Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The most beautiful day

Up behind our woods, where our forest peters out into the next forest that once was sheared to the ground, where the trees stand crooked and spindly, and beyond an army of rail-thin saplings marches away to the distant mountain, a shadow on the horizon, we walk on the trail we have carved in the snow.

It is silent here in the forest, the only sounds our feet squeaking over the packed snow of our winding path, and the rush of my breath captured inside the hood of my coat. The sun sits low in the sky somewhere beyond the trees, colouring it a creamy yellow that melts into the palest lavender.

I stop at the rising rush of wind, whooshing towards us from the mountain, the sudden sound from silence, and watch as it tumbles about the ragged edge of the woods, reaching in to knock cascades of snow from branches to shower magically through the air, capturing the fading light just so. It floats to the ground and sparkles on to my face like a million tiny bubbles exploding from a glass of champagne. 

Murdoch and Molly dig about in the deep snow for sticks, their faces disappearing behind white masks as I watch the wind weave through the treetops and the snow fill the air like fairy dust. And for a moment everything is just perfect.

Monday, December 16, 2013

A new face

We went to bed that night with flakes streaming past the porch light, flickering yellow and white against the blackness beyond. In the night, burrowed beneath blankets piled thick on the bed, we listen to the house creak and shift from buffeting winds. The next morning flakes fall fat and drift onto branches laden in white.

Winter is upon us.

Outside we cut a path through the ankle-deep snow, dusting it aside with each step in the muffled forest. December has crept in. This glowing world in white seems out of place somehow as though we should still be carving pumpkins and raking leaves.

But the dogs bound over snow-covered mounds, bury their noses beneath the white, delight in the falls of snow slipped from branches in great blankets to cover their backs. They tell me everything is as it should be.

Trees become snow sculptures and the forest is made of light. Ahead, two black shapes weave through the white, Murdoch slinking along the familiar trail, ducking under branches, leaping over downed trees and just behind him, a new black shape, tall ears pointed skyward, powerful legs making short work of the drifting snow, feet like lion’s paws stepping purposefully over this new path, a new path that will soon become a familiar path.

It is the first real snow of the season and I think of Bear and I think of Jack and I think of how much they are missed and how much they would love this. And I think about that week when life took an abrupt turn. That week when Jack died and our other neighbour’s house burned down and then Molly showed up.

Molly Malone, the King Shepherd with the black German Shepherd face and the Malamute fur who came from a loving family and is mistrusting of cameras. Molly Malone, who loves the snow, is completely unsure of cats and would be outdoors playing stick every waking minute of the day if she could. Molly Malone who is amazingly graceful on her feet for such a big dog, who is two years younger than Murdoch but acts like she is at least two years older, who has gigantic ears and piercing eyes and who has become a little bright spot in our neighbourhood.

Snow continues to sift down from the bright sky as we wind our way along the trail through the woods. We kick up swirls with our feet; send snow spraying out like white surf crashing against us on its way to shore. Two black shapes cut the trail ahead, one hops eagerly after the other, ears pointing to the sky, and I follow not too far behind.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Happy trails to you...

Jack, who never met a mud puddle he didn't like, and who left us too soon. We miss you already.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Not such a ruffian

“Is he a big suck?” asks the man behind the counter.

For a minute I am not sure he is talking to me. I am distracted by the fact that Murdoch did not start barking angrily at my back as I walked away from him and is not currently causing a scene in the parking lot.

I glance out through the glass door at my car where it sits at the gas pump, the passenger side window open just enough for Murdoch to stick his big head through. He stares at the building into which I have disappeared, his bottom teeth visible as if he is in the middle of saying something rather important, his brown eyes wide with mild concern.

How odd, I think, pondering the normalness of my dog at this moment. I very much want to reply, “Yes, he is.” But I can’t.

“Sort of,” I answer the man, thinking about how Murdoch likes to lay his head in my lap sometimes or lean against me when I am sitting at the computer, but then how it all usually ends in growling and sometimes bared teeth. And he’s really not very good with strangers at all.

“He kind of swings between big suck and I’ll bite your face off,” I elaborate.

“He looks like he could,” says the man with a laugh.

“Yes,” I say, wondering if perhaps I was too harsh. But it is not often Murdoch is out in public and I want to make sure we are all on the same page. I want people to know that my cuddly-looking dog will not delight in being approached by a well-meaning, dog-loving person, and I want people to know I have no delusions about what a well rounded, wonderful canine he is. I am not certain at all that Murdoch won’t bite. It is best just to lay that out for people.

But I am taken aback by this man; I have never had anyone ask me if Murdoch is a big suck, and I really wasn’t prepared with an answer. That was the kind of language reserved for Bear whose big black shape would loom inside the car while she looked forlornly out the window or jumped into the driver’s seat and honked the horn while she waited for us to return. No one had to ask if Murdoch was a big suck because he was usually throwing some kind of tantrum in the car, bouncing off the windows, barking intimidatingly and showing off his giant jaw with all those sharp white teeth while Morgan and I pretended not to know him.

