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.