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.