As I look at Murdoch through the window of the store, I try to see him from someone else’s eyes, someone who has not wrestled for their life with this dog, someone who has not been dragged face-first down the road behind him in hot pursuit of a truck, someone who has not had to apologize to family members and friends when he has growled and snapped at them just for being friendly.

“He misses you already,” says another man who enters the store as the cashier hands me my change. I glance at Murds, then at the new arrival. “He’s whining for you.”

“Really?” I say and then I smile at them and skip a beat because the most appropriate thing to do next would be to comment on what a big baby he is, but in lieu of what I’ve just said I think better of it and instead stick with, “Huh. Weird.”

Not so much weird that he is whining, but weird that these two people have both taken the time to comment on my dog and I am not trying to deny that he is mine or explain, “Well, he’s a rescue,” to a series of understanding nods.

Perhaps, I think, as I head back to the car and pat Murdoch on the head, there is hope for the big suck after all.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A warrior just the same

Murdoch and I sit on the deck, side by side in the dark, his black shape invisible against the black, black forest. Above, the sky is full of stars. Ragged treetops are silhouetted against the not-quite-blackness of it and form a sort of ring in this clearing where we sit, as though a hole has been ripped in the deepest black fabric of the universe to peak beyond at another place entirely.

It is a warm evening after a string of warm days, a small and brief resurge of summer, and the air smells like yellowed leaves. In the woods somewhere, in that complete darkness of a moonless night, a bird sings a short refrain and then it is silent again.

I arrived home in the dark and called to Murdoch at the door, “It’s just me,” when I heard the uncertain deep rumble in his throat. I did not want to frighten him again like we did the other night when he didn’t know it was Morgan and I, and we literally scared the crap out of him.

That night we did not go directly to the house as usual after we pulled the car into the driveway, instead we stood in the dark discussing one thing or another before wandering up the gravel path to the door. Murdoch was not silent like he usually is when he hears us coming, but barked loudly, uncertainly and, in hindsight, I suppose alarmingly.

As I reached for the outer wooden screen door, Morgan, in a playful mood, whispered, “Wait!” then he stepped in front of me and banged on the door, rattled it on its hinges, and then pulled it open and threw open the main door behind it. We stepped back, expecting a wild beast to come leaping across the threshold, but it was silent and as I peered through the window I could see Murdoch had backed up as if to hide behind the door.

“I think we scared him,” I said.

“No way,” said Morgan, and then called, “Come on Murds!”

But he didn’t come out. He was busily sniffing the floor in a distracted manner and as we stepped inside we were greeted by a heavy muskiness, his scent had exploded over everything and on the floor, a little brown lump.

We were stunned for a moment and then our hearts sank. “We really did scare him,” said Morgan. “I feel terrible.”

“He’s trying to clean up.”

“He doesn’t have to do that,” he said, and ushered both Murdoch and I outside. Where Murdoch paced at the door until I managed to distract him with a stick and we played fetch by flashlight.

So, tonight when I again came home in the dark and heard the beginnings of an uncertain bark, I spoke to him through the door, let him know I wasn’t some giant dog-eating bear emerging from the woods, and invited him outside with me on to the deck to sit and look at the stars.

Beside me, Murdoch’s furry bulk is reassuring, companionable, and I feel such remorse for scaring him the night before, for embarrassing him. I never expected him to react the way he did, my big ferocious dog who will show his teeth before he licks your face. But then, I think, what better way to mask your fear in a situation you don’t trust. Be the first to intimidate.

I wrap my arm around his shoulder, squeeze him closer, kiss the side of his face. He growls. I nod to myself and smile and think about all the things I don’t know about my dog as we sit side by side in the black night, content in the quiet and solitude, just he and I and the stars brilliant overhead.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Lucky dogs

“You know what would be great Murdoch?” I say to his back as he trots a few feet ahead of me down the trail, “is if you came when I called you.” Golden light from a late afternoon sun highlights his shiny black fur between dappled shadows as we move beneath the trees. “You know. The first time,” I continue as we pass by a clump of dried thistles edging the trail, their seedpods half-scattered to the wind, just a few white tufts still clinging to the brown plants. “Instead of the 500th time.”

Overhead, beyond the treetops of green leaves threatening to turn yellow, blue sky stretches on forever. “When I go for a walk with my dog, I like to actually walk with my dog,” I say. And I imagine Murdoch’s eyes rolling skyward, as if he were a sullen teenager.

It has been a long time since we actually walked the trail at the end of our road. We have ventured to the trailhead and investigated the giant, spreading puddle that overflows the edges of the trail, but we have not waded through it to the other side. At least I haven’t. Murdoch has no problem getting his feet wet. I require rubber boots.

So, today, with my boots on and Murdoch and Jack running happily ahead, I sloshed through the puddle and made my way along the well-trodden path, occasionally yelling to Murdoch’s retreating black shape to “wait up” and “come back”.

He stops at the sound of my voice, looks back to where I inefficiently pick my way through tangled grasses and around puddles of indeterminate depths, but then he is off again, running further ahead, nose to the ground, a spring in his step. I call to Jack too, but it is well established that he mostly does his own thing, so I am not as adamant that he should stay within my line of sight.

