Wednesday, October 19, 2016
Tuesday, June 14, 2016
Cleo appeared on the trail in our woods as if she had always been there, as if this trail was well known to her and in fact belonged to her and she was just letting us use it out of the kindness of her tiny feline heart.
She looked like she belonged there too, after I got over the initial urge to scoop her up and run her back to the house. We heard her meow before we saw her, the dogs and I. We meandered our way between the trees leaving our house behind in search of adventure on our daily walk. It was a gray day and the light fell heavy and flat to the forest floor and the harsh, ringing meow coming from the underbrush seemed to cast the flatness of the light in to sharp relief.
It was slightly jarring to hear Cleo’s crisp voice breaking the serenity of the woods and when she appeared she seemed bigger than I would have imagined her to be amongst the trees, but she also seemed to be well camouflaged in her mottled coat of leafy beige and gray the colour of storm clouds.
“Reowr,” she said again as she set her green eyes on the three of us and marched down the trail to meet us, white legs flashing.
“Hello Cleo,” I said, bending down to pet her head as she leapt up to meet my hand with a trill and a couple of short meows. “What are you doing way up here?”
And she looked at me with a look that was both knowing and filled with secrets.
“You should go back to the house,” I said, always thinking about what might be lurking behind trees that would find a house cat just the perfect thing to abate pangs of hunger. But she trotted happily beside us for a few moments, any thought of returning home or leaving the woods clearly not even a glimmer in her mind.
When we reached the fork in the trail, the dogs and I turned left on a path that would follow the edge of out square of woods where it butts up to the clamour of white poplar saplings that jostle for space in the new growth forest and eventually turns towards the mountain.
Cleo loitered at the fork, contemplating her options. I glanced back over my shoulder, curious if she would follow. But instead she trotted off in to the woods where there was no clear trail, moving with the relaxed purpose of someone with a plan pretending not to have a plan, just like a cat who thinks she owns the forest.
Tuesday, June 7, 2016
“Now, where did I leave that thing?” says Molly in her head as she doubles back on the trail, nose to the ground. “I know it’s around here somewhere.”
“Molly!” comes the voice through the trees.
Molly rolls her eyes, “Her again.” And continues walking away. “Why is she always yelling? ‘Molly leave it, Molly come here, Molly don’t eat that.’ I can’t do anything,” she thinks as she accidentally inhales a couple of raindrops from a wide green leaf, shakes her head with a sneeze.
Molly strides over the well-worn trail, stopping suddenly here and there to sniff a patch of ground that smells familiar, that may hold some clues.
“Was it under here?” she wonders, jamming her long nose beneath a tree trunk where it fell across the trail so long ago she doesn’t remember a time when she didn’t have to jump over it on a walk. “Nope. I was sure I didn’t drop it before this point.” But she jumps over the tree trunk, following the winding path further amongst the underbrush.
“Come on Molly!” comes the voice again. “I can see you.”
“Curse these giant ears,” Molly says to herself. “I always forget how much height they add.” And she tries to hunker down closer to the ground so the greenery obscures her position and she moves faster, time not on her side.
“Where is it!” she thinks, shifting a pile of leaves with her paw, sniffing the ground beneath, moving aside green leafy plants with her nose, darting to the other side of the trail to do it again. “I can’t leave without it.”
“Molly! Let’s go!” says the voice, with an edge this time.
“I’ll just pretend I don’t hear her,” thinks Molly as she skips almost frantically from one side of the path to the other. “She won’t know. I’ll give her my blank stare when I see her, as though I have no idea what she’s talking about.”
Molly loops back, retracing her retraced steps, air whooshing in and out of her nose as she catches a whiff here, a whiff there. “I’m closing in,” she thinks.
“Aha! There you are!” She leaps forward, scoops up the stick in her mouth, dropping it once in her excitement and then clamping it firmly between her teeth.
Ears tall, chest out, striding with military precision, Molly triumphantly returns down the trail, carefully rearranging her face to an expression of innocent blankness when she sees the woman standing ahead with that other dog, the one she stole the stick from. “Oh, were you waiting for me?” says Molly.
“Are you happy now?” asks the woman, somewhat flatly as though she doesn’t really mean it.
“Relatively,” thinks Molly as she skips ahead.
Tuesday, May 31, 2016
There is an angry growl from Cleo, a hiss and a swat and both cats adjust their postures, move a few more inches apart, glance threateningly at each other, and then resume their hunched positions around the tiny space made where the bottom step of our stairway from the living room reaches into the kitchen.
They have been huddled around this space off and on all day. If there is a mouse hiding in there I am not sure why it didn’t make a run for it when the cats were napping on a pile of clothes in the bedroom. But there must be something under there because each time the cats appear they move cautiously around this spot, not making a sound, they are fluid and slow, except when Cleo is telling Chestnut to back off.
A few nights earlier the cats had staked out the top step of the stairway, the first step down from the living room. It is a spot they have sat often, staring at the wall. We know the mice are there, we can hear them sometimes scratching and rustling about amongst the insulation and the plastic vapour barrier and the wood.
We live in the forest. A riot of underbrush surrounds our home. Mice like it here. We have pulled down sections of our wooden walls in the past to reveal tunnels carved through the insulation, tiny highways of mouse trails. Once we pulled down a panel of wooden detailing near the ceiling of our living room, to reveal a lifetime supply of sunflower seeds, the plastic barrier stuffed to bursting. When we poked at it the black seeds rained down, clattering off the metal ladder we had used to reach the ceiling and pattering across the floor.
We have reclaimed our walls from the mice over the years and last summer when the cats ventured outside for the first time in nine years they caught multiple mice a day, reappearing by the front door a few times each hour yeowling in victory. They knocked back the population tremendously. But this one spot at the top of the stairs where the wall of the stairway and the ceiling of the entryway below create interesting nooks and crannies, difficult for us to reach, has continued to be some sort of fortress for the mice.
On cold winter nights we would hear them busily burrowing into the insulation and we would stand and stare at the ceiling of the entryway wondering how best to clear them out. Meanwhile the cats would lie at the top of the stairs to the living room and stare at the wall, probably wondering the same thing.
When Chestnut one evening somehow managed to stick his paw in a miniscule space created where the wall and riser meet and pulled out a mouse, Morgan decided to cut out a small section of that wall. The square space stayed open for a long time, with the wood cutout sitting off to the side and when not much had happened and it was clear we would need to demolish a lot more of the wall to get at anything living there, I set the wooden square back in place over the hole.
