Monday, September 24, 2012

Murdoch and the black truck

We are on the dusty road, white and dry again even after a downpour of rain the other night that sounded a thunderous ovation on our roof and clattered down through the trees. It is hot in the sun, so different from the cool of the shade in the forest that opens up your lungs as if for the first time.

Murdoch hurries along beside me as we head for the trail at the end of the road. I am on the verge of speed walking, trying to find a balance between his headlong rush through life and my insistence that he does not pull off my arm.

It has been too many days since we’ve been up the trail. It will be soppy and squelchy with mud even as dust hangs over the road. Murdoch has had to put his needs aside for Bear lately. It does not come easily to him, this thinking of the welfare, the happiness, of others. I cannot leave Bear behind in her eagerness to play, so we’ve done the short walks through the woods, looping up and around, playing a bit of stick, and then back to the house. These long walks have been missed by us both.

Our feet crunch steadily over gravel, my eyes focus on the spot where the road narrows in to the trail far ahead, the stark white of the road beneath the sun giving way to the darker shadows of the tree-lined path. From this distance it is almost a mirage, a mythical destination, a safe zone, because on the road we are exposed, Murdoch and I, to the very real possibility of cars and people and things that make Murdoch’s head spin and usually result in me being dragged to the ground. I focus on that darker spot ahead where the trail begins and I walk a little faster, imagine us already there.

And then the black truck turns out of the last driveway on the road, right where the trail begins. It is tiny from this distance, but the chrome grill flashes in the sun, a plume of dust blooms behind it as the engine revs, Murdoch is already walking taller, stiffened.

The familiar feeling of panic, frustration and anger clash in my chest and before I can even form my next thought I make a hard right, haul Murdoch with me off the road and around the edge of a large gray metal gate, overgrown with weeds and attached with a twist of metal wire to a t-bar hammered securely into the rocky ground. It is an entrance into our neighbours’ property, a gate designed for the passage of vehicles but the trail behind has long been used for walking. Murdoch and I have accompanied Jack a few times along the cool, twisting trail that ends at a sprawling beaver pond.

I am relieved our timing today brought us even with that gate just as the black truck appeared. That truck that makes my stomach flip over and my heart deflate every time I see it. We are destined to collide, the black truck and I. But it’s all Murdoch’s fault of course. I have lost track of the number of times Murdoch has pulled me off my feet when that truck rolls by. One of our first encounters was four winters ago when I lost my footing and got dragged along the snow-covered road on my knees, clinging desperately to the leash as Murdoch – not even full-grown then – bounded after the truck.

Since then it’s as if the universe has developed a rather sick sense of humour about the whole thing because it doesn’t seem to matter when we leave for our walk almost every time we’re on that road the truck appears as if it was lying in wait, its grill flashing that frozen grin, the sound of its engine turning my stomach to stone, its very presence inciting Murdoch into some Tazmanian Devil-like creature and causing me to become a being of pure, unfocused, adrenaline. It is not relaxing.

There are days when I think that truck is out to get us, determined to push my sanity over the edge. Then there are others where I imagine the truck sagging beneath a groan at the sight of us. As it bears down I can almost feel the truck wishing it could disappear, casting about for an escape. But mostly I imagine it getting a kick out of imposing chaos and I am overcome with an irrational anger when it appears as though it has no right to be on the road in the first place.

So this day I outsmarted that truck, and as we disappear around the first turn in the woods, it trundles by on the road and Murdoch twists around to look but the only thing to see is dust rising up amongst the trees and I suppress a giddy laugh that threatens to bubble out of me like some crazy thing and I think, “Not today truck. Not today.”

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

My constant companion

“Just pee in this cup,” I say to Bear as I follow her off the deck in the gray light of early dawn. Clad in pajamas and welly boots I hold my housecoat closed tight around my neck with one hand while pinching the lip of an empty yoghurt container between the fingers and thumb of my other hand, ready at any moment to position it when Bear squats.

She glances at me over her shoulder and walks a little farther away across the open patch of ground to the right of the deck where she pees every morning and night.

“Why are you following me?” her eyes ask. And then she can’t wait any longer, and I slide the cup underneath and catch it all. It is easy. I can’t believe I laid awake part of the night on my makeshift bed on the kitchen floor listening to the clock tick on the wall and Bear breathe soundly in her sleep wondering what I would do if I didn’t get a sample for her vet appointment the next morning. But it is done and we return to the house for breakfast.

The cats have already moved in, sprawling on the soft blanket covering my sleeping bag that stretches the length of the couch cushions that are jammed together on the floor. I have slept there for the past five nights, right beside Bear’s bed so I can wake with her in the night and let her out for a pee.

We started finding the puddles right after her medication was increased following her latest seizure. “It must be a side effect,” I insisted, not really wanting it to be anything else. But this didn’t happen last time, this inability to go more than two hours without having to pee, and not just a little bit, great clear pools that were obviously too much for Bear to hold back. Last time, when the medication was first started, Bear was unsteady on her feet and always falling down, her hips hitting the floor with a heart-wrenching thud.

But this time I imagined her pacing around the house in a panic when we weren’t there or were sleeping soundly in our bedroom on the third floor up a flight of stairs too difficult for the dogs, and Bear in her desperation just having to pee where she stood in the living room or the kitchen or right in front of the door in the entryway. My heart hurt thinking about her embarrassment. So I moved into the kitchen beside her bed and resolved to be with her all the time.