It is one of those perfect late summer days, the sun’s warmth cozy, not sizzling, all but the most determined of the biting bugs gone thanks to colder nights, and that stunning crisp blue sky stretching from mountain top to forest stand that makes you feel happy just to be alive.

The dogs root through long grasses, yellowing and drying in the sun and I call to them frequently so they remember why they are here, to walk with me, not take off on the trail of something much more exciting. Plus, if I talk loudly enough, I think, we will be less likely to startle a bear if there are any nearby.

Sometimes the silence of the trail, even in the middle of the day, can make you feel very small and very aware of your smallness in the vast wilderness spreading around you. So, when the dogs finally do disappear and I can no longer hear them in the distance rustling amongst spindly trees of the growing forest I decide to turn around and start heading back down the trail.

I yell Murdoch’s name at the top of my lungs until the sound of it vibrates in the back of my throat and makes me cough. I walk slowly, listening in the silence of the afternoon for any distant sounds that might tell me where they are. I scan the ground for any signs of fresh paw prints indicating the pair of them have doubled back and have already made it home. They have done that to me before. But there is nothing.

When I reach that spot on the trail where I can peer down through the trees to the dirt road, stark white in the glare of the sun, I stop to consider my options. There has been no sign of them and I can’t see their frolicking shapes at the road. I could go home and then sit and worry about what kind of trouble Murdoch is causing, or I could turn around and walk back to where I last saw them, start this search all over again. So I do. I march up the trail and then back down again, purposefully, calling Murdoch’s name the whole way.

It is when I decide I have had enough and it is time to go home that I hear a crashing in the distance. I stop and listen to it get closer, a tiny part of me wondering if maybe it is not one of the dogs. And then Murdoch comes thundering down an overgrown side trail, streaming through the three-foot tall grasses. He is soaking wet and covered in various specimens of clinging seeds, stuck to his coat in great clumps of greens and browns.

“Good boy!” I say, because he has finally returned, even though technically he is not a good boy for taking off in the first place. “Where have you been?” I ask, as he turns on his heel to trot down the trail just in front of me. He seems quite pleased with himself, I decide, and quite oblivious to the passage of time.

“What did you do with Jack?” I ask, though I am not worried about Jack, he always shows up at home before we do.

It is at the trailhead as I stop in the sunshine to reattach Murdoch to his leash and pick off some of the seeds that have begun winding their way in to his fur, that I realize he smells like a swamp. “Nice, Murds,” I say, and he grins up at me with his tongue hanging out the side of his mouth. In the distance I see Jack making his way home and I wish, for about the millionth time, that I could tag along on one of their escapades.

“You’re a couple of lucky dogs,” I tell Murdoch as we head for home, past bulrushes and swaying grasses the same height as me, and trees marching off towards the distant mountain. “You don’t even know.”

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The edge of the storm

It is pouring again. Murdoch, Jack and I make our way home down the road where rain falls so hard the ground looks like a sea of fish, their little mouths opening and closing at the surface of some great lake, churned brown from the rain and a million flapping fins.

We are soaked. My pants stick to my legs and direct water down into my boots. But I don’t hurry. I hide my camera under my jacket and watch the rain obscure the landscape around us in silvery sheets. There is a flash of lightning and Murdoch starts, then jumps when thunder cracks overhead.

Just moments before, before the rain poured down, I stood at the edge of the storm where slate gray clouds crowded in at the trailhead at the end of our road and the landscape reflected light in odd ways. Thunder rumbled just out of reach around the mountains and over the trees, quietly taking stock of the world below as I took stock of it, existing in the stillness. It was like standing outside of time.

I stood with the toes of my boots touching the lip of the great puddle that flooded the trail from previous rainstorms and beaver dams and watched the sky. I could have easily sloshed through the water, but I did not want to disturb the stillness, break the quiet of the woods ahead where the trail disappeared amongst the trees. The only sounds were the tentative rolling of thunder above and the rustle of grasses just off the trail where Murdoch and Jack tracked unseen things.

I saw the raindrops before I heard them, spreading out in rings over the puddle at my feet. They were sporadic at first, unpredictable, becoming steadier and larger until they were plinking loudly on the water’s surface. It wasn’t until the rain became a wall with the blare of static and the dogs appeared at my side that I turned and headed for home.

The rain is warm despite the fall-like temperatures we have had in the evenings and the damp days and the wearing of sweaters. Murdoch stays glued to my side unsure, it seems, of the driving rain as Jack trots ahead and makes a dash for his house. The light has changed again, filtered through the bucketing rain, it is more yellow, more menacing even than the dark flat gray of earlier. Still, I don’t hurry.

When we turn into our driveway it is like we are emerging from the ocean. Beneath the trees, the rain is not so heavy but it changes pitch, becomes louder, as it clatters down amongst the branches. Part of me wants to stay outside, but there is thunder and lightning and trees. And anyway, the edge of the storm has moved on, taking with it that stillness and that moment out of time. So we push through the once towering flowers that have collapsed across the path to the house and disappear inside.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Tied up in knots

The car blares down the road, the muffler only half doing its job and I am glad to be surrounded by mostly trees interspersed with the odd house, but I’m sure the people in the valley below can hear me coming. Metal on metal clanks and bangs, the door rattles on its hinges as the car jerks from cracks in the worn out pavement to potholes and then slams over a section of washboard. There is not much bounce left in the suspension, I can hear every bolt rattle and bang, imagine them all working loose with each jolt; it feels like the car is coming to pieces around me.