And then the other night, as the cats sat once again staring at that spot, I watched Cleo jam her paw in behind the wooden square, ram her nose in beside it, whiskers flat against her face, eyes closed in concentration, stretching and reaching with great determination until she too pulled out a mouse.
I am always torn about the mice. I do not want them living in my walls and I appreciate the ability of our cats to catch them, but I do not like how cruel they are. If they just killed the mice mercifully with one swat, I think I would be able to let it go, but they taunt the mice, play with them, injure them, draw out their deaths. So as I watched Cleo skip off with her prize, I sighed, gave it a second’s thought and then ran down the stairs after them.
The cats were looming over the little grey mouse where Cleo had dropped it, in a pile of papers that had fallen off a chair in the corner. It was still alive and clearly frightened, so I scooped up a cat in each arm as they both took desperate swats at the mouse, and shut them in the bathroom. I found a box and managed to relocate the mouse outside, which I realize completely defeats the purpose since it will probably find its way back in again.
And perhaps it did and perhaps that is the very mouse the cats have now cleverly cornered beneath the bottom step of our stairway.
They pace and they sit, they hunch and they stare. They move silently around the step, from one side to the other, looking into the space, listening, sometimes reaching in gingerly. They fight each other off and they wait patiently.
Tuesday, May 24, 2016
Cool air pushes in at the window, swirls across the floor almost visible in its sudden surge, riding currents created by a spring rain shower. The sky is heavy and dark through tangles of tree branches in the process of leafing out, the lively green hue of new leaves creates a filter for the light thudding down from the sky, lightening some of its weight making it oddly brighter amongst the trees.
Above the window, cranked out almost fully open, robins nest. It is their second nest of the season, their first was somewhere in the nearby woods, marked only by a single rounded piece of eggshell, a pale blue announcement on the forest floor amongst the brown, monotone fall leaves of last season.
I never found their first nest, and the second appeared quietly, without fanfare. I knew they were somewhere nearby, hopping about from tree to tree, dashing headlong across the ground outside our windows, standing at attention and marching with purpose after worms and bugs. But I could not pinpoint their nest until I opened that window one evening after the sun sank behind the distant woods and the air cooled enough to chase out the heat from the house after the first hot day of the year.
I grabbed the handle and cranked carelessly in the fading light of the day, eager to breathe in the fresh twilight air and was startled by a scrabbling from the shadows directly above the window, beneath the roof overhang. I had a split second to think perhaps it was a squirrel equally startled by the sudden flinging open of the window when a dark shape swooped down and away.
I followed the shape with my eyes to where it perched on a branch not too far away and in the fading light I could see it was one of the robins. “Oops, sorry little robin,” I said quietly to the room and backed away from the window, hoping I did not disrupt their home too much that they would not return.
A few days later I circled around the house outdoors to pinpoint their nesting place two stories up. I tiptoed into their zone so as not to upset them and craned my neck to see a tangle of grass and leaves overhanging a tiny ledge where it perched, snugged up against the wall of the house. And then I turned and tiptoed away.
The window has stayed open since then and I have seen the robins swooping away and back again, flashing rust orange past the top of the window, and I listen for the sounds of baby birds. Robins have nested in our woods every year. They have nested on different parts of our house. We have watched them command their little plot of land with military precision, including one year when the male fought his reflection relentlessly in one window of our home before finding a less crowded place to nest further off in the woods, but I have yet to see babies learning to fly.
So as the cool air swirls in with the pattering rain and the forest begins to fill up with green, I watch as one of the robins preens on a crooked tree branch outside the window. He ruffles his feathers in the warm rain, his rusty chest brilliantly orange, his beak a striking yellow against the dull of the day and I wonder if the other robin is sitting just above me in her nest, sheltered from the rain by the overhang of the flat roof and if in that nest she is sitting with a little clutch of tiny blue eggs.
Tuesday, May 10, 2016
Tuesday, May 3, 2016
When snow still covered the field in ragged patches we picked our way across it and over the folded bleached grasses, using the white hardened crust for pathways. Sometimes we broke through, the surface cracking in large fault lines, weakening beneath the hot sun even as the colder air struggled to keep these floating islands intact.
Our feet crunched over the white as we circled the field, crossed it, made our way to open water where channels rushed beneath ice sheets and emerged into small ponds made by divots in the earth and by beavers, where the water gathered and melted the ice from beneath so the white turned to cool blue.
We crossed the channels where they narrowed, where the ice was thickest and the snow still lay on top as though everything beneath was solid even though we could hear the water moving below our feet, trickling or rushing.
Murdoch headed into the tree line, quickly disappearing in the shadows, lost amongst the tangle of branches as the land sharply inclined at the base of the treed mountain. Molly and I followed the channel of water while I looked for animal tracks and Molly ran circles around me looking for a stick or chunks of ice that I might throw for her.
And then we were following Murdoch’s tracks because he hadn’t returned. His prints looped up into the trees and then down again in the near distance. They tracked down to the water, leapt across the open channel and seemed to go off in the opposite direction than I had thought.
Molly and I jumped the channel and followed the open water that rushed over roots and old walls of beaver-chewed sticks, until it swirled into a quiet bend and then disappeared beneath a shelf of ice. I stopped to look at the ice sculptures hanging from low branches that trailed in the water, shaped like white clouds hovering above the water’s surface, shined up in spots from having melted in the sun and frozen again in the cold air.
Murdoch’s tracks crossed the frozen-over channel just beyond the open water where I knelt. Molly pranced across the channel into the trees and then swung around and pranced back across the channel with her long, fluid strides. Each time she strode over the ice I heard a small crack and shift and I made a mental note to find a sturdier place to cross further downstream.
But then Molly swung around again and charged once more across the channel towards the trees and the ice let go beneath her, a crack and a splash and dinner-plate-sized rafts of ice floated around Molly as she scrabbled at the far bank.
The water was not deep. Molly went in up to her waist with her front legs clinging to the opposite shore but she is not a water dog and I thought, ‘she must hate this.’
“Molly,” I said calmly as she flailed about and tried in vain to haul herself up on the far shore. “Come over here, this side is easier,” as if she could understand. But she did turn, first trying to grab the ice still intact across the narrow channel and then throwing herself at the bank where I knelt reaching for her, her eyes wide and wild. The bank on my side was not so steep and she managed to get a hold of the snow. I grabbed her collar and helped haul her out as she scrambled over the edge.
