Saturday, April 22, 2017

Earth Day

In our tiny patch of boreal forest rabbits turn from white to brown, robins arrive promptly with military precision, nuthatches cling upside down to branches, hop gleefully from trunk to trunk, juncos swarm in packs of gray across the thawing ground, deer stroll, red squirrels leap from tree to tree, tails whirling, owls fill up the twilit hours with voices you feel in your chest, the first haze of buds appear on that tree, and that one, grouse explode from cover with heart-stopping clamour, tiny orange butterflies land on dried out grasses, somewhere bears plod, woodpeckers knock against trees and laugh at each other, ravens reel, a mosquito or two, water rushes, there is green under brown, sunlight and patches of snow.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Sad-dog days

Murdoch emerges from his kennel extra rumpled these days, his eyebrows low and haphazard, his beard askew, the fur at his neck swirled in not quite the right direction. He has had a rough few months.

“Sorry Murds,” I say for what feels like the millionth time as he brightens slightly when I don my boots. “It is a quick out and back in again.” He is getting better about that, but his instinct to pounce on a stick, spin around on the spot, run like the wind through the trees and egg Molly into a one-sided game of chase, still simmers just below the surface and I so desperately want to say, “Bring me a stick Murdoch! Go, go, go! Catch this ball! Run faster! Faster!”

But he injured his leg in February, a slip on the ice in pursuit of a stick. He turned one way and his knee went the other. “Oh no!” I sympathized as he glanced my way and then walked back to where I stood on the bright, blankness of the snow-covered field. He wasn’t limping then, but he walked instead of running, he knew he had injured himself, and then he stood beside me, pressed his head against my leg as I lavished him with praise. “You’re a good boy Murds,” hands petting his face, running the length of his body to his back right leg. “I guess we’re going home now,” I said and then, “Whoa! No Murds, just walking,” when he tried to leap sideways as though my touch had somehow miraculously made it all better. I wish.

A week later, after not enough rest, when the weather warmed and the snow became a thinning crust of white atop a soft plunge of two feet to the forest floor below, Murdoch left the sturdy, packed trail and I winced and cursed as I watched him flail across the snow, punching through every other step, legs working too hard to buck and pull his body along. He returned to the house limping and later, when he wouldn’t put weight on that leg, I felt sick to my stomach as I imagined his carefree days of running and playing and just being Murdoch coming to an end.

“Why did I take you out today?” I asked him that night as he sat with his back legs askew and stared at me with his wide brown eyes. I would take it back if I could.

But since then he has been on leash, outside for ten minutes at the most and, while he is disgruntled about the whole thing, his leg is getting better.

“I wish we still had those leg braces Bear used,” I said to Morgan, trying to imagine Murdoch wearing the little red “cast-away pants”. But we gave those away after Bear no longer needed them.

So we wait, for now, because there is also the matter of Murdoch’s teeth, the broken ones, the pocket in his gum and, we’re pretty sure, a cavity in a molar, all leading up to a sore mouth, an impending dental surgery, and a very rumpled Murdoch.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Cleo around the internet

“Cleo?” I say as she walks into the room, stomping in the no-nonsense way she does. “What are you doing to promote your book?”

She stops, snaps her head in my direction, green eyes alert and piercing as though she is caught off guard, as though she had no idea I was there when really, of course, she did. “Promote?” she says with her sharp gaze before turning away and striding to the beanbag chair. “I have people for that.”

Oh. Right. I guess that’s me.

“The least you could do is pose with it,” I say as Cleo’s dainty white paws work to carve a comfortable well for herself in the chair. There is the rustle of a million Styrofoam balls as she settles in and I hand her the book.

“Fine,” she says, rolling her eyes. “I guess I have to do everything around here.”

Hardly. But thanks anyway Cleo.

And thanks to the kind souls out there who are helping to spread the word about Cleo’s story. I love seeing her face pop up in different places online and knowing her story is being shared.

Cats and Diabetes introduced Cleo to the world by allowing me to write a blog post and add Cleo to the Sugarbabies page. And, recently, I was so pleased to find this review of The Comeback Cat at Melissa’s Mochas, Mysteries and Meows, a fun and informative blog about cats and books

Cleo is also pleased but she feigns disinterest because, well, she’s a cat.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

A Murdoch moment

I watch Murdoch from the door, stand to the side of the big window at its center to cut the glare from the light in the kitchen behind me. His black shape sits at the edge of the deck, hints of gold about him from the outside light that encompasses him, his back is to the door. He stares out into the darkness.

