Monday, April 20, 2015

Rude awakening

For a moment, I think, I could be anywhere. I am in total darkness, hauled backwards out of a dream, violently removed and spit out into a black hole. But there are blankets, and warmth, and a green glow from the numbers on the clock giving shape to the room. And there are the dogs.

Murdoch’s voice, agitated, throaty, slices through the house as though he is standing beside me. And there’s Molly, her steady, deep bark filling in the gaps around Murdoch’s piercing alarm.

I glance at the clock, 1:30, and stare into the darkness, wait and see if the blare from downstairs will stop as abruptly as it started. I could just grab on to the last tendrils of sleep, ride them back to wherever I was before all this started. But Murdoch becomes more insistent; so I throw back the covers, stumble from bed, wonder what’s out there.

The tiny sliver of a moon is long gone from the sky, casting the woods, the house, into a heavy darkness. I feel my way down the stairs from the bedroom, step carefully into the living room, strain through the barking to listen for cats under foot. I don’t turn on any lights. If there is something outside I want to see what it is even though it is too dark to see anything.

I stop beside the windows on the stairs down to the kitchen, look up at the sky. The stars are brilliant. Bold, silver orbs scattered across the blackness, their cold points of light giving some definition to the sky against the black shapes of trees. It is so still and dark the barking becomes more jarring, completely out of place.

I would normally have said something by now. Called out to the dogs to tell them it’s fine, but tonight I move quietly down the stairs a part of me believing if I don’t engage with this moment beyond observing, it will be like I was never there, as though I didn’t get out of bed or wake up even. If I stay quiet, I can slip back to bed and into sleep as though I never left.

But my mind is already turning over, though I try to ignore it, that tiny flame of panic in response to the insistent, alarmed, barking. What is out there?

In the entryway the dogs are loud black shapes against other black shapes. I move slowly towards the window, bumping first into Molly and then Murdoch, their furry bodies warm and solid and moving around my legs like hungry cats. I almost fall over one of them in the dark and have to feel my way around them with my hands. I see Murdoch’s curled tail against the slightly lighter shade of black at the window as he moves in the direction of the door, still barking.

It is too dark to see anything outside. I turn my face away from the window try to see movement with my peripheral vision. But there is nothing. Finally I have to shush the dogs.

“Okay,” I say, adding my voice to the moment and becoming present. “Enough. You’re fine. It’s fine. There’s nothing there. And nobody is going outside.” In the ringing silence that follows, I hear the staccato beat of a dog barking in the distance, and then Murdoch starts again with fervour.

“Are you kidding me?” I say, rolling my eyes to the dark ceiling, this is why I was so rudely awaken? “Murd. Enough. Stop.” It is quiet just long enough for me to get back upstairs and in to bed with the light on so I can read because now I am well and truly awake.

For the next hour I can hear the dog in the distance. Now that I’ve heard it, I can’t un-hear it. Murdoch and Molly join in every few minutes and I yell “okay” and “enough”. I read and watch the clock and finally I turn off the light, grateful for the total darkness of the moonless night, and the silence.

I close my eyes and wait, surprisingly relaxed, I think, surprisingly unconcerned about the early hour as though I might just slip back in to the moment when I was ripped from sleep. I feel like I am on the cusp of it when Murdoch’s piercing voice slices through the silence, ricocheting from his mouth in layers the way it does. I push myself up on my elbow and scream into the room until my throat hurts, “MURDOCH!! STOP!” Which he does, abruptly, and I throw myself back down on the pillow, resigned to a night of lying awake, waiting for the next outburst. But nobody says a word.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Unexpected adventure

I picture the scene from a distance. Imagine what it would look like to someone happening upon this spectacle in the middle of nowhere. A flat grey day, a white open field, the three of us running full out, two black dogs and a human in a bright red jacket, arms flailing, voice yelling incoherently.

It is a big space. The mountain with its rows of different tree species, ribbons woven across its face, stands like a protective wall on one side of the field of marsh grasses emerging from the snow as winter wanes, a field we discovered this year is actually made up of numerous beaver ponds. Mounded dens of pointed, weathered sticks dot the landscape. We have walked here most of the season, striking out across the frozen field that is puddled and marshy the rest of the year, full of waist high grasses and little islands of clumped together trees.

On the coldest days we followed the meandering channel cut through the snow-covered grasses, a frozen river connecting one beaver pond to another. We climbed the snowy banks to get around dams of haphazard sticks with whittled ends jammed together expertly, and left criss-crossing footprints on the untouched white expanses of wind-blown snow on the ponds as though we were the only living things for miles.

But I wondered about those beavers. Tried to imagine them in their cozy lodges, hidden away from the harsh winds beneath layers of sticks and mud and insulating snow. I wondered if they knew we were there, especially when Murdoch ventured close and occasionally stood atop the hilled dens like some conquering army of one.

A lot of the snow has melted from the field on this grey day, the grasses that were crushed beneath the weight of it lie flat in large sweeping swirls as if a torrent of water has rushed through. It is spongy under foot and so we walk on one of the still-frozen ponds. Along the edge a muddy dam emerges and in spots the snow has melted and the ice has begun to thin and re-freeze. Beneath the clouded sky the frozen pond is an expanse of various shades of grey.

I am not watching the dogs when Murdoch bolts. I see the snappy movement from the corner of my eye and I turn as my stomach drops, his name forming on my lips. He is already in full flight and ahead of him a brown shape lumbers awkwardly across the ice. I am running before I can even think, shouting his name, uselessly yelling “no!” and “come!” and Molly, who has started to skip along nearby because I am running, suddenly sees the beaver, shifts gears and is gone, looping around to the animal’s right as Murdoch loops around to the left. They are gaining on it as I fall further behind.

I have visions of a bloody massacre, unsure of who might emerge the victor. Beavers have very sharp teeth and can be vicious when threatened. But I think Murdoch can be too. I continue to run as the space between Murdoch and the beaver closes. The air is consumed by a thick smell of urine. I will the beaver to escape.

It is in this moment I picture the scene, the ridiculousness of it; the panicking beaver, humping as fast as he can across the ice, the two dogs in serious pursuit, and the human, completely ignored running behind, uselessly yelling.

The beaver makes it to a clump of scrub trees growing out of the ice and dives into a hole, a dark space made of sticks and mud. Murdoch is right on its tail and is just about down the hole behind it. He is frantically digging at the ice when I catch up. Molly is running in agitated circles.

“Leave it!” I snarl at them, grabbing Murdoch’s collar and hauling him away. “Idiots!” I say. “That beaver could have ripped you both to shreds.”

But they are giddy and distracted, their brains still in the chase and I have to circle around them, herd them towards the tree line at the base of the mountain, away from the beaver dens and the pungent smell hanging heavily over everything and the drama.

Slowly, grudgingly, they come back to the moment. Murdoch picks up another scent and follows it into the woods, Molly canters in circles looking for a stick for me to throw, and we continue our walk as I replay the chase in my mind. Later, I think if the dogs had organized themselves, gone in with a plan, not been taken by surprise, they probably could have caught that beaver.

And then what?