“Oh Molly, it’s so cold!” I said as she ran in looping circles, her back half soaked through, her woolen-like fur swirled into tufts. “Did you see that?!” she seemed to say, skipping over the snow, ready to tell her tale of great adventure now that the harrowing bits were behind her.
I wanted to head home with her, worried about the cold even though she didn’t seem terribly put out now that she was back on dry land, but Murdoch was still missing. So, we crossed the channel down stream, both of us jumping over the divot in the snow that indicated water flowing beneath and walked back to the spot Molly went in, where Murdoch’s paw prints disappeared into the cool shadow of the woods.
We found him at the end of his winding trail in a spot where something had killed and eaten most of a deer. The snow was pink in a large area beneath the trees and there was the skull and partial spine, and Murdoch gobbling up a chunk of flesh and fur.
“Nice,” I said and then using my exasperated voice I got him to follow us out of the woods, jaw clamped tight around his find, eyes glancing suspiciously left and right.
I walked back across the blinding white of the field, managing to stay on top of the frozen patch of snow and I contemplated how I was going to get that thing from Murdoch while the dogs trotted nearby, one soaked and bedraggled looking from the waist down and the other with a rotting pelt stuffed in his mouth.
Tuesday, April 26, 2016
“Aw, look at the poor deranged homeless cat,” I said to Cleo as she trotted across the graying snow, crystallized, melted and frozen again. She stormed towards the drying deck when she saw me looking at her. She meowed harshly, alarmingly.
I had stood on the cool wood boards of the deck watching her as she rubbed her neck on the rocks ringing the fire pit. The dark gray shapes, angular in spots, rounded in others had melted from the snow just recently, emerging inch by inch from their winter cover and revealing the charred wood and bits of stick from our last fire at new years.
“What is she doing?” Morgan asked as he sat in the late afternoon sun listening to the rush of melt water in the gully across the road. I cocked my head to the side in consideration, watched Cleo flatten herself against the snow so she could reach the rocks with her neck and answered, “I don’t know.”
I wondered if there was some remnant of food on the rocks, some grease dripped from smokies skewered on shaved sticks and held, sizzling, over the yellow flame until the skin turned black in spots, bubbled and split.
Cleo, clearly, was lost in the moment, oblivious to our presence, to our voices, as she ground her neck roughly against the hard surface with such vigour I almost felt the scratch of rock against my own skin, the cold grayness of it lost in the shadow of the trees.
When she glanced up and saw me, she turned away from the rocks and stomped across the snow, feet barely sinking in to the white cold with each step. She meowed her alarmist meow, high-pitched and solid and full of words as though she had the most important thing in the world to tell me.
But I couldn’t take her seriously. Not looking the way she did, with the fur on her neck soaked through and stuck together in tufts of black sticky soot. She looked like a bedraggled stray that had lived in a garbage dump for the last ten months waiting for space aliens to arrive.
Her fur from shoulders to cheeks was caked with dirt and slicked into whorls. Her green eyes bulged from her face in a kind of desperation, looking wider and rounder than normal because of her skinny neck, all wet and wrung out.
She truly looked deranged and neglected and forgotten, which seems sad, but it made me laugh because she is not those things, she is Cleo and Cleo has her very own brand of crazy.
“I don’t want to pet you,” I said, sidestepping as she tried to rub her grubby neck up against my jeans. She tiptoed in a circle and headed for me again still biting off short, sharp meows and I put my hand down to push against her side, redirect her towards the house.
I sent her inside, pulling open the wooden screen door with a squeak and watching her hop across the threshold and I wondered if she knew the sad state she was in, if she knew that she did indeed look like a poor homeless creature.
When she appeared later that evening her fur had been neatly licked dry and fluffed back in to place, but it had a gray hue, like coal dust, as though the stark white of her fur was constantly cast in shadow. I wondered how long it would take before it was restored to its former pristine condition. And then I stopped wondering when the next day she was back rubbing her neck on the fire pit rocks, and this time she brought Chestnut with her.
Tuesday, April 19, 2016
Close your eyes in the middle of the open field and you could convince yourself it is the edge of summer, the sun beating down so completely, filling up the space between mountains with pooling warmth.
From below, a coolness swirls as though you can feel the surface of the snow melting in waves, wafting up and away into the open blue sky. The air still smells of snow and we walk out across the blinding white expanse of our field knowing it could be the last time this season, with the top layer softening, partially melted crystals caught somewhere between ice and water.
There is still solid footing beneath, the cold trapped amongst last year’s folded up grasses keeping things frozen just enough and we only punch through to the spongy underneath occasionally. But the bare ground around the bases of trees and shrubs expands a little more each day, the snow-cover shrinks, freezes and shrinks some more.
And the dogs, black shapes against brilliant white, make the most of the last days of our snowy field.
Tuesday, April 12, 2016
There is a piece of string on the floor, a thick brown braided string that was once the handle from a bag of rice. Cleo leaps on it from the middle of the room, all four feet somehow land on the length of it and she rides it across the floor.
She slides to a stop, grabs one end of the string between her front paws, lifting it from the ground to make the string slither through the air and then she spins on the spot to capture the tail of it with drawn claws splayed out in one wide-open paw.
The string slaps against the ground, landing in a curving line as Cleo flips onto her back with a whump and a billow of fine white hairs, dragging the brown snake across her belly and then twisting again to her feet as though a spring is released somewhere deep inside.
She drops the string and turns her back, casually, un-interestedly, as though it is no longer a concern of hers, but her head tilts to the side ever so slightly, her eyes do not focus straight ahead but seem to be gazing far away and at the same time turned within as though calculating something in the perfect round depth of her obsidian pupils.
A step to the side, a pause and then she has pounced, somehow flipped around to face the other direction, front paws pressed down on the end of the brown string once again sliding across the floor, pushing off with her back feet. A toss of her head and the string, suddenly clasped in her teeth, whips up and over her back, she twirls and pirouettes, claws clacking and scratching against the wood of the floor, wrestling the string from one end of the kitchen to the other. Spinning, sliding, somersaulting, she is on her tiptoes, hopping in circles, dragging the string behind her.
Finally she flops on her side, pulls the string to her mouth with her two front paws and pulls at the braided fibres with her teeth, the pick, pick of her determination fills the room, her eyes half shut in concentration.