Up a hill and then down again and around the corner and the land opens up as I descend into the Slate River Valley, where fields are laid out in yellows and greens and neatly cut rows of hay. It is all hemmed in by the curve of the mountain range, purplish in the distance where it meets the lake. To my left the sky is a solid metal grey, the clouds in large hued layers like gently rolling waves. I can see a curtain of rain in the distance where the sky melds perfectly into the landscape.

I wonder if it is headed my way and then hope that it is because that is the sort of day it feels like. Chestnut agrees, meowing angrily from the back seat where he is crammed into a cat carrier that is two sizes too small.

We pass a field of cows and then a large machine with menacing knives at the end of an extended metal arm shearing back brush in the ditches along the side of the road.

“We’re almost there,” I say to Chestnut as I turn onto the dirt road that leads to the vet clinic and throw a quick glance over my shoulder to see his face pushed up against the bars of his cage, his eyes wide and black. “I’m so sorry.”

Over the last five years Chestnut has had at least four urinary tract infections and it is always so crushingly disappointing when it happens again. After his first bout with it when he was not quite two years old and he had to be hospitalized with a urinary catheter, he has had almost zero privacy. His trips to the litter box are frequently monitored and that morning as I peered in the little door of the covered box after I noticed his tail had been sticking out the opening for an inordinate amount of time, I could see there was a problem.

I trudged up the stairs to the bedroom and exhaled loudly as I flopped on to the bed beside Morgan, who was just waking up. “Chestnut is having a urinary issue,” I said.

“Okay,” came his flat reply from amongst the covers. What more could be said, we both knew what would come next. “I’ll call the vet,” he said.

Three hours later I pull up to the little house that is our vet clinic on a farm nestled at the foot of a mountain. I haul the carrier out of the car and lug it to the door. Chestnut, we discover, is almost twice the weight he should be.

I am expecting an exam, a prescription of medication and food, a request for a urine sample and then home again. Chestnut circles the examination room anxiously as we wait for the vet. “It’s okay,” I say to him. “I’m not leaving you here.”

But that is a lie. They recommend he stay so they can give him fluids via IV, collect a urine sample. They are concerned, they tell me, that he may already be blocked. I can take him home, but I may have to make an emergency after hours trip. So I leave him there. Apologize profusely, and walk outside into the quickly clearing day.

The car chugs back up the mountain towards home. I pass the brush-clearing machine again, the field of cows, the endless trees, but I am distracted. I am thinking about the impending struggle of administering medication, the never-ending battle to find a urinary health specific food that he will actually eat and the possibility of catheterization, and did they mention surgery? What would that cost I wonder, I’m pretty sure we can’t afford surgery. So, what then? Is it possible Chestnut may never come home again?

That night as I get in to bed I pause, look up to the ceiling and say, “Bear, if you’re out there somewhere, could you please make sure Chestnut pees some time tonight?” I am not prepared to make a snap decision if things go badly. Sleep is fleeting.

In the morning I wait by the phone, jump on it when it rings. “Yay!” I say when they tell me they got a sample from him in the night and he can go home. It is Saturday morning so Morgan and I both head down the mountain to the clinic, we discuss how crazy it was to have so much anxiety wrapped up in waiting for our cat to pee.

Chestnut meows angrily on the way home and sticks his paws through the bars. In my bag there are pills and some cans of food, and there’s a bag of kibble in the back, all of which will cause great stress over the next while.

At home I discover he has peed a small flood in his carrier. His back end is soaked, his tail skinny like a rat’s. He tracks great puddles across the floor and I mop up behind him, towel him off. But I can’t help being relieved, and a little happy about it, even though the house smells like pee for the rest of the afternoon.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Fooled you

Yellow light pools on the deck outside our front door. Beyond, the woods are pitch black. It is a night with no moon, and the stars are invisible. I stand with my toes at the edge of the deck and try in vain to make out the trees just past where the porch light fades away into darkness; I may as well be standing on the edge of the world.

I call for Murdoch again, but my voice doesn’t seem to carry, instead it is swallowed up by the looming dark. In the lingering heat of the day the woods are heavy with a presence that was not felt when the sun was up.

I hear things moving about amongst the trees, small animals that sound like big animals rustling through the undergrowth. I hear an owl somewhere in the distance and a dispersed pattering of something on leaves, like rain, but it is not raining. Moths of all sizes clamour with papery wings against the house and a bat swoops above my head, more felt than seen or heard.

“Murd!” The call is uncomfortably harsh amidst the subtler sounds of the world at night, but I am becoming impatient. A black dog in the black woods; he could be anywhere.