He would sit there for hours I think sometimes, especially now, this time of year as the ice melts and streams run through the woods, past the house carrying earthy scents of things long dormant beneath layers of snow. Murdoch would like to just wander, be free to come and go as he pleases, while I sit at home sick with worry.

He comes inside and then five minutes later he tells me he is desperate to go out again, imploring brown eyes, excited toe-tapping, stealing socks and bringing them to me.

“Do you need to pee?” I ask, even though I know he doesn’t. But his ears perk up, his mouth snaps shut, his eyes sparkle and bore into mine. “Yes. Yes I do,” he says and spins on the spot, trots towards the door, throwing glances over his shoulder to make sure I am following.

I clip him to his line and he marches across the threshold from the warmth of the house to the crisp snap of evening air, hints of snow and decaying leaves. And then he sits at the edge of the deck staring into the dark.

What does he smell, I wonder, his nose in the air, head gently bobbing as he inhales the evening. And, as I always do, I wonder if he is happy, if he imagines a different life for himself, one full of adventure, living on the land, always on the move. There is a part of me that wants that too. I imagine us together sometimes, just wandering the world, through forests and over mountains, companions at large, travelers, explorers.

We would build fires at night to keep warm, find soft, sheltered places to sleep, watch the stars and listen to the woods come alive. We would be separate and together. We are similar like that, very much liking our own space but appreciative of company too, being able to share individual discoveries.

I stand at the door and watch Murdoch sitting on the deck, his satiny black fur catching the light here and there, his edges blending into the darkness beyond. Part of me wants to sit there with him, stare into the night, smell the spring air on his fur and I wish, not for the first time, that he could tell me what he is thinking.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Defending the trees


A flash of red catches my eye when I pass the window on the stairs. I turn to see one of the pileated woodpeckers that hang about our woods, her black wings wrap around her like a great cloak and she clings to the tree outside our front door, working steadily at the trunk of the large poplar. White chips fly away to the ground.

I run down the rest of the stairs to the kitchen and then down the final steps to the entryway, dash past the dogs, “Wait here,” I say, and burst out the front door.

“Hey!” I say to her, quick and fast, hoping to startle her from her task. Ten feet above my head she stops what she is doing, cocks her head sideways and peers down at me with her round, glassy eye.

“You can’t live there,” I say, eyeing up the hole she has started, a bright fresh wound on the side of the tree. “Pick another tree,” I tell her. “Like that one over there.” And I point to another poplar not too far away that already has a great hole in it, made a number of years ago by the pileateds and every year since has been home to new broods of yellow-shafted flickers.

I know she will not live in a used hole, but I suggest it anyway. The pileateds are amazing. I love to have the birds living right outside our home but I do not want to sacrifice every tree to them. There are others dotted about our property, older poplars with great caverns already hacked out inside.

“Go use one of the other holes,” I say to her and clap my hands loudly over my head. She continues to stare, her beak parted slightly as though considering, and then returns to her task, ripping great strips of wood from inside the tree.

I stomp my feet and cast about for something to throw. Pale chunks of wood freshly plucked from the inside of the tree litter the dark, weathered planks of the deck. I find a small grey stick, a twig really that has fallen from this very tree, I pull it from the receding ice and toss it up towards the bird. I don’t want to hit her, I don’t want to scare her away completely I just want her to stop building her nest here, in this tree, compromising its structure.

The twig bounces of the trunk a foot below the bird and she takes no notice. I find another and try again, and another. The pileated clearly does not see me as any kind of threat.

“Go!” I yell at her and clap my hands again and then turn and open the door. “Come on guys,” I say to the dogs, “Chase her away!” Murdoch and Molly pour out the door onto the deck. “Up there,” I say, pointing at the bird. “Come on guys. Bark!”

Molly skips off the deck and is immediately consumed by the task of finding a good fetching stick but Murdoch stands beside me. He is excited because I am excited, but he does not see the bird. He stands rigid, ready, and scans the forest immediately around the house.

“No, up there,” I say again. “Murds, up there.” And I wave my hands over my head. “Go away.”

Murdoch does not look up he does not see the bird that has paused again in her work to take in the dogs. ‘Yeah,’ I think, ‘See? Dogs, and people, and there’s cats too.’ I think that just having the dogs there and me clapping my hands, talking loudly would be enough for the bird to reconsider this spot. But the dogs and I do not concern her.