And then she is done. She stands, letting the string fall to the floor, throws a few flicks of her tongue across her white chest, down one leg as though straightening her fur, and then she walks away, calmly, rationally, leaving the string behind to be found again later to finish the battle, whenever that might be, whenever the mood takes her.
Tuesday, April 5, 2016
The dogs are gone.
First Murdoch strikes out over the softening snow, leaving the trail behind and weaving in amongst the new growth poplar trees standing shoulder to shoulder in great ranks, marching up the slight incline and over the undulating land. Molly follows close behind. I wonder if they have smelled something because Molly doesn’t stop when I call her, as she often does, turning her head, then her body to leap back over her footprints in the snow to return to my side.
I watch them skip together into the white-trunked forest of saplings and I don’t mind right away that they don’t return. I listen for sounds of them perhaps following parallel to our regular trail, the trail where I continue to walk. I am sure they will burst from the new growth tangle some way along and join me on our trail through the older, decaying forest. So I walk a bit, stop and listen, then walk a bit more.
It is not quite silent in the woods, though the sounds of bird wings and their cheerful voices are close by there are no layers of sound today. There is what is right here and then there is nothing. I can’t hear the dogs at all I can’t hear them running through the snow or their collars clinking in the distance.
And then there is a bark, a bark that sounds plaintive? Antagonistic? Alarmed? I can’t tell, but it is in the opposite direction from where I am headed. I hesitate for a moment before I turn and run back along my trail, following its twists and turns. I call the dogs but I hear nothing else.
I get to the spot where they left the trail and skipped through the shrinking unblemished snow. I follow their tracks into the stand of cramped poplars, using my hands to push aside tiny trunks as I pass. I see the trail ahead veers to the left, back towards the house on the hill which is not too far away, not for two fast dogs, but is also not so close.
I hear another bark like the one before, call for Murdoch because I know it is his voice, and then I hear a man’s voice yelling angrily “Hey! You get out of here.” And a beat and then, “Get out of here, the both of you.”
Oh crap, I think standing in the woods, my heart in my throat. Do I yell out? Do I follow this trail? Do I go back to my trail and head up towards that house from the back of our own forest?
I turn and run back to the trail, follow it back towards where our woods begin. I think again about striking out into the forest of poplars, taking more of a straight route, but it is not an easy route, overgrown like it is, it is a stumbling, tripping route that I would be blindly taking unsure of where I might be spit out, stumbling into this man’s back yard disheveled and unprepared to both chastise and defend my dogs. So I stick to the trail, the suddenly overly twisting trail that takes me away from where I want to go before turning again in the right direction.
I just pray that Murdoch is not being the jerk he can be, that Molly is not being the airhead she can be. I pray I do not hear a gunshot, because even though it is a stretch it is not unheard of for people to shoot nuisance dogs and I don’t really know the man who only sometimes lives in the house on the hill.
I break into my woods and round a corner, jog partway along the trail and then stop and listen. I can hear something coming through the woods, it sounds like a running dog. I think I can hear panting as well.
When Murdoch appears ahead on the trail running for home, relief flits across my heart but it is a flat relief, squashed by an overriding sense of disappointment and it is gone just as quickly when I see Molly is not with him. Murdoch runs up to me with an air of relief himself thinly disguised as cockiness at having “found” me again.
I am silent as I turn to take him to the house when I hear another set of running paws and I turn in the opposite direction to see Molly coming along the trail from where I had just jogged, leaping her joyful leap, wearing her ears in a jaunty kind of way.
I barely say a word as I start again down the trail to the house, the dogs fall in behind me and I wonder if they have any concept of being in trouble, of having done something bad, but our dogs are no strangers to the house on the hill. There is a dog who lives there too sometimes and our dogs have at different times, played with him, antagonized him, eaten his food. I have taken that dog food to replace what my dogs have stolen and sometimes we have seen him at a distance walking in our woods.
I put Murdoch and Molly in the outdoor kennel we built a couple of years ago, where they hang out on days that are too nice to be indoors for long stretches. I stand outside the gate leaning on it with one hand as the dogs stare back at me with bright eyes, eagerly waiting for me to restart the walk because there is still so much to do, and I listen for the sounds of someone stomping through the woods, perhaps having followed the dogs to see where they went.
Should I go up there? I wonder. See what my dogs were doing? See if they were bothering the other dog? See if I can at least apologize. But there have been stories too about the man who sometimes lives in that house, and although I am mostly skeptical about such stories told about people being unreasonable, being aggressive even, because there are always more variables than one story can tell, today I do not feel so confident.
So I leave the dogs in their kennel and go inside and think about our next walk, which will be on leash and probably stressful and frustrating. And I think about how some days can be so disappointing.
Tuesday, March 29, 2016
Sometime in January after Cleo’s trip to the vet for a mild bladder infection and after Murdoch’s trip to the vet for his latest tapeworm, Murdoch swallowed a sock for the second time in his life and I waited anxiously to see if it would lead to yet another vet visit in the space of three weeks.
I was getting ready to go outside with the dogs, putting on layer after layer as Molly paced circles around me and Murdoch tap-danced across the floor. But this day instead of focusing his energies on me Murdoch sidled up to the woodstove, his head disappearing between it and the wall to scoop something up in his mouth.
I saw him from the corner of my eye and half-laughed, “Bring it here Murds,” I said, knowing it was either a mitten that had slipped from the window seat to the floor as Morgan sat there and laced up his shoes, or a sock that had been left absentmindedly after being peeled from a wet foot, and Murdoch was doing that thing he does when he can’t contain his excitement. Finding stuff to bring me.
It is as though he thinks that bringing me socks or mitts or toques will somehow make things go faster. Sometimes it is done with an air of helpfulness. “Can you use this? Can you use this? Will this get us out the door faster?” But he is like someone with so much nervous energy they just have to do something, anything, to keep busy and focused.
So I called him over, which usually brings him right away with whatever he has found stuffed securely in his mouth with small billows of fabric emerging from either side that I can grasp between my thumb and forefinger to pluck the object from his mouth all shiny and damp with dog slobber. But this time he did not come.
I called again, and again, each time with a sharper edge in my voice as Murdoch’s teeth clonked against the floor and his body moved in more of a frenzy, the way it does on the trail when he is trying to inhale something before I can reach him.
“Murdoch!” I half yelled, “Bring it now!” He turned toward me still moving his jaw determinedly around the black fabric, which I could now determine was one of Morgan’s socks, and walked the few steps to my side. “What are you doing?” I said, much more calmly now, back to our old camaraderie of Murdoch being a goofball and I shaking my head in mock disdain.
