly as I pulled my toque down a little further against the cold.

The next day she didn’t hesitate. I knew where she was headed as soon as we left for our walk. Bear marched along the trail straight for the puddle, and flopped down into the water before I could say a word. Leaves floated up, flat and featureless, as she wallowed in the icy soup. I cringed as she dunked her nose beneath the surface and then stood up, throwing water over her shoulder like an elephant taking a bath.

“Bear! It’s freezing,” I said.

“So?” She replied by lying down again. “What else would you suggest I do with a puddle in the woods?”

Monday, April 16, 2012

An accident waiting to happen

Murdoch is a bit of a train wreck. Not a day goes by that he doesn't sustain some sort of physical injury, the way he rushes blindly through life. I wonder sometimes if he has a death wish or if he really considers himself to be invincible. And then I think, perhaps he is.

He slammed into a tree the other day. Ran right into it. I threw a stick for him in the woods and instead of going right he went left and launched himself sideways into the pinkish brown trunk of a spruce tree. The thud was loud and hollow and sort of sickening and I swear I felt the vibration along the ground beneath my feet. My hand flew up to my mouth and I gasped. I expected Murdoch to stagger sideways, maybe stop for a minute, stand still perhaps give his head a gentle shake. But after bouncing off the tree trunk, he spun around on his heel and bolted up the trail after the stick. Not even dazed, or at least putting up an excellent front.

“Murdoch, are you okay?” I called to him. He looked at me as if to say, “What on Earth are you talking about?”

It’s an enviable trait, this “bring it on world, you can’t take me down,” bravado with which Murdoch approaches life. Everything is an adventure, every minute there is something to be conquered and damned if he will let a few skin abrasions or puncture wounds slow him down.

Well, the puncture wound was the only thing that did slow him down, but only for a few hours. Every day he dashes headlong into the woods around our house, bullying his way through a minefield of downed trees full of dangerously spiked branches sticking up in all directions. It was just a matter of time before he impaled himself on one.

Even after he sailed over a mess of branches, landing amongst them with a crunch and a yelp, he still played hard until we got back to the house where he lay, despondent, on the deck for the rest of the afternoon. The next morning it was as if nothing had happened, as if the dime-sized hole in the soft skin where his back leg meets his body didn’t exist.

And then there are the endless skinned knees, the mystery scabs I find weekly on his body, sometimes discovering quite lengthy scars hidden beneath his shaggy fur, the lump that grew beneath his tongue that we decided with the vet was probably an abscess of some sort with stick debris in the middle of it, and that time he came back after a crash through the bush with his eyebrows missing, great pink streaks of raw skin in their place where the fur had been scraped from his face.

A couple of weeks ago while once again flying over downed trees in pursuit of a stick, Murdoch got poked in the eye. He returned with the stick and dropped it at my feet, jumping back like he does to prepare for the next throw. He stared at me with one eye, the other one he could barely open. His eyelid fluttered in a desperate attempt to look normal as I moved in to take a look. “Never mind the eye, there’s nothing to see here. Just throw the stick. I’m fine.”

The eye got better over the next few days. The lump under his tongue eventually disappeared, the hole where his leg meets his body knitted neatly closed, his eyebrows grew back. But even if those things hadn’t healed, somehow I’m sure Murdoch would continue to play just as hard, because according to his philosophy, it isn't fun until somebody loses an eye.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Cleo phone home

“Oh crap,” I say, turning abruptly to face Morgan. “I just made eye contact with Cleo.”

I glance sideways at Cleo where she has been ensconced in her box in the kitchen all morning staring intensely at the ceiling. She is now staring intensely at me.

Her green eyes are quite mesmerizing and I try not to look directly at her again, to let her know I see her. But it’s too late. I watch from the corner of my eye as her round shape rises up from the box on pointed little feet and then moves forward like a balloon sailing across the floor on a current of air.

She never once takes her eyes from me and in my blurry side view I see her mouth open, letting escape a tiny squeak of a half-meow. And then I can’t help it because part of me feels for this little misunderstood cat who from the beginning never quite fit in, and I also think of the time we gave her away for a day. So I look at her and she breaks into a trot, finishes her meow and then lets loose another, more powerful one, and then another. She is circling me now in a well practiced, determined tiptoe, throwing herself against my legs with each turn, staring up at me with those green eyes.

