Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Spring cleanup

“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

Dwindling snow days

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

Cleo, jungle cat

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

Dial M for trouble

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.