His jaw was clamped more tightly than usual around his prize with just the tiniest corner of the sock sticking out between his teeth. I was on my knees, looking into one wide, round eye as I reached for it, slightly confused as to why he had engulfed it so completely. Usually when he picks up a sock, or a pair, about one-third of the item hangs out and he holds on to it firmly, but softly. This was different.
My fingers pinched the fabric for just a fraction of a second before it slipped from my grasp and Murdoch gave one more mighty chomp with his jaw, sucking the rest of the sock into this mouth, and it was gone. My fingers were right behind it, breaching the threshold of teeth to the soft, warm tongue behind, trying to find a scrap of fabric to haul back out. But the sock was completely gone.
I sat back. Everything was still for a moment, he and I looked at each other in some sort of surprise before I broke the silence “What the hell?” I said, reaching for his mouth again and sticking my hand inside in disbelief, feeling around like someone in a dark room looking for something that fell to the floor. Cheeks, tongue, roof. Nothing.
“What the hell, Murdoch?” I said again, stepping back in defeat. “What did you do that for?” And he sat in the middle of the entryway and stared up at me as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
We went for our walk, the dogs leaping ahead happily while I trudged distractedly behind trying to figure out what happened. Did I really see that? I wondered. The last time he swallowed a sock, which turned out to be two socks, they belonged to our young nephew and niece. They were smallish items and they re-emerged a day later in front of the woodstove, all yellow and slimy, along with some bits of grass and sticks. I hoped that this would be a repeat performance, that the size of a grown man’s sock working its way through his system would not complicate things.
I watched Murdoch closely for the rest of the day, like I had done the last time, waiting for some sign of stomach upset a lethargic response to food a low energy afternoon of deeply depressed sighs and half-closed eyelids, but there was nothing. He acted completely normal, dashing after sticks, running through the woods, scarfing down his supper, drinking all the water from his dish in great enthusiastic gulps.
It was another day and a half before we saw the sock again, in a little pile of goop by the woodstove, and I breathed a sigh of relief I didn’t realize I had been holding in and I implored Murdoch to never do that again.
Two days after that I found another sock outside, one that had gone right through him and I balked as I unfurled it in the snow with the tines of my rake, “What the…?”, “When the…?” And I wondered, what else is in there?
Tuesday, March 22, 2016
It is spring and snow filters down through the intertwined branches of the forest. In the warmth of the sun from the blue sky snow becomes water, in the shadows it freezes again, long thin icicles hang from the tips of branches in the shape of raindrops.
Veils of snow let go from treetops drenched in sunlight and sprinkle down to the forest floor, tinkling almost musically through pine needles, crashing mutedly into branches and spraying in a fine mist against tree trunks.
The dogs disappear from the trail, the snow still deep underfoot with a hardened crust that supports some weight. They follow scents; listen for the sounds of other animals. The cricks and cracks of branches snapping back into place after relieving themselves of snow, the pops of ice breaking apart in the sun, cascading in particles through the air to crackle against tree trunks fill the woods with noise of movement. I expect to turn around and see whole hosts of animals traipsing amongst the trees.
Little sculpted mounds of snow, like tiny icebergs shaped by the sun and wind and dropping temperatures at night sit proudly on pine boughs illuminated and defiant, determined to wait out the heat of the strengthening sun before it can send them crashing to the ground.
Overhead the knocking of a woodpecker in a spreading poplar tree and above that the puffing steam-engine sweep of ravens’ wings as a pair fly in to view, jet-black bodies like holes in the sky absorb the sun and then a turn of a wing and the reflection of golden light.
There are rabbit tracks and faint imprints in the snow atop the crust of fox, maybe lynx, tiny dotted trails made by mice appearing at the base of one tree and disappearing at the base of another. The dogs break through in spots dig in others as scents emerge from beneath the thick white layer. Their heads disappear into the snow, sometimes up to their shoulders.
In open spaces the sun shines brilliantly, blindingly off the white expanse, all detail of windblown ridges or snaking animal tracks disappear at a distance, swallowed by the light of the sun. And its warmth is a solid thing, filling the spaces with a comfortable weight, mingling with the crisp cold smell of individual granules of snow shifting against one another, rolling themselves smooth and clear so up close they are a million tiny ice cubes, the look and feel of winter melting.
Tuesday, March 15, 2016
Bear has been gone three years now.
It is at once a lifetime and a blink of an eye. In some ways it doesn’t feel real at all, as though she could walk into the room at any moment.
I see her in Chestnut’s need to sit on my lap, drape himself across my arm while I type, how quickly he becomes an immovable furry lump purring his earth shattering purr. “You would be curled up with Bear right now wouldn’t you?” I ask. He used to be her shadow, now he is mine.
Everything we do we grade on a scale of what Bear would think.
“Bear would have loved this!” we say of the beautiful sandy beach and private campsite we found last summer on an out-of-the-way lake, imagining her running along the shore splashing in the water, sand between her toes.
“Bear would not be impressed,” we say to Murdoch and Molly as they troll through the kitchen with their hungry noses and miss half of the good stuff dropped on the floor. We shake our heads. “Bear never missed anything.”
“Bear would be outraged,” we say on day five of still not having replenished the peanut butter in the house. “She would pack up her kong and her bed, sling it over her shoulder and hit the road.” And we imagine her like the Littlest Hobo wandering the land, except instead of looking for wrongs needing righted, she would be on the lookout for the next vat of peanut butter.
“Bear would be mortified,” we say about the prospect of having to put her in a kennel with Murdoch and Molly if we were going out of town. “It wouldn’t happen,” we add. “She would just come with us.” Of course she would, she always did.
“I would not be chasing after Bear like this,” I say to the trees one grey evening with the light seeping away into the landscape, the woods becoming one dark mass, as I sink into the softening snow and stumble my way along a disused trail after Molly.
From a window I had watched Molly skip off through the trees while Morgan called her at the front door. I scrambled in to my boots and coat and called her name, trudging along the trail trying to follow her tracks. I found her at the house on the hill behind our woods. I saw her ears before I saw the rest of her, trotting down the driveway behind a snowbank.
Bear used to disappear up to the house on the hill too, but she always returned in good time, we didn’t worry about her wandering off. There would be stern looks and serious voices, “Bear, where have you been?” followed by hugs and kisses and belly rubs. We didn’t worry about her getting in trouble somewhere, disturbing the peace or chasing cars.