It is only in the last month that we have allowed Murdoch a little bit more freedom, letting him saunter off into the near periphery of the woods to take care of business without clipping him to his line. Partially it’s because he has been more well behaved lately, listening better, occasionally understanding boundaries, but mostly it’s because some time in the middle of the summer he began refusing to step off the deck when he was attached to his line. He would ask to go out, be clipped to his line outside our front door, and then he would walk to the edge of the deck and just sit there, staring out into the woods. And he would sit there for ages.

So, I began escorting him out, following him down towards the driveway, or up into the tree line. After a while I was waiting for him on the deck, talking to him as he trotted off in a direction and calling him back right away, and he would come.

It is a milestone for Murdoch who has been attached to his line, or closely tailed by me, everyday for the last five years. I was not happy about having to put him on a line, not when we had Bear and Max who had always been mostly trustworthy, but Murdoch was a wild child and that first summer we lived in our house in the woods he was always pushing his boundaries a little bit more and a little bit more.

I continued to hope that he would learn something constructive from Bear and Max, but that fantasy ended the day I came home from work and put the dogs out while I went in to change. I could trust them by themselves for a short time because up until then they had all stayed on our property. As I ran up the stairs that day I glanced out the window to see all three of them trotting down the driveway to meet the neighbour kids who just happened to be riding past on their bikes. “Oh crap,” I thought as I turned and ran back down the stairs. They were pretty intimidating, those three, and I could imagine the kids' panic as they saw a big Black Lab, a German Shepherd and an over-sized crazy puppy-like beast, chasing after them.

By the time I was out the door, the dogs were already halfway down the road, Bear and Max happily jogging along with the bikes, while Murdoch leapt and bounded beside, jumping at the kids and generally being a nuisance.

Of course I’d run out the door without any leashes so I had to herd and wrangle the three of them back down the road to our house after only about four or five detours. That weekend we strung a wire from our house way out to a post near the edge of the woods and hung Murdoch’s line from it. And that was that. Until now.

After Murdoch took his stance in the middle of the summer and didn’t seem to be taking advantage of his extra freedom, I began to trust him a little more. It was kind of like having a real dog. Kind of. My confidence grew, I became lax, began to let him out by himself and called to him from the door; hence the reason I am now yelling into the pitch-black woods.

I hear a crashing of leaves and snapping branches. That’s got to be him, I think, and I close my eyes, try to discern a direction from which the sound is coming. My stomach flutters as my brain tries to convince me it could be a bear crashing towards me in the dark, and asks “what will you do then?” But I clap my hands and call to Murdoch again. I hear feet thundering over the ground to my left and I open my eyes to watch him materialize in the light, as though he has been shaped by the shadows.

“Good boy!” I say through partially clenched teeth, and he leans against my leg, tongue lolling out the side of his grinning mouth. “Where did you go?” I ask. “I was worried.”

We turn for the door, fight our way in past the moths, and I glance at the metal clip attached to his line lying in a heap by the door that we haven’t touched in a month and I think I am not quite ready to get rid of that yet.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

For Uncle Bob

Uncle Bob and Aunt Doris,
the cutest couple I've ever known and two of my favourite people.

Bob McCulloch
July 2, 1916-August 10, 2013

For Uncle Bob, who was not really my uncle but the husband of my grandmother’s cousin. Who spoke with the most brilliant Scottish accent even though he lived in Canada for more than half a lifetime. Who sang, with his wife, my Aunt Doris, in the chorus of an amateur theatre group when I was growing up and whom I could always pick out on stage because he towered over everyone else, sending his distinctive voice out above the crowd.

For Uncle Bob, who always made sure you knew he was delighted to see you or hear your voice on the phone. Who was always genuinely interested to learn about what new things you were doing.

For Uncle Bob, who was a stand-in with Aunt Doris on grandparents day when I was in grade three because my grandparents lived in Scotland. Who sat proudly at a table-clothed table set amongst a sea of tables and grandparents in the gym with roses in vases and cakes and tea, and beamed as my class stood and sang on a make-shift stage.

For Uncle Bob, who would tell a story, which was usually always funny, then sit back with a satisfied grin on his face and a glint in his eye while everyone laughed. Stories about his time in Africa during the war, about the boxer dog they had before I was born and how he broke his father’s prized violin the day he borrowed it.

For Uncle Bob, who was the first person I knew to know everything about computers and to have a cell phone and own a digital camera, which he would pull out of his pocket with a wide smile on his face and point out all the options with unwavering fascination.

For Uncle Bob, who sang to his wife on their 60th wedding anniversary, nine years ago, the song from the movie they saw on their first date.

For Uncle Bob, who drove till he was 95, who was fiercely independent, who was a beautiful human being and a joy to be around.

You will be so very missed.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A summer of rain

It is a summer of rain. Of lowering skies and pattering showers and clattering deluges on the roof.

Thunder rips apart the sky above our house, the windows shake in their frames and we feel the vibration through the floor. Bear would not like this, we say. And I imagine her trying to wedge herself between me and the cupboards at the counter where I stand chopping carrots.

It is a summer of clouds, of great anvil thunderheads above the city and towering columns climbing high over the fields, of silver ripples stretching across the sky like sand at the edge of a lapping lake and white shrouds draped over the mountains.

