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.

Monday, August 13, 2012

If you go out in the woods today…

Out the door, we turn left at the deck and head into the thick of the woods. Leaving the house behind we follow the narrow path that cuts a slow winding trail, like the course of a small river, through the trees up towards the back of our property.

I watch Bear’s black figure skip confidently ahead as Murdoch and I start and stop. He dives forward with such force to yank me behind him while I plant my feet and haul him back with the leash so we can walk together, peacefully.

“With me,” I say to him as I give his leash a good tug. Murdoch backs up with muscles trembling in excitement, his eyes focused ahead. “Okay okay okay,” he seems to say as though I am some nuisance to be tolerated.

We start again and I call ahead to Bear. “Wait up,” I say to her retreating form as she disappears around a bend in the trail like some mythical creature we are trying to catch but can never quite reach. Murdoch and I stumble along behind, me refusing to go forward when he pulls and him just giving enough slack in the leash to keep advancing along the trail.

“Bear,” I call as I catch a glimpse of her tail. I chatter constantly trying to keep Bear in earshot while explaining to Murdoch again and again that if he would just walk nicely we would get so much farther ahead. We are not quiet as we bash along over snapping sticks and crashing undergrowth with Murdoch diving from one smell to the next.

We follow the trail around a sharpish corner, clamber over a small tree. I push aside the low hanging branches of another tree that drapes its greenery across the path and I’m vaguely aware of Bear’s solid black form turning right and disappearing into the bright green undergrowth along the trail. But I am mostly focused on Murdoch and not getting the leash tangled in and amongst the surge of small saplings that dot the path.

“Okay Murps,” I say with a sigh as I haul him to a stop again. The next part of the trail is an obstacle course of undergrowth and downed trees and tripping hazards. I hold the leash tight and lean over so my face is level with his and I kiss him on the cheek a couple of times and tell him he’s a good boy and try to get him to agree that this next stretch is going to be a breeze.

I am impressed because he is standing completely still. His right eye, the one I am looking into from the side, stares straight ahead, he is so focused. I assume he is watching for Bear, wanting to follow but waiting for the word from me. I smile at his apparent obedience and straighten up.

About 20 feet in front of us is a black shape lumbering out of the woods on the left. But Bear disappeared to the right just a moment ago, how did she get over there? I wonder. In the next moment I feel like I am seeing double as I know for sure Bear’s black shape went right and Murdoch’s black shape is beside me but there’s also one in front of me and beyond that, another.

Suddenly the woods seem very crowded. And then the black shape in front of us turns and lifts its head and I see the brown muzzle and realize it is a small bear. A cub. Where’s its mother? And then the shape beyond turns and looks, another brown muzzle.

“Oh,” I think I say out loud.

Murdoch and I stand side-by-side, each staring at the pair of bears. Thoughts tumble through my mind so quickly I only glance them as they pass. The moment is so real yet not real at all and as I spin on my heel and watch the forest blur around me I hope that Bear has wandered farther towards the back of the property where Murdoch and I usually meet up with her and that she does not stumble into the midst of the bears. Because I’m sure she was right there somewhere in the thick of the green.

Don’t run, don’t run, I am saying in my head even though my legs want to go faster and faster. As we step back over the downed tree, I yell, “Bear!”, not to alert anyone to the presence of our visitors but in hopes that perhaps Bear will listen this time and come. I keep calling her name as we return down the trail. Murdoch marches along right beside me, there is no tugging or pulling which seems weird to me. He is either sensing the seriousness of the situation through me or he just knows bears are not dogs or squirrels or deer, because if we’d stumbled upon any of those things in the woods I would have been on the ground being hauled through the bush behind him.

When we have turned the sharp corner of the trail and put some distance between the bears and us. I stop and look back. Murdoch sits right by my side not saying a word. I listen for a moment for the sounds of a large animal crashing towards us, but all is silent except for my heart beating in my ears.

“Bear!” I call again. I hear one bark and I wonder what to do. I need to find her. My stomach drops at the thought of this being the way that we lose her when all this time we were worried about the cancer. For a split second I think about going back, I even take a step in that direction but then I know I can’t take Murdoch with me, there’s no guarantee the next time he won’t try and challenge the bears if they are still there. And I’m sure they won’t take too kindly to me just showing up again after I so obligingly left.

So I turn again and run back to the house, adrenaline making me giddy as I leap over tree roots and dodge low hanging branches. Murdoch runs beside me, his collar jingling, and even in this moment of impending panic I am aware of how great it is to run with a dog and not be yanked off my feet.

As we round the last curve of the trail I wonder how I will go back up there for Bear without causing some kind of altercation and how will I get Bear past the bears before she sees them and tries to be a hero? She has chased a bear before and I wasn’t counting on her just giving these creatures a free pass through her woods.

I continue to call her name until Murdoch and I reach the house. We scramble inside and I grab a small bag we keep by the stairs. Inside it are various camping things, like matches and candles and a reflector plate for a camping lantern and flares and the pen-like contraptions they screw into and which set them off, but what I’m looking for are bear bangers. They are similar to the flares but when they’re set off they sound just like a shotgun. It’s all I’ve got. We’ve never used them to scare off bears, but I wasn’t going back into the woods without one.

I am just about to dump the contents of the bag on the floor when I look out the window and see my Bear trotting down the trail, forehead wrinkled, neck stretched tall, eyes focused on the kitchen windows, “Where is everyone?”

I fling open the door and run outside. “Bear!” I say and give her a hug as she stomps onto the deck as if it is a game. I escort her inside, breathe a sigh or relief and inform the dogs there’s been a change of plan. “Let’s go across the road and visit Jack,” I say, and the dogs skip out the door behind me. Our feet rattle the stones on the path like marbles and I look back over my shoulder at the woods, wondering if I might catch another glimpse.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Bear’s walk

“Okay Bear,” I call ahead to her retreating form. “I think we should turn back.”

Bear glances at me over her shoulder. “I don’t think so,” say her big brown eyes. “You don’t have to come, but I’m going on.”

And so we push on through the thickening bush, doing the loop we started last fall before everything grew and grew in the sun at the back of our woods, filling in every space with lush green life.

I worry about Bear getting too tired in the summer heat, but I don’t force the issue, just follow along behind, Murdoch and I, attached by leash, arguing over who gets to go first while Bear is swallowed up by the underbrush and small trees that tumble out of our forest into the full sun.

These are Bear’s walks. Short excursions through our woods into the next patch of woods behind our property, she forges ahead, refuses to stop. She has a plan and keeps going until she reaches the spot, undefined by anything obvious to me, where she sits in a splash of sunshine and smiles into the treetops.