She has been gone three years and yet her nicknames still want to tumble from my mouth as I walk the woods and talk to the dogs. Petunia, I want to say, Peanut Bearalina, Baby Beary, Pumpernickel Peanut, Ruby Tuesday. I have to stop myself and the words pile up at the back of my throat.
“Bear was perfect,” we tell people the way everyone does, the way everyone imagines their dog to be. But in this case, it’s true.
Tuesday, March 8, 2016
We see spring approaching in the cats.
It is still dark in the house when I hear the scrabble of feet in the living room. There is the sound of claws being raked across some kind of smooth fabric, I hope it is not the couch but it sounds like the couch, and then the pick-pick of those same claws digging in to the scratching post. I can tell it is Chestnut if the noise is accompanied by the thump, scrape, of the scratching post being spun and moved by inches across the hardwood floor.
There is a quick-march pad, pad, pad followed by an angry hiss and then the sound of bone cushioned by fur clonked against the wooden floor. I close my eyes and pretend I hear nothing. Pretend I do not picture white fur floating through the air, that I do not feel the urge to jump out of bed and chastise them for being so loud. It wouldn’t work anyway. They are cats.
It is quiet for a moment and then there is the steady echoing grate of claws on wood, Cleo carving out more splinters from the banister at the top of the stairs, I picture the flakes of wood piling up at her feet. I want to yell her name but Morgan is still sleeping, I can tell by his breathing and by the fact that he has not yet yelled himself.
Sound travels too well in our house, there is not much separating us in the bedroom from the living room and even the kitchen another level below, so I can hear the cats thumping up and down the stairs, I can hear Cleo skidding across the floor in the kitchen pirouetting after the plastic seal off the milk bottle or sliding after the fat string braided into a handle from the bag of rice. I can hear when a cat jumps from the counter to the floor, landing with a solid whump, and I run through my mind trying to think if I left something out they could get into. There is a thunk of something being knocked over that I can’t quite place.
These things don’t happen in the dead of winter. When it is truly cold outside and the cold makes its way in through windows, settling heavily over everything, causing the cats to burrow deeper under blankets, coil more tightly into balls. When the days are shorter and the cats do not have a vested interest in being outdoors there are no early morning carnivals, no carefully planned acrobatic activities.
But the days are warming, the snow is softening. If the cats huddle out the door they do not immediately huddle back in but stand and contemplate the slush of pliable snow beneath their feet, the smell of melt-water on the air, the smell of greenness wrapped in cold.
In the darkness of early, early morning there is a final explosion of cat sounds, of clonks and thumps and angry voices. And then it is quiet. Though I wait for more. There may be a cat in the room soon to pace the perimeter, to jump on the bed, walk all over it - pillows and bodies - with entitlement. There may be a loud bath session performed in the corner on a pile of clothes.
Or there may be nothing at all, as they wait quietly and patiently for the sun to rise as though their intentions have been pure from the start.
Tuesday, March 1, 2016
There are days of warming temperatures, softening snow, melting winter and then the air is filled with more white flakes, tiny and sparkling in the light and then fat and soft falling in slow hypnotic veils. Heavy gray skies, slow warmth, and then clear blue days of biting cold and snapping wind.
The sun, brilliant, yellow, promising heat, peeks above the hill to the east, sends its long rays reaching down into the forest where fresh snow, light and airy and resting on branches is swept up by the wind, swirled and cascaded and blown through beams of golden light. There is raucous movement outside the window, trees bend one way and then another, throwing their heads about violently, snow already fallen takes to the air again, smoke from the chimney streaks past the window at great speed.
Blue snow in the shadows of the woods is smoothed and polished as the wind finds its way down the trunks to the ground and then up again, taking another branchful of snow with it.
I watch and wait for the wind to tire, at least to find its civilized hum before taking the dogs out into the crackling forest. Winter weakened the trees this year I can’t help but think. Two or three heavy, blanketing snowfalls nearly flattened them, so many fell. The first snow inflicted its damage, set the tone for winter, and then melted.
It was a warm November day after the first snowfall had come and gone when we picked our way cautiously amongst the ailing trees. The woods were soaked after a pounding rain, water collecting at the end of branches in glass globules. There was the creaking and cracking of brittle trunks, the wind coming in waves, ebbing away and then storming back, taunting. “Go on, try me.”
We stopped beneath the aging trees covered in lichen and moss and old man’s beard hanging pastel green from darkened trunks, listened to the pop of wood fibres letting go beneath a great weight and tried to guess which leaning tree might fall next, which was the least tangled amongst the branches of another tree, a bolstering tree.
We cut the walk short as the wind roared again overhead and the sopping brown leaves fallen a month before lay in a slick on the trail.
Murdoch did not stray far, returning when I called as though he too knew the delicate balance of the decrepit trees still standing despite cracks and holes gouged out of their trunks by birds.
I watched the treetops nervously, stopped and waited for the wind to die away before walking another stretch beneath leaning trunks. I had not felt nervous in the wind-tossed woods before, but there had not been so much cracking and popping and that general sense of weakness amongst the trees like there was after that first snow fall, heavy and suffocating. It had come and gone a week earlier pushing over trees that had been balanced just so and bending saplings to the ground, to snapping point.
So I watch on this last day of February as the wind storms through the forest and back again, as it roars overhead, plays roughly with weather-worn trunks and whips the snow on the ground into a frenzy, and I listen for the sound of crashing trees giving way and we wait indoors with the sun streaming through the windows and blown snow streaming across the sun.
Tuesday, February 23, 2016
There is blood in the snow, little orange drops along the trail, perfectly spaced in a line. I am used to seeing that, a scratch on the side of a paw or a bitten tongue in pursuit of a stick.
Fresh blood glows crimson or bright poppy red against the white, forming into perfect balls, red globes with a sugar coating. I have had to drop to my knees, examine these globes more closely as they shift and roll against the dry snow, to determine it is not actually a chunk of flesh that has torn away.
The older the blood the more orange, or if it is warmer and the blood does not freeze once it touches the snow it becomes watered down quickly and the orange flecks can be mistaken for splinters of pale wood stripped from a stick.
Blood that has been there for days is eaten by the snow, converted from red to orange to black as it seeps out from a centre point, through the white crystals, until it is but a faded grey circle as though someone puffed a mouthful of smoke onto the surface of the snow.