Light falls dully through the leafy canopy of the woods. Murdoch is a flat black shape whipping through the undergrowth, weaving around trees. He quickly becomes a shadow amongst shadows, lost in the dark corners of the forest. I call to him often, listen for the sound of his feet tearing up the earth.

It is a summer of green, and the stunted growth of ground cover beneath the trees where sunlight never seems to reach. It is a summer of frogs, and puddles that never dry up. Of overflowing beaver ponds and cool, fresh mornings that feel like fall.

If this were winter, Morgan says, we would have to tunnel out through all the snow that fell. Instead there are streams running where there shouldn’t be and slurping mud and water dripping from the trees.

It is a summer of foggy mornings and fascinating skies, layers upon layers of cloud. Of great gray sheets of water, like walls, moving across landscapes, obscuring distant fields and turning mountains into vague shadows.

It is a summer of wet dog and rubber boots and swarms of whining mosquitoes.

And when the sun does appear, peeking shyly at first through a tiny tear in the clouds, everything glows and the day is instantly warm and we run outside to see the blue sky and feel the heat on our skin and watch the light shine golden on Murdoch’s fur.

When the sun shines, water vapour hangs in the air and the day smells of wet earth and green things and warm rain. For a moment there is heat and the mosquitoes hide in the shade beneath leaves of wild flowers and weeds and it feels like summer at last. Sometimes if there is a break in the clouds at just the right time we see the most spectacular sunsets and the sky seems to go on forever. And some evenings, warm breezes come in at the windows carrying the promise of a golden sunrise in the morning.

But mostly, it is a summer of rain.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Ah, summer

There’s nothing like a bug in the eye to ruin a perfectly good evening stroll. Not that it was an idyllic evening anyway, as I stood amidst a cloud of blackfly, the hood of my shirt pulled up over my head to dissuade the circling deerfly from landing and taking out a chunk of my scalp. My one solace was the dragonflies that hovered around me, little helicopters, their wings whirring a papery flutter, like dried leaves. They zipped about busily eating every tiny thing that moved.

With the dragonflies there, my protectors, I imagined taking a deep breath - not really doing it of course in case I inhaled a bug, or ten - and tried to be Zen about the haze of biting insects. “Really,” I thought. “At some point you must become oblivious to the constant flick of blackfly bouncing off your face. I can do this. Just look at Murds, he is completely un-deterred by his own cloud of bugs.” And so I picked up the Frisbee again and hurled it out over the short-cropped grass that somehow housed this swarm of blackfly and focused my attention on the dog.

And for a moment I did it, I ignored the patter of bugs against my skin, the circling deerfly with their deep-pitched drone bouncing off my hood, I watched Murdoch run and catch the Frisbee mid-flight, I noticed the lupins starting to grow at the edge of the ditch, I appreciated the different shades of green on the distant mountain even as the grey clouds thickened overhead, I listened to the quiet beyond the buzz, thought how beautiful it all is, and then there was that unmistakable plink of a bug flying in to my eye.

I am no stranger to that sensation, kind of like a tiny smooth pebble has landed on the edge of your eyelid, flicked there somehow from the middle of a cool river. Bugs are inexplicably drawn to my eyes, this happens all the time. When I ride my bike, bug in the eye; when I walk the dog, bug in the eye; when I am standing still, bug in the eye.

There was a moment that evening at the end of the road as my brain caught up to the unfolding drama that had caused my eyelid to leap into action, clamping shut the instant that bug made a move to careen into my eye, when I thought perhaps the situation could be salvaged. The bug was trapped, still alive, I could feel it at the base of my eyelashes and I imagined it entangled there, caught as though in a Venus flytrap. “Perhaps I could just sweep it away,” I thought. But in an involuntary panic of having a live bug trapped on the brink, my eyelid fluttered madly and the bug was in.

It is amazing how big a tiny blackfly can feel when it is in your eye. I let out a frustrated yell and crouched down on the gravel road, head bowed as if this would help, and blinked furiously, running my finger along the edge of my eyelid.

Murdoch’s feet appeared then in my line of vision, followed by the Frisbee dropped on the ground in front of me. I looked up to meet his gaze, “I got a bug in my eye Murd,” I said, still trying to peel my eyelid away from the eyeball in hopes the insect might just fall out.

Murdoch stared back, “So?” he seemed to say, “What’s the problem?”

Right. What’s the problem? How does this prevent me from throwing a Frisbee? It doesn’t.

We played for a little longer as I continued to rub at my eye, but my state of Zen was gone, if it had ever really been there at all. The buzzing filled my ears, the dragonflies were nowhere to be seen, the constant flick of bugs against my face was torturous, each making my skin maddeningly itchy; I felt like I was breathing them in. Even the sight of the chaotic cloud around Murdoch was too much.

“Okay,” I said. “We’re done.” And I quick-marched home, dragging an incredulous Murdoch with me and pulling my hood tighter around my head.

