Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Spring scavenge


I yell Murdoch’s name until my throat hurts and then I look about me and wish the snow was gone so I could dig out a rock from the dirt trail and throw it at him. Not to hit him of course, I don’t even think I could throw a rock that far, but just so it lands in the water with a splash or on the piece of land where he’s standing, with a thunk, just to break his concentration, get his attention.

Instead I scoop up a handful of slushy, half-melted, snow and haphazardly fashion it into a ball of sorts and fling it in his direction. It hits a tree and disintegrates and I angrily yell his name again, trying to be heard over the rushing water. He completely ignores me, working busily at eating the dead thing he found on this little island in the growing pond at the end of our road.

This is our second walk of the day. That morning Murdoch, Molly and I walked the familiar trail through our woods, investigating the newly fallen trees, snapped off under the weight of the heavy wet snow that piled and piled onto branches a few days before. We wound our way along the usual path, trying to stay on the packed snow we have worked on all winter, still somewhat stable in the warmer temperatures while the untouched snow just off the trail threatened to swallow us up.

Later, when the sun came out, we went for another walk down the road, clear of snow and dry for once. The wind blew in our faces carrying the bite of lingering winter even as the sun warmed everything.

When we reached the trail, blinding white with snow, I decided we would just walk up to the first set of downed trees, which I could see from the trailhead as a dark mass not too far along the path. The dogs bounded ahead and Murdoch, as I had expected, veered off the trail into the woods towards the beaver dam. But the water was flowing and the solid trail he had followed in the winter to dig holes around where I imagined the den was and where he smelled interesting things, had melted away, so I thought he would have to content himself with scouring the ground amidst the trees on shore.

Molly and I continued on without him. I called to him periodically, thinking he would get bored and join us, but as we approached the downed trees the trail behind us remained empty and I had a thought about Murdoch plunging into the icy cold water and running into a beaver. Molly and I turned back and headed to the spot where we had last seen him.

I am annoyed when I find him way out on this tiny piece of land in the middle of the pond, and I scan the surrounding area to see what path he took. He is dry, so he didn’t swim there. It is obvious he is eating something the way his body moves with a tense frenzy. I call to him, but he ignores me.

I clamber off the trail in through the broken trees, snapping dried branches in my hands as I slip between spindly trunks and brittle brush, blinking madly, trying to not get poked in the eye. To my right is the stand of towering dead pine trees, all brown and sad looking, drowned by the rising waters that used to run in an orderly trickle through this area, winding around great marshy stretches of swaying grasses way down below the line of the forest. But everything is drowned here now that the beavers have moved in.

The trunks of the dead pine trees disappear into rushing water, navigating its way from melting banks of snow into puddles and along the trail, down a small grade in the land to where it brims over the edge of the beaver dam and swirls around the mound of sticks that is their den.

Molly follows every move I make, stepping on my heels as she sometimes does. We maneuver our way through areas of knee-deep snow to the cleared ground around the bases of trees. There is a part of me determined to pick a path out over the dam to where Murdoch stands. He managed it, I think, maybe I can too. But I know this is ludicrous and unsafe and I have to think of Molly, because she would follow me and I’m not sure how nimble footed she is around water. The snow keeps giving way beneath my feet to unknown ground beneath and I decide I can’t go any further.

I stand in frustration and watch Murdoch and yell at him as he pulls and rips at the hide of some creature. I think it might have been a rabbit, but then it catches the light a different way and I wonder if perhaps it was a fox. And I wonder how its body ended up on that tiny spit of land surrounded by moving water. It must have been there all winter, ending up there when the world was frozen beneath several feet of snow.

I can’t physically drag Murdoch away from this place, and he definitely isn’t going to leave voluntarily, but I refuse to stand here and watch him gorge on some dead thing so I turn angrily and I scramble back to the trail with Molly and storm off towards home. I walk quickly and determinedly back up the road as Molly bounces along beside me with a stick in her mouth trying to entice me to play with her, which I do

At home Molly and I play and chop firewood and clean up the yard as things lost mid-winter begin to emerge from the receding snow. There is no sign of Murdoch. It is not until another half hour has passed and I am on the phone, standing beside one of the tall, narrow windows that line our stairs to the second floor, that I see him sauntering casually along the road towards home.

I dash down to the front door and call him and he gallops up the driveway, panting with a self-satisfied grin on his face. I leave him in the entryway while I finish my phone conversation, so it isn’t until a while later that I realize he stinks. It is that lovely mix of rotting flesh and wet earth and over-ripeness. I think he must have rolled in what he ate, but I don’t see any evidence of that. He has eaten dead things before and never smelled like this. It is as though the stench is just coming right through his skin.

I grab a basin of hot water and the face cloth I reserve for the dogs and sloosh water all over his face and down his neck. I squeeze a tiny drop of herbal shampoo onto my finger, lather it up a little and then rub it into Murdoch’s cheeks and under his chin and along his mouth and down his neck. He sits with his mouth clamped shut, enduring it. He tries to get up and leave a few times but I make him come back and sit, which he does reluctantly.

The smell does not seem to improve, so I go through the whole process again and then I towel him off. It is only mildly better and Murdoch is exiled to the entryway for the rest of the night but I am sure I can smell it on myself. I get whiffs every now and then and I wash my hands and then I wash them again, and then I change my clothes and Morgan looks at me like I am going crazy, which, because Murdoch’s involved, I think I probably am. Mostly I am just mad that my dog smells so bad I don't even want to touch him.

Murdoch sulks in his kennel because he is not allowed to leave the entryway and there is food being prepared in the kitchen. I so wish he was able to put two and two together and understand why he's in trouble. But I know in his mind he had the greatest day ever and, given the chance, he would do it all over again tomorrow which, I realize with a sinking heart, is truly a possibility.