Thursday, August 29, 2013
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.