Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Valentine’s Day caper

On Valentine’s Day we think, wouldn’t it be nice to go out for dinner? Just the two of us, like on a date, because we don’t do that very often. So we plan: home, wood on the fire, dogs out for a short excursion, then back into town for an early dinner, then home in time for Bear’s next round of pills.

We have a tiny window of opportunity between pill times, so, on Valentine’s Day, we think maybe we could just squeak through. We can do it if we leave the house precisely at 3:30.

Outside I throw sticks for the dogs. I fill our wood sled with firewood and haul it to the house. Murdoch gets bored and dashes off across the road to see Jack. I watch his tail stream like a flag as he runs away and ignores me calling after him.

A few minutes later I am at Jack’s house waiting for Murdoch to come flying around the corner, making the deep snow spray like the ocean, but when I yell his name, there is silence. No Murdoch. No Jack. It is 3:25.

“Damn it,” I say and study the snow on the driveway for prints. Which way did they go? All I have to do is follow the trail so far and I will find them sniffing about in the woods.

But today I can’t read the tracks. I am not a tracker on a good day, but usually I can tell what is fresh and what has melted in the last couple of days, or blown in with snow. I can tell who left what prints. I know Murdoch’s galloping stride, and there’s Bear’s with the little drag marks behind from the toenails of her back feet, and Jack’s happy, tiptoey, jaunt.

I stand on the cusp of the woods and call and call. I walk a ways in. Are these tracks fresh or are they from before? I feel like my eyes have gone blurry. I stop and turn around sure that the trail is an old one. It is 3:50.

I’m almost certain the dogs have not headed in the opposite direction towards the trail at the end of our road. I don’t see any tracks, but they could have made their way through the thick of the woods, emerging at the trail and that spot where something died in the Fall to which they have repeatedly returned.

I tromp down to the end of the road, squint into the setting sun, the cold air bites the tip of my nose. There are faint tracks here and there, but I can’t tell if they belong to Murdoch. I think they are from earlier in the day, probably Jack, but I keep going, just in case. The walk seems longer without the dogs. The trail is completely blown in with one line of big splotches in the snow from a passing rabbit. No dogs. So much for dinner, I think, and then I tromp home again. It is 4:30.

Morgan takes the car and drives up and down the “main” road that our dead-end road T-intersections with. He doesn’t see any signs of either dog, which is both good and bad.

I loop through the woods at our house and then back across to Jack’s, still bewildered by the tracks in the snow. I shoulder past snow-laden trees, sending white showers to the ground. I am tired of yelling. It is a long time since Murdoch disappeared so completely I think and I start to worry. It is 5:00.

A little while later I bring Bear out again to help me look. She skips happily into the woods, without a care, wants to play instead of look for Murdoch. We do a short loop, just Bear and I and then meet Morgan in the driveway as he heads out again for another scout. Bear’s face lights up at the sight of the car so I help her in to the passenger seat and I think maybe this is how Valentine’s Day was supposed to go.

Because isn’t that the point, to spend every beautiful sunny day with Bear skipping through the woods? So I stand and wave as Morgan pulls away in the car with Bear looking at me out the window. And I watch them drive away, Bear’s head becoming a tiny black bump on the side of the car as they make for the end of the road where the trail starts. Sunshine paints the car gold and then it is striped blue from the shadows of trees stretching across the white road.

They do a slow circle through the rounded dead-end and return along the road and I wave again as they pull up at the end of our driveway. “Could you roll the window down a bit more for Bear?” asks Morgan. I do and I ask for a kiss from Bear, a tiny cursory flick of the tongue against my cheek and they are pulling away again, in the opposite direction now, towards the “main” road, to look for Murds. And I smile at Bear’s sleepy face as they drive away. The perfect Valentine.

It is about 6:15 when I find Murdoch along the first set of tracks I followed from Jack’s house that I was sure was an old trail. In the woods the trail crosses low land that in the spring is a rushing river and then traverses up the side of a steep slope. I follow it up to where the trees grow in thick enough I would have to crawl under to continue on his trail. I stop and call again and then I hear him breathing hard and spraying snow and he bursts out from the wall of trees. I am relieved and mad and scold and laugh all at once as we clamber and slide back down the steep incline to the snow-hidden riverbed below. And for a moment I am sure he has been there the whole time, in the midst of that thick stand of trees, listening to me call for him in the distance.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Snowful days

The forest glows with its own light and becomes a secret world tucked away beneath a thick blanket of white. The dogs pace anxiously to go outside.

We make a new path through the deep snow, Murdoch leaping ahead like a fish in water. It is up to Bear’s belly in spots, but she pushes through, occasionally burying her head up to her ears after some interesting scent.

It is silent except for the shrill laughing cry of a yellow-shafted flicker passing by overhead. We look up to find it above the trees that are outlined in white against a blue sky.

We walk far in the white world, our path smoothed by the snow, filling in gaps between fallen trees and tangled branches. The dogs disappear behind screens of white where the thick snow sticks to trees and weighs down green boughs of balsam and pine.

The sun is golden, riding low in the sky, casting shadows of soft pink and cool blue. We feel the warmth of its rays reaching through gaps in the trees, long shafts of light finding their way past bare trunks of trees painted white.

The air is cool and fresh. The dogs get lost in their own worlds of smells and tracks that I can’t see. They explore this new landscape, disappear in the muffled silence and reappear somewhere else, their black shapes stark against so much white. They march away with such purpose I wonder if they will return, but then they come back, happy and panting and smelling like snow.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The terrible, awful night

I follow Bear as closely as I can down the path from our door to the driveway. The snow squeaks under foot like a sheet of Styrofoam. It is another bright moonlit night in the woods, the giant cold white disc casting silvery shadows through the trees.