Morgan and I have discussed Cleo at length, working up theories to explain her escalating neuroses, like why she has taken to living in this box filled with scraps of used Christmas wrapping paper, why she stares at the ceiling constantly, and why she has these bouts of desperate neediness, clinging to me like a person drowning. She can’t just sit on my lap she has to claw at my shirt, ram her nose into my face all the while meowing this intense “I have something earth-shattering to tell you,” meow.

We watch her one-day as we sit at the kitchen table drinking tea. She marches around us spouting her crazy ravings and then beelines to my chair, reaches up and pulls on my shirtsleeve, meows pointedly and stares into my eyes before walking away and settling into her box to once again fix her bulging eyes on the ceiling.

“Maybe she’s trying to contact the Mothership,” I say, and then thinking about the dolphins in Douglas Adams’ The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, add, “Maybe she knows the end of the world is coming and she’s trying to warn us.”

A few days later I walk into the living room with Cleo trailing me at an anxious trot. Morgan looks up from his magazine, “I know what it is,” he says with the tone of someone who really does have it all figured out. “The Mothership has told her to stay near you so they know where to find her.” As if I am some kind of beacon for aliens.


I think of this while I stand in the kitchen and Cleo throws herself against my legs. All it takes is a moment of intense attention and she will be fine for a few hours so I reach down and wrap my arms around her balloon-shaped body, lift her a couple of inches off the ground and hug her fiercely. Her purr is quiet and refined and she loses herself in the moment, eyes closed partway, paws kneading at the air, and then I let her go. She wanders back to her box, tramps in amongst the flattened papers that don’t really crinkle anymore, opens her eyes wide to scan the ceiling, settles in, and waits.

Monday, April 2, 2012


I smile to myself, try not to look too proud, try not to gush because I’m sure they say things like this to all their patients.

“She was awesome,” the vet tech says as she leads Bear back to the waiting room. It is empty except for me and when Bear glances up from her frantic sniffing she does that skippy thing labs do, ears flapping, tail wagging, as if she hasn’t seen me in weeks although it has been only minutes since they took her in the back to draw some blood.

“And you have a bandage!” I say, taking in the thin white strip of tape wrapped around her left front leg.

“Yep, she was so good,” the girl says with a genuine smile as she hands the leash back to me.

The tests, I am told, will take only 15 minutes so we decide to wait. I take Bear outside for a quick wander and a sniff. The wind howls and snaps at us as we step from the tiny building. Flattened brown grass is brightened in patches by cool sunlight filtering through a layer of thin clouds that turn the sky palest blue. If it wasn’t for the wind it would be a perfect spring day but the wind has an almost wintry bite to it as it whips across open fields and swirls back again from the mountains.

I try to pull my down vest a little tighter against the blast of cold with one hand as I hold Bear’s leash with the other and follow her beneath a line of towering cedar trees before attempting to usher her to a more sheltered spot behind a tin garage.

Our vets’ office is a little white bungalow on a farm nestled near the foot of a low mountain range. It is part of the moutainous area that begins with an escarpment, skirting the edge of Lake Superior, and marks the south-western limits of Thunder Bay. The mountains around here kind of march north across the landscape as if they've broken away from the escarpment, and curve, like the lip of a bowl, around farm country.

Bear and I have sat outside on the grass in the past and looked down across the valley draped in all its golds and greens and browns, but today it is too cold, for me anyway, and I escort Bear back inside.

There is another girl behind the counter who smiles widely at Bear and then directs an enthusiastic “Hello,” towards her as well.

As I’m paying, the first girl appears again and the two of them start discussing how cute Bear is, how well behaved, how sweet.

“You have to see her when you give her a treat, her whole face lights up,” says the girl who helped with the blood test. The second girl takes a treat from the jar. Bear is instantly on to them.

“Look at her ears perk right up,” says the girl with the treat. “And her forehead is all wrinkled.” I love these people.

“She is a pretty special dog,” is all I’ll let myself say knowing full well everyone thinks their dog is the best dog in the world. Well, mostly. I have no illusions when it comes to Murdoch. The last time I brought him to the vet he growled at everyone and sort of bit the vet.

Sometimes I feel like I should wear a sign when I’m with Murdoch like those bumper stickers some people have that say ‘my other car is a Lamborghini’. I feel like my sign should say ‘my other dog is an angel’ or ‘my other dog is NOT a jerk’.

So I smile wider as the vet techs fawn over Bear and we wait for the all-clear from the vet, which comes with some more compliments and treats, and we leave the vets without having to apologize for anything.

Bear is not perfect, but today she is and on the way home I gush over her in the car.