The blood we see on the trail is on its way to orange. I was sure Molly cut her foot again, rubbed the raw spot on the side of her paw against the sharper edges of the worn-in trail, the icier bits, and with each step she was putting a drop in the snow. But then I see Murdoch ahead through the trees, he has found something just off the trail, he is eating it, crunching as I get close. He scoops up whatever it is in his mouth, moves further away.
The blood trail continues along our well-beaten path, emerging from the trees and heading towards the open field. There are footprints, clear now that the dogs are behind me. Paw prints, partially filled in with fresh snow obstructing the detail, large enough for my un-gloved fist to fit inside. A wolf, I am sure.
The prints are evenly spaced, a casual saunter. Sometimes a curved shape appears in the snow between the prints as though a snake were slithering along beneath the belly of the wolf. Something hanging from its mouth perhaps, I picture a white rabbit dangling down, its foot occasionally dragging in the snow, or a red squirrel.
I am not worried about running in to the wolf, though I am excited to follow its trail. The thought that it could be watching us from the darker parts of the forest does cross my mind, but it is a frivolous thought. There are wolves here, we have seen them before, we have heard them. We exist on the same paths at different times.
In the fall before the snow, before the real cold, I stopped in the bare woods with the dogs as it lit up with a thousand voices. A chorus of yips and howls rose amongst the trees like the voices of a choir soaring, reverberating in a cathedral, a physical thing. Every particle of air came alive with the sound, a joyful sound, not eerie, coming from all directions at once.
I expected a pack of wolves to come running through the trees straight at us, I expected the spirits of a thousand wolves to flash and swirl through the canopy overhead, I expected to feel their wind as they travelled by. The cacophony of voices grew and grew and then started to fade. I tried to place them somewhere in the landscape, I looked to the dogs for some indication but they didn’t care, more interested in sniffing under leaves. And then the voices were gone and the woods were silent.
I expected a pack of wolves to come running through the trees straight at us, I expected the spirits of a thousand wolves to flash and swirl through the canopy overhead, I expected to feel their wind as they travelled by. The cacophony of voices grew and grew and then started to fade. I tried to place them somewhere in the landscape, I looked to the dogs for some indication but they didn’t care, more interested in sniffing under leaves. And then the voices were gone and the woods were silent.
We follow the single wolf track in the snow along our trail. It cut across a short expanse of deeper, untravelled snow, to the base of a large pine tree where Murdoch tracked it and sat crunching on something else. I never saw what it was, just the droplets of blood scattered about by that tree. A picture emerges of the wolf hunkering down with its kill. Not much left, not more than a couple of gulps for my dog to finish off.
Tuesday, February 16, 2016
Paws gathered together in a bunch, draped over the edge of the couch like a bouquet of flowers tossed carelessly. Rounded head pushed into the crook where the armrest meets the couch back, black furry body flattened across seat cushions, breathing deeply, almost snoring. Murdoch the couch dog could be mistaken for a cuddly family pet, if you didn’t know any better.
He is eight years old now. According to a chart on the wall at our vet’s office that makes him a senior dog. This is unfathomable to me. Murdoch, though he has changed immeasurably over the years he’s lived with us, still has plenty of attitude to spare and will always be wild and untrainable in my mind.
In some ways he still is that crazy dog I found on the side of the road. He is not completely trustworthy, and when we have people over we always have to prepare them to meet the “beast”. “Just ignore him and you will be fine,” I always say. “He has personal space issues.”
We are quick to shut him in his kennel or shuttle him outside to the fenced-in run we made for the dogs a couple of years ago, depending on who is visiting, whether they are dog savvy or not, whether they are nervous or not. But mostly after people are around for a while, Murdoch relaxes into a pose that could almost pass for a regular dog, as long as no one looks him directly in the eye.
Mostly we have spent our time with him redrawing boundaries every day. The problem, most likely, is my desire to treat him like the dog Bear was. Perfect in every way, trustworthy and trusting, cuddly and personable. Murdoch is not really any of these things and if I mistake that for even a second he is quick to correct me, with a growl or a snarl or, when I am particularly insistent that he should be someone he is not, a snap of his great, wide, jaw.
It was his domineering personality that decided it the day he showed up in our lives that he would not be allowed on the furniture, at least not on our current, human-use furniture. The old couch, decked out in candy-wrapper orange stripes, that was relegated to the dog zone when we moved to our house was an exception. Murdoch had a hand in destroying that couch along with every other animal who traipsed through our house, treating it like a throne to be defended or a trampoline to be enjoyed.
But the green couch in the living room was for Bear and myself and the cats. We would often pile on in a heap of fuzzy warmth. A classic couch dog, Bear completely relaxed in to snuggles, pink belly at the ready for a warm rub, obliged hugs and cheek pinches and showers of kisses. She even shared the space with Chestnut with minimum complaint, flopping her legs carelessly across his neck or moving as far back on the couch as possible to distance herself from his affectionate head-butts and jack hammer purr.
Murdoch never really showed much interest in getting on the green couch anyway, as though he chose this one thing to be reasonable about. It was Bear’s domain always and when she passed away, that didn’t change.
And then it did.
Somewhere in the couple of weeks leading up to Christmas Murdoch promoted himself to “couch dog”. I don’t know if Murdoch finally started to feel his age (which makes me unbearably sad) but one day we came home and heard the lazy clomp of clawed feet hitting hardwood after leaping from the couch. I know that sound very well. And then he was down the stairs and in the kitchen, wagging his tail widely, as if he had always been there, ears pinned to the side of his head, his roundest-eyed cute-dog mask firmly in place.
The next time he didn’t even bother to jump off the couch but stayed there until I wandered upstairs to find him splayed out, tail thumping sheepishly against the cushions as if awaiting his fate. ‘If she’s mad, then I guess it’s over, but if not… I am now a couch dog.’
Of course I wasn’t mad. He knows me well enough to know I wouldn’t be. “Look at you,” I said, my voice dripping, I’m sure, with sentiment and mushiness. And I sat beside him, wagging tail and all, ran my hand over his head, and was greeted with his customary growl.
“No!” I said. “No grumpy dogs on the couch.”
And so it has gone since Christmas, Murdoch and I sharing the couch. He on one end and me on the other, although occasionally he does flop his head in my lap or roll on his back, all four feet in the air and let me rub his belly. He snores and stretches and sleeps and sometimes growls and sometimes doesn’t.