Bugs, 1. Me, 0.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Greatest game ever

Murdoch stands tense and ready on the shorn grass of the meadow at the end of our road, a strip of green, vibrant and fresh after all the rain and then days of warmth and sun. It is hemmed in by a field of marsh grasses, all flattened and bleached after the snow, and a stand of spruce trees, towering to our right and marching away in straight dark lines. Both havens for ticks, and so we stay on the short grass, where ants are visible on a hill nearby and the blackfly, not yet biting, bounce up out of the ground around our faces.

There is a concentrated stillness in Murdoch’s body even as it trembles minutely, like a spring under pressure. Behind him, the stretch of open green grass rolls invitingly towards the mountain where poplar trees stand guard, white stripes topped with spring green of new growth.

Murdoch’s eyes are glued to the Frisbee in my hand as I wind up, turning my shoulder to him. “Ready?” I say, drawing out the y. His eyes widen, his stance drops, he holds his breath for just a moment, and then I hurl the Frisbee away over the field, snap my wrist to let it fly fast and far. Murdoch is already gone, turning a fraction of a second before I release the disc, tearing at the ground with his claws, sending clods of dirt flying behind him as he speeds away.

The Frisbee, angled slightly, curves off to the left and Murdoch scans the sky above his head while he runs faster, then turns abruptly, suddenly as though he has hit a barrier and follows the Frisbee, pouncing on it as it lands with a rustle amongst the long grasses. “Damn it,” I say out loud to the clouds passing overhead. I imagine a herd of ticks stampeding up the thick white blades, leaping from their broken tips to cling to Murdoch’s fur as he charges by.
Murdoch scoops up the Frisbee in his mouth and pounds back to where I stand near the road. He
hands it to me then backs up, tense and ready as I step in closer to scrutinize his fur, see if I can spot any ticks crawling on him. I can’t.

So we play Frisbee, this new game he just learned even though he is five years old, and he runs and runs, snatching it out of the air, chasing it across the ground, leaping through the long grasses again and again until he sprawls at my feet in the green meadow to catch his breath. And his tongue is a million miles long.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A note from the cats

Why is this blog always about dogs? We live here too and we do a lot more than sit around in boxes and take naps.

Sometimes we sit in bags,

 or baskets,

or sprawl out on the stairs to see who we might trip.

We chase moths that sneak in to the house when the dog goes out and flies that zoom from room to room and bounce off windows. We’ll even take a swipe at a toy if it happens to roll by within reach.

We plan escapes,

and stalk birds and deer and rabbits from the safety of the house.

We keep constant tabs on water and food dishes, what the dog is doing and the levels of sunshine available throughout the house.

Clearly this blog should be called Two Amazingly Ingenious Cats Live Here, The Chronicles of Chestnut and Cleo (This is not about dogs).

And until something changes, we are going to do nothing but just sit here in this box.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Rainy day dog

We make it to the end of the road before lightning flashes in a sheet, quick and blinding over the dull day. Thunder rumbles long and loud rolling over the mountains and across the sky as though it is a physical thing and I can almost see it tumbling above the trees at the trailhead in a great arc across the horizon to finally trail away into the distance.

“Okay Murds,” I call as the rain starts again, but he has already disappeared. Run off with Jack into the woods just past the creek, which has become a great surging river after a day of relentless heavy rain.

So I call again, scan the trees, turn my ear towards the woods, listening for the telltale rustle and crack of underbrush as Murdoch and Jack gallivant off on some adventure. There is nothing but the sound of water dripping from trees, running in streams over the ground, falling from the sky. The rain comes down harder, clatters on the hood of my raincoat and I call for Murdoch again.

There is another flash and more thunder, closer this time and I think the woods are not a great place to be. I wander back to the road and wait in the rain. Watch it bounce off the creek that is now a river that had become a beaver pond last fall, pointed stumps of trees emerge from deep puddles along the edge of the trail.

I am about to call again when two small shapes bound from among the trees some distance up the trail. I wave my arms over my head and call. Murdoch pounds towards me, Jack lolloping along behind, not ready to commit in case something more interesting presents itself.

I clip Murdoch’s leash to his collar, wet and cold, and try to explain about lightning. He walks home slightly behind me, subdued, soaked through. It is the shortest walk in the history of walks and he hangs his head as though he is being punished.

The rain continues. For days it falls from a solid grey sky, sometimes pounding so heavily on the roof it drowns out all other sounds and turns the forest outside our windows into a dark green blur glimpsed through a grey curtain. It falls in gentle showers and blows along the road in sheets and hangs in the air like a mist, until everything is saturated and tree branches droop, laden down with globules of glass.

Murdoch and I slosh through the woods, our well-trodden trails running like tiny rivers, bubbling over rocks and roots. We return to the meadow at the end of our road, just before the trail begins, and play frisbee over the sodden ground as the rain pours down. Murdoch splashes through the field, kicking up water, then swims in an icy puddle that has formed in the ditch and spread out in to the field.

The days are dark and dreary, and yet because of the rain they are full of energy and promise that when it eventually stops, and the sun comes out again, there will be flowers.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Without Bear

The sun still rises each day from behind the mountain beyond the trees outside our bedroom window and sets each evening behind the mountain beyond the trees outside our other bedroom window.

