Monday, September 16, 2013
“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.
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.”