As the bird returns to shaping a home from the tree trunk, I cast about for more stuff to throw. I toss up another twig, and another, and then a bigger stick. They all bounce harmlessly off the silvered bark. Murdoch looks up then, he sees the bird, but he remains silent.

“Murds, come on,” I say. “Chase it away.” He watches it, but doesn’t say a word. The bird has stopped again, hopped sideways around the tree. Her eye focuses on us below.

I pick up a chunk of bark about the size of the palm of my hand. I am sure it is a piece she has torn from the tree and tossed away. It is heftier than the twigs and when I throw it, it makes a quiet ‘tock’ sound as it ricochets off the trunk.

The bird cocks her head one more time and then, finally, she leaves. She opens her great black wings, exposing the white beneath, and swoops over our heads, away across the clearing where our clothes line runs from the corner of the house to a towering tree.

I watch her go with some relief, even while I imagine her planning her return, as the red crest on her head glows brightly in a flash of sunlight before she disappears into the forest.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The tennis ball

The shoosh, shoosh sound penetrates my thoughts, pulls me from the story I am reading. I look up from the book on the kitchen table, my eyes not quite focusing in the near distance as I test myself. What is that?

There are a number of sounds I have become familiar with, a number of things that can be batted about the floor or dropped, or bounced, or licked. There’s the little pink rubber ball, a cat toy that Molly likes to carry around inside her mouth to be spit out at random moments at unsuspecting feet; there’s the tiny red mouse of faux fur with the green tail that frequently disappears beneath the stove or the fridge before its enthusiastic rediscovery some distant day when its existence has been all but forgotten; there’s the orange catnip-jelly-worm thing that tumbles awkwardly when swatted and clonks against the floor when rubbed against a feline face by eager paws; there’s the odd uncooked rice noodle that has fallen from the counter and skytes quickly and satisfyingly across the floor; and then there’s the chewing of dog beds, the licking of paws, the eating of firewood scraps. I know the sounds each of those things make, but this sound, I begin to realize, I can’t place.

I turn then in my chair, glance over my shoulder to see Cleo playing with the tennis ball. She sits tall above it, staring seriously, intently at the graying felt orb and taps it carefully with one paw, sliding it ever so slowly this way and then that. Shoosh, shoosh.

The tennis ball smells like the outdoors, like spring rains and wet earth and decaying leaves. It smells like melting snow and just-frozen ice and crisp breezes. We found it sometime in February when it emerged from the retreating snow of an early melt beneath a warm spring-like sun. It brought the essence of the forest into the house and everyone has quickly fallen under its spell, Cleo batting it about, Chestnut curling his body around it, hugging it to his chest, kicking it with his back feet, Molly mooning over it, choosing it above anything else to carry around. Murdoch likes it too, but only when someone else is getting attention because of it.

“Maybe it smells like Bear,” Morgan said one day as we watched Chestnut roll about on the floor with it before we had actually sniffed it ourselves. The ball had belonged to Bear, and when I found it that mild day, poking out of the snow, I picked it up and brought it inside, uncertain then what to do with it. The part of me that wanted to preserve it somehow, not give it to the dogs, placed it carefully on top of Murdoch’s kennel where it promptly got lost amongst the gloves and sweaters and winter things that accumulated there.

But then Morgan found it one day and tossed it casually onto Molly’s bed. It landed with a thunk and when Molly lifted her head and saw it sitting there, her eyes lit up as though she had uncovered a treasure she had been searching for her whole life. She scooped it softly into her mouth and headed up to the kitchen to try its bounce on the wood floor.

It turns out Molly is more careful with the ball than Bear ever would have been. Bear delighted in stripping tennis balls of their fluff, ripping and tearing until the ball was no more than a rubber orb and then she would work that between her teeth, chewing and chewing until there was the very satisfying pop of the seam letting go and then she would work it until it eventually split in two.

Molly is a lot less aggressive than that. She is mildly obsessive, but in a loving sort of way. Molly pads around the kitchen with her slow, purposeful walk, the ball carefully clamped between her teeth. When she thinks one of us is looking, she drops the ball, lets it bounce once, and then snatches it up again. She sinks to the floor front end first, places the ball between her paws and looks at us expectantly. Sometimes she scoops it up again as we make a move to take the ball, and then, when we ignore her, she grumbles in her throat until we make eye contact.