There is still oatmeal bubbling on the stove every morning and tea poured, steaming, into mugs.

There is still peanut butter on toast and a Kong spit out at my feet and cats stomping around, indignant and demanding food.

There is still drool on the floor in great hazardous puddles and dripped quietly onto socked feet.

There are the sounds of thick claws clipping across wooden floors and heavy footfalls thumping up and down the stairs.

Big brown eyes still bore into the back of my head, imploring me to go outside, hot breath wafts in my direction off the end of a long pink tongue.

There are still walks in the woods and games of stick and sunlight slanting through trees just so.

There are still ravens, black as night, following our progress on the trail, wheeling overhead and calling to each other in their deep varying voices.

The wind still cuts a path through the trees like a current moving swiftly through the ocean.

Leaves still crinkle underfoot.

Snow still melts quietly in the shadows.

There are still blue skies and scudding clouds and mountains outlined behind skeletal trees that are starting to bud and will soon become a canopy of green.

There are warm breezes to send grasses rustling and kick up swirls of leaves from last season.

There are still icy cold puddles in the woods and chewed up sticks scattered amongst the trees.

There is still a comforting warmth from the sun on the deck in the afternoon and golden light on shiny black fur.

The woods are still alive with raucous birds and chittering squirrels and tiptoeing deer and rabbits changing from white to brown.

There are still noses pressed up against windows and loud barking alarms to be sounded and howling laments to be sung.

There are parades at breakfast and suppertime, stampedes for bowls of food.

There are rafts of fur collecting in corners and floating on currents of air across floors.

In the evening there are long sighs and meaningful glances alluding to the great adventures that are still to be had.

There are ears to be flapped and cheeks to be pinched and foreheads to kiss.

There are still all of these things.

But everything is different.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Because it is spring

I am not going to write about snow again. I am not going to write about how it is May and the snow is still piled in the woods in the deep shadows where the spring sun doesn’t reach. I am not going to write about how the temperature dropped again last week after days of drying sunshine and how it froze the melting snow so it was in turns crunchy underfoot and then slick and slippery with a new coating of white on top, deceptive in its fluffiness.

I am not going to write about how the calamitous underbrush emerged on the forest floor, a puzzle of downed trees, entwining limbs, “oh yeah, this is what it looks like”, only to be quickly covered up again by a thin layer of white.

I am not going to write about how the snow sifted down through the trees just days ago as though it were a dark fall day in November when it should be exciting, magical even, to see the flakes again after months of green.

I am not going to write about the deer flashing past in the woods, the same colour as the bare trees, noticeable only because of the fresh white background, making hardly a sound just the faint crack of a twig. I am not going to write about the well defined hoofprints I followed a short way through the snow, wondering at all the spaces through which the deer could have darted and yet it chose the well-trodden path where my foot prints and Murdoch’s paw prints mingled with the cloven shapes, like a highway through the forest.

I am not going to write about those things because it is spring and today the snow is melting.

Now the woods have become a circuit of tiny rivers all babbling amongst the trees. The sounds of rushing water where the melt water converges in the deep ditches and flows beneath the road to the creek that rages this time of year through our neighbour’s forest fills the quiet.

Murdoch and I splash our way in to the woods, slop through swathes of snow that still sprawl across the forest floor, turning to shelves of ice before melting into streams.

We follow our old paths once carved in snow, completely gone now, completely altered from the smooth white landscape to raucous piles of wet wood, downed trees in various states of decomposition. We have to scramble over obstacles that we haven’t seen since the fall and we emerge on a wide trail of old bleached grasses between two stands of forest that is navigable only certain times of the year, at winter’s beginning and end, and sometimes in the thick of the coldest months when a trail has been maintained by foot or cut by snow mobile.

The wide path leads to a dry south-facing hillside, brown, brittle scrub grass crackles underfoot as we zigzag down the slope to a cool pocket of snow amidst a stand of trees. Beyond we emerge on to an endless meadow, bright yellow beneath the brilliant sun. Bleached grasses flattened and pointing all towards the east as though a great river rushed through here not long ago at the base of the mountain. We cannot see the earth beneath the grasses they are so thick, layers upon layers covering the ground so that each rustling step is soft and spongy, water lying somewhere deep below filters up in our footprints. Small pools dot the meadow.

Murdoch sees something I do not and dashes off at top speed, water flying from his heels. He smells something else and changes direction. He runs in ever-widening circles so he becomes a tiny black figure in this open space. We head towards the mountain, separately. I am not worried about him here, there is absolutely no one else around, so I can wander, get lost in thought, come back and scan the distance to find him also lost in thought, or smell.

We loop around another small stand of trees in the far corner of the meadow where more snow, loose and crystalline, still hangs on beneath the glare of the sun and the warm, sighing breezes. And then we head back across the bright expanse of flattened, springy grass and up the slope seared by the sun, to the wide path and finally the shade of the forest, damp and cool and refreshing.

It smells like snow on the breeze that winds through the trees. There are patches of ice, smooth and slick with rounded edges molded around rocks and moss and fallen trees and in spots, wet granular snow that is still up past my ankles, but I am not going to write about those things, because it is spring.