I explain to him every day as he watches me wearily, his brown eyes brimming with his own thoughts on the matter that the couch is not for growly dogs. “If you are going to be a couch dog,” I say as I lay my head on his shoulder and listen to him grumble and complain. “You are going to be hugged.” He seems to agree, albeit reluctantly, that it is not such a terrible price to pay.
Tuesday, February 9, 2016
Blue sky the colour of deep summer is worn like a canopy above the blinding white expanse of our field. The trees, the mountain, the scrub around the edges, all coloured white, abstracted by the snow to become suggestions of their true forms.
It snowed for two days, off and on, but enough to erase any sign anyone had ever walked here, or that snow machines had ever ripped up the surface, criss-crossing over themselves again and again.
We try to remember where our trail was. It was a great trail. Well worn in, taking us to the center of the field and then to the other side, to the mountain where we made other trails. I knew it would disappear with that snow and because we had not kept it open the days before, allowing the wind to have its way.
There are no ghosts of our former trail either, so we imagine the curve of the path. I think it went this way. And we strike out, finding it at first. Fresh snow comes up just past the ankles of my boots as we move along like barges churning up the formerly placid water of a harbour. I watch the snow spray out in great fans before my feet as Murdoch confidently strides ahead, and then I watch as he sinks deeper and then deeper and then he is leaping along through the snow like a dolphin following the wake of a boat.
When he stops he is nestled into the snow beneath the surface, it comes up past his shoulders and his head peers out over the top, scans the flat landscape ahead of him as though he is remembering, like I am, that this is where our trail was and why is it so deep here? I stop behind him and then wade out into the surrounding area, the snow up past my knees. Weird. The trail is gone.
I turn around, tromp back the way we came, the dogs muscling past me as though they know now, of course it’s this way. We try that way, and then another and finally I stop atop a mound in the snow that I know is the edge of the old beaver pond and contemplate the slope of the land around me, the way the snow ripples out from where I stand, sculpted by the wind over a spot that drops away somewhat drastically and has been filled to the brim with snow.
Our trail did go over here once. It did drop down with the land. I take a step and sink in up to my thigh. Murdoch takes my cue and leaps into the deep, swims about looking for solid footing and Molly waits patiently for one of us to find it. We don’t. And we turn again. Retrace our newly broken steps back the way we came over the blinding white and I tell the dogs that perhaps we will try again tomorrow.
Tuesday, February 2, 2016
Murdoch turns in a circle on Molly’s bed by the fire. I watch his thoughts in his eyes, the concern, the calculation of how to lie down to be as comfortable as possible. Not the right side, he quickly realizes as he tries it and then flips his back end around so his left leg takes the weight and his right leg stretches out and away from his body as he sinks down on to his side.
He looks smaller somehow, his head rounder, his eyes bigger as they glance up at me around shaggy eyebrows with a hint of frustration colouring them a deeper shade of brown.
I am angry to see him there. Not at him, and not at myself. Not really. I was sure to keep the walk short, I told him no and meant it when he leapt on a stick poking out of the snow in that ‘happiest moment of my life’ kind of way he has that is usually hard to ignore and usually finds me throwing the stick for him over the white expanse of our trail. But I had noticed a slight favouring of his back leg the day before and I knew the frantic games in the snow of chasing sticks and balls of ice would have to stop for a while.
So we walked and Murdoch disappeared on his side adventures as he does every day, reappearing on the trail ahead of us or sometimes behind, leaping out of the deeper snow between the trail and the thick of the woods as Molly and I pause and play a bit, waiting. I didn’t wait for him on that walk though because I knew he would catch up and I just wanted to move, follow the trail out into our open field and retrace the slowly vanishing tracks there.
Molly and I emerged from the edge of the forest and circled out around one of our trails in the field. I called Murdoch’s name a few times as I walked, but I didn’t stop. I figured Molly and I would do the loop and return to the woods, pick up Murdoch and walk back home, a shorter walk would be good for him anyway. But, as Molly and I reached the far edge of the trail I glanced back to see Murdoch, a tiny black shape, barreling towards us.
I cringe to watch him run sometimes. He runs like he did that first day I found him on the side of the road, all legs and flailing feet going in six directions at once. It is as though he has not quite mastered the technique ‘but look how fast I can go!’ If he is chasing a stick he runs full on and slams to a stop as though he has hit a wall and I expect his legs to give out underneath him. I think of tendons stretching and popping and I tell him to be careful. But he will do what he wants, that wild charge with reckless abandon.
I stand with Molly on the trail and watch him come at speed, fur flying, ears flapping, lips peeled back from his white teeth, bucking his way across the expanse. He punches through the snow, trips, face-plants, keeps running. I can feel it in my own body, the tightening of muscles the stretching of ligaments, the weak-kneed aftermath of a surge of adrenaline. I want to tell him to slow down and yet there is a part of me that loves his enthusiasm, that is jealous of it even, and I love that he is running at top speed to catch up to us, not leaving us in the dust in pursuit of something better.
I kneel down to greet him as he sails past and then turns and comes back for a hug. “Good boy,” I say, wrapping my arms around his chest and kissing him on the head. I run my hand along his body, watch how he stands, he seems fine, and we carry on. For the rest of the walk he stays with us and I know he is scanning our surroundings for a stick but I keep moving. “We are just walking today,” I say.
It is not until later, after we have returned home and the dogs have napped for a bit that I see Murdoch’s leg is quite sore. He does not come up the stairs to the kitchen when I bring the cheese out of the fridge, but stares at me from a distance sitting in the entryway and I can tell when I ask what’s wrong that he is unhappy that maybe he is doing that thing where you try to convince yourself you’re not hurt at all by just not moving.
That evening he stands with his hips askew, the weight thrown over to the left side, just grazing the floor with the toes of his right foot, unable to even pretend that he’s fine and what’s all this nonsense about bed rest and sitting out walks for a few days.
In the morning he seems better, though he is not healed. He limps a bit, is not insistent about going out though he gives me long questioning looks when I sit with him in the entryway and try to check out his leg. Well, maybe a short walk, part of me says. What about on leash? But I know that’s not right. If I take him out something will happen, we will make it worse. We’ve been here before with sore legs and pulled tendons and injured cruciates.
And then there’s Molly who is fine and insistent in her own way, plodding up the stairs to find me, piercing me with her eyes, making her throaty mumbly noises to get my attention. She doesn’t understand why we haven’t been out for a walk, doesn’t understand how guilty I feel about leaving Murdoch behind.