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.