I watch Bear’s feet for steadiness, her legs for strength. She has had another major, thrashing seizure, her sixth in the span of 26 hours. It has been a bad day and an even worse night.

The last three seizures came in precisely three-hour intervals, and by the end of it, she could barely stand. She whined in long wavering, whistles. She wanted to go outside to pee but couldn’t get up from her bed. We stood on either side of her and grabbed the four corners of the top blanket, one in each hand, and we walked hunched over towards the stairs to the entryway, dragging Bear across the floor. At the stairs we adjusted our grips on the blanket and lifted her down the six steps, carefully, taking our time and hurrying all at once beneath her weight. At the door, we helped her to her feet.

Outside, once she gets going, she is fairly stable and I wander around in circles behind her over the silvery blue snow and the slightly darker blue of the long shadows cast by trees and scrub. I wonder if the strange intersecting shadows and the otherworldly light throw her off, because she doesn’t seem to know where she is going, just walking in widening circles away from the house.

It is too cold for this. I worry about Bear’s feet freezing as she plunges into deeper snow and I try to steer her back towards the house and the yellow light pooling on the deck. I move in front of her and push on her shoulder, but she is surprisingly strong and determined and pushes past me as though I am only a gentle breeze. She heads towards the thick brush growing between the trees along the front edge of our property. On the other side is a deep, deep ditch, and then the road.

I hear the creak of the screen door opening and look to see Morgan poke his head around the wooden frame. “It’s too cold,” he calls to me, anxiety edging his voice. “She can’t stay out.”

“I know,” I say, exasperated. “I can’t get her to turn around.”

The door squeaks and bangs shut and then creaks open again and Morgan clomps out onto the deck, the long laces of his boots trailing behind him. He steps off the deck into the soft, deep snow and walks with purpose towards us as I step quickly in front of Bear again before she can plunge headlong into the scrub. Morgan carries a collar and a length of rope.

“I couldn’t find a leash,” he says as he clips the collar around Bear’s neck and slips the rope through the collar.

“Come on Bear,” he says and gives the rope a tug. She plants her feet and refuses to move. Morgan pulls harder and the collar slides up her neck, bunching the fur and skin around the base of her skull as she lowers her head and pulls back.

For some reason it makes me think of the time, years ago now, when we camped on McRae Lake near Georgian Bay, but it is nothing like that except it is dark and it is in the woods and we are worried about Bear.

Warm water lapped at our feet that night as Morgan and I sat at the edge of our campsite and watched a fireworks display across the lake, set off by another group of campers. We left Bear in the tent a few feet up a small path behind us, away from the water. We left her there because she was exhausted after a day of swimming and canoeing and playing and after dinner she’d asked to go to bed, lying in front of the tent door, looking longingly through the screen at her ruffled blankets. We never even thought about how scared she might be alone in the dark, awakened suddenly to the cracking and booming of some unidentified, world-ending catastrophe.

Of course it didn’t help that we accidentally set off a bear banger that night, mistaking it for a flare, to say thanks for the show.

Bear was gone when we got back to the tent. I crawled about in the dark, disbelievingly patting down every inch of the tent floor, trying to understand how it could possibly be empty, and then I noticed the hole in the screen.

Perhaps it was the rising panic of that night that is so familiar, and the uncertainty, the not knowing. Except that night on tiny McRae Lake, she came back at the sound of her jingling collar as I stood shaking it into the pitch black woods and shining a flashlight frantically in every direction, until I caught the flash of her eyes shining back as she trotted towards me.

I don’t know what we are going to do this night as I watch Bear stiffen and pull back, her feet disappearing into the snow. Then Morgan lunges forward and awkwardly picks her up as she tries to back away. He takes a number of struggling steps around some saplings, makes it just past our firepit, before he has to set her down but now we are within the far reaches of the porch light and there is some forward momentum, so Bear relents and follows me back to the house.

Inside, she stumbles up the stairs with one of us behind ready to catch her if she falls. We worry about her eyesight, which seems suddenly diminished, so we place a lamp by the stairs for more light and less shadow. She lies on her bed where she stares into the distance and her muscles twitch and she is there and then not. Tremors run through her body occasionally like the aftershocks of an earthquake.

We set up camp in the kitchen, cushions and blankets and sleeping bags and we bunk in beside Bear and wait for the next seizure, expecting it in the following three hours, but it doesn’t come.

Nobody sleeps that night. We lie in the dark and wonder what will happen tomorrow. We wonder if this is it, if tomorrow we will have to make that terrible decision. Every few hours we are up with her, our bodies aching and our heads full of cotton, and we strain to find any signs of improvement as we help her down the stairs and walk her outside.

“I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck,” I mumble to Morgan in the dark as I roll out from inside my sleeping bag and stumble to the light switch.

The days have passed quickly since then. It has almost been two weeks since that awful night and every day Bear has become steadier on her feet, less twitchy, her eyesight seems restored. You wouldn’t know now, looking at her, that we thought she might not make it through that night. She’s back to playing in the woods and skipping through the snow and taking the stairs with confidence. We are amazed and grateful, but we are still sleeping in the kitchen, the table pushed aside and our beds lined up on the floor beside Bear, and our conversations tend to be a little more serious these days, because we just don’t know what the next moment will bring.