At the vet later that morning Bear tells off a young dog who tries to intimidate her in the waiting room and then somehow gets tangled around a wire bookshelf. She pushes her way behind my chair, hides behind my legs and gives everyone the saddest face possible. But we’re told her blood work looks good and her urine sample is clean and we narrow her problem down to a couple of options, the most likely of which is a side effect of the medication, and we’re given a different medication to try in conjunction with the first.

It will take time for the medications to balance out and for the side effects to hopefully diminish, but for now I will sleep beside her in the kitchen at night and wake up every few hours to let her out, and I will take her to work with me every morning – which at the moment is a horse barn, perfect for a dog with a curious nose – and in between times she will snooze on her bed beside me while I work at the computer, or lay in the grass when I drink tea on the deck. The only time she and I will not be together is when I take Murdoch out for long romps in the woods and each time we will return to find her lying behind the door, waiting.

I am so lucky to have all this time with her, to spend my days with her like the way it was in the beginning when Morgan and Bear and I were on the road travelling with our tent and our canoes before we came to Thunder Bay, before the cats and before Murdoch and Max and Quincy, when it was all Bear all the time. And I think about how time isn’t flying now because I don’t have a million places to be. And I think about how great Bear looks and how she still loves her food and how she skips down the path to the car every day. And I think about the Buddhist philosophy that says things are neither good nor bad, they just are.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The red ball in the woods

Yellow light from the naked bulb above the stairs filtered through the black metal slats of our kitchen chairs and cast long shadows across Bear’s bed where Morgan and I sat with her between us. We talked quietly over Bear’s panting, much more methodical about the whole thing than the first time she had a seizure, practical even.

Less than an hour earlier Bear lay with her head in my lap convulsing on the floor, drool soaking through the leg of my pajama pants. It was three o’clock in the morning and I sat in the silence of the house watching almost calmly as Bear thrashed through her first seizure since starting her medication in May, thinking that somewhere in the wanting to believe things were okay I knew this had been inevitable.

And so, another middle of the night discussion on Bear’s bed. But we are more sure of what to do now, less shocked at it happening, more saddened than anything else.

“I guess it means things are progressing,” we say to each other.

And I think of the day last week when Murdoch and I walked past Bear’s red ball in the woods. It is more gray now than red, faded a bit too after spending more than twelve seasons outdoors buried beneath snow and released in the melt three times. It was a gift from a friend, along with a blue ball and a green one. One for each dog.

The red ball disappeared not too long after the dog’s got them. Lost in the woods somewhere. The green one, for a while, had a blue piece of rope tied to it, looped through the meshy holes, and it acted almost like a sling shot so we could throw it further for Murdoch and he could play tug-of-war with his friend Jack. That ball got stuck at the top of a pine tree for about a year and a half before somehow falling back to the ground and migrating into the house.

I haven’t seen the blue one in a long time. But I think now I remember we buried it with Max.

Over the last three years the red ball has made occasional appearances, randomly carried out of the woods by Bear who walked with the air of someone who knew where that ball had been the whole time, even though I asked again and again if anyone had seen it.

She would disappear for a wander and come back carrying the ball when I had almost forgotten it even existed. “Oh, the red ball!” I would say and Bear and I would play with it for a while.

She carried it around quite a bit this summer, taking it with us on walks, dropping it by a tree to be picked up on the way back.

But that day when Murdoch and I walked past Bear’s red ball on the thin path through the woods that the three of us created this year, I was struck by Bear’s absence and my heart lurched and I missed her achingly. I wanted to turn around and go back down through the trees to our house where Bear waited and I just wanted to be with her.

I think she must be sick of the gushing by now. I tell her umpteen times a day how beautiful she is, how much I love her and I shower her with kisses on the top of her head, the tips of her ears, on the flat part above her nose and that little dimple between her eyes. I kiss her paws and her back and even her pink belly when she sprawls on the couch and tries to maneouver her hips the way she used to, throwing her back legs up and over when she didn’t have the stiffness of an older dog.

I remember the day she left the red ball on our barely there trail, I watched her drop it as the three of us traipsed single file between the trees and I thought to myself, we’ll come back this way so she can pick it up. But we didn’t and the ball was left there.

In the yellow light and slatted shadows of our kitchen at four in the morning Morgan and I sat on Bear’s bed with her between us as sleepiness washed in and the world sort of righted itself again for a little while. We told Bear what a good girl she is and we listened to her pant and we worried a bit and we talked about what happens next.

Monday, September 3, 2012

What about me?

In the evening with the kitchen lights shining on the warm reddish tones of the floor and the caramel tabletop, Chestnut blends in almost perfectly. He has that colouring that almost reflects his surroundings, becoming more or less orange depending on the lighting or object he stands next to.

He orbits the table, circling and circling, to nonchalantly get my attention. At least I imagine he thinks of himself as nonchalant, subtle, a mere suggestion on the periphery. But I follow him with my eyes and when he looks at me, sees me looking at him, he stops, his eyes full of surprise, “oh, you noticed me, little ol’ me just standing here.”

And then he gets a look of panic. “I’m starving you know.”