Molly likes it when Morgan bounces the ball off the wall and she tries to catch it as it flies past her head, or when he bounces it off the ground at an angle that makes it ricochet off the kitchen cupboards and she has to think on her feet, tap dancing across the floor, attempting to guess where it might go next. The other balls don’t bounce like that, the road hockey ball and the other hard rubber ball Molly brought with her when she came to live with us, this tennis ball, she says with her intense brown eyes, is pretty awesome.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

A legend in his own mind

Chestnut rockets down the stairs to the kitchen and leaps on to the easy chair sitting in the corner. He vaults over the armrest and somersaults onto the seat, landing on his back squarely in the middle of a beam of morning sunlight.

His amber eyes flash about the room, land on Molly as she circumscribes a plodding path around the table, tennis ball held eagerly, hopefully, in her mouth. As she moves past the chair, her long body swaying purposefully, Chestnut flails wildly at her flank with his front paws as he pushes himself forward on his back with his hind legs off the backrest of the chair.

Molly skips forward and Chestnut pushes himself farther, stretches out as far as he can and grabs at the thick fur of Molly’s backside and then her tail. Molly swings around then, looks at the cat with piercing eyes, stands in her permanent, no-nonsense, military stance and drops the ball. It bounces twice and then rolls towards the chair.

Chestnut lies splayed on his back, front legs outstretched, eyes locked on Molly. “I dare you,” he says. “To pick up that ball.” I watch Molly process the conundrum. Her beloved ball has rolled within range of the cat. If she goes for it, he will grab at her and she’s not allowed to retaliate, although she doesn’t understand why. But she can’t leave the ball there for just anyone to find, it’s hers and if she’s patient enough someone will eventually throw it for her.

She tiptoes forward eyeing the ball, almost sliding on her big lion-like front paws, as she ducks in to retrieve it from the bottom edge of the chair. Chestnut strikes then, arching his back and stretching his legs, claws splayed in another wild attempt to grab hold of some fur. Molly skips sideways with the ball securely in her mouth and then lunges forward as though to nose-butt Chestnut in the face; the cat retreats, pulling his paws to his chest and half rolling away.

“Molly!” I say, a warning before she gets too rough.

“Fine,” she says and turns reluctantly from the cat, who moves like lightning and takes a final swipe at her tail as Molly walks away. She skips ahead and throws a glance over her shoulder, contemplates going back.

“Come on Molly,” I say, breaking into her train of the thought with the magic words. “Bring your ball over here.”

Ears tall, eyes bright, Molly plods towards me, dropping the ball too soon as usual, looks at me with anticipation, completely forgetting about the annoying cat. Chestnut watches from his upside down position, eyes round and wild, the sun glinting off his white belly, tail flicking menacingly.

It is not long before that movement catches his eye, and Chestnut amuses himself for the rest of the morning, turning somersaults on the chair in earnest pursuit of his tail.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

A very Bear memory

It was almost 13 years ago now when Morgan, Bear and I left our respective homes in southern Ontario and hit the road; wanderers with no real destination in mind. We piled our camping things into my car, strapped two canoes to the roof, stuffed Bear in the back seat and took off.

It was a summer full of adventure that tumbled into fall, right to the edge of winter. Back roads traveled, rivers paddled, lakes explored. Beaches became home for days, sometimes weeks, at a time. There were campfires and dark night skies with endless stars, there were raging storms and misread maps, there were fascinating people and interesting places.

So many moments define that summer, each a vivid memory that could have happened yesterday, but there is one that I remember as the moment when I felt like we had made it. It’s kind of plain, nothing flashy about it; there were no beaches or sunsets or northern lights. It was an early overcast summer morning and we sat in a park in the middle of a town I forget the name of and cooked breakfast on our camping stove while the world came to life around us.

To say “we had made it” is probably not the right sentiment. We were essentially homeless, living out of my car, finding quiet places along the road to pitch our tent each night, starting our days with giant bowls of oatmeal to last through until late afternoon when we would awkwardly make peanut butter and jam sandwiches for lunch with a Swiss Army Knife. But in that moment, in the park with our oatmeal and tea I remember being filled with a sense of peace and clarity.

We sat on a stone wall in the early morning mist and late-summer damp and watched cars rush past on the road that arced around the edge of the park, a good-sized green space in the middle of town with a creek running through it. There was a nervous energy to the hustle and bustle of the morning unfolding as people sped into their day, to work, a million things to do, slurping coffee on the run. And here was Morgan and Bear and I together in this bubble that encompassed the park, as though we had stepped out of time, sipping tea and enjoying our breakfast. We were invisible sitting there in the middle of this organized chaos, observers, completely unaffected by all of it. It was the greatest moment.

The moment was short lived. It was quickly shattered when Bear reappeared after a wander down to the creek. She skipped back to our sides with a new light in her eye, an extra spring in her step. “Hi Beary!” we said before the smell hit us and we swung quickly into, “Oh gawd!”, “What the!?” and leapt away from her as she pranced closer.

After Bear had inhaled her breakfast, snarfing it down as though she had not seen food in days, she followed her nose off across the grass to investigate some trees and rocks and more grass in the oblong-shaped park that stretched away from the road. We let her go on her own because she was a good dog. She was three and a half and she listened well. We weren’t worried about her taking off. What we hadn’t counted on was that she would decide in the spur of the moment to roll in a pile of some other dog’s crap.

She hadn’t just rolled in it though, she had basked in it, gloried in it. It was so ground into her fur it looked like someone had not only spackled the side of her neck with brown paste, but had massaged it into her fur. Her bright blue collar with the silver reflective strip was ruined. The once-gleaming fabric was so defiled we decided to throw it out right there, removing it carefully from her neck and, between pinched fingers and a lot of “eww, eww, eww”s, dropped it in the garbage can.

“Why, Bear?” we asked as she beamed back at us. “What were you thinking?” we wanted to know as we marched her back to the creek with a bar of soap and washcloth rummaged from the car.

She was so happy, so proud of herself  “Look what I found!” It was almost heartbreaking to see how crestfallen she became when she realized what was happening, an impromptu bath in the cold water.

“But I did that for you guys,” she seemed to say, a look of mortification sliding on to her face.

The washcloth ended up in the garbage too and as Bear shook off the water, along with her indignation, we packed our breakfast things in silence and loaded everything into the car.

“Did you really think we were going to let you back in the car like that?” we asked Bear as we held the door and invited her in. She leapt into the back seat as though the last fifteen minutes had never happened, disappointment gone, hard feelings discarded, because this next moment was going to be even better as we set our sights on the horizon.

How could it not be?

“Where to next?”

November 29, 2000 - March 16, 2013
 We miss you Bear xo

Friday, March 10, 2017

Book review

A huge thank you to award-winning author Ingrid King over at The Conscious Cat for writing a lovely review of my book "The Comeback Cat"!

Please click here to read what she had to say and then peruse her awesome site. It is chock full of information about feline health, nutrition and behaviour.

"The Comeback Cat: Cleo's incredible journey through feline diabetes to remission" is available for sale through Amazon.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Intrepid explorer

The third drawer down of the dresser in the corner of my bedroom was ajar. It did not look like a big enough space for a cat to squeeze through, but as I put my face near the opening and peered into the dark reaches of the drawer I could see movement, the flash of white fur amongst t-shirts, the source of the mystery rustling that had roused me from bed and the book I was reading.

“Cleo what are you doing?” I said into the shadows, snaking my hands into the drawer to try and push shirts aside and make a space for her to come out. It seemed so tight and cramped I had a passing claustrophobic thought of her suffocating in there amongst the cotton and polyester.

“You can’t stay in there,” I said, thinking about the restless night ahead, worrying about how she would get out again, the ongoing rustling sounds of her arranging and rearranging a nest for herself.

The dresser, an old wooden beast of a thing with drawers that stick, sliding grudgingly in or out only after a good shove or two, has frequently been a favourite sleeping spot of both cats, but usually it is when a drawer has been left generously open, its contents easily swirled into a comfy bed. I am not sure what possessed Cleo to stuff herself through the barely-there opening on this night but clearly she did not give a glimmer of thought to how she would get out again.

“Um, I can’t open the drawer,” I said into the gap. I was sure I would get her head stuck somehow between it and the drawer above, or on the frame of the dresser itself, a 1x2 wooden crosspiece that spanned the width of the drawer. “You’re going to have to crawl out.

“How did you get in there?” I asked. And as I shifted more shirts I heard the soft scraping sound of fur against wood. “No, no, no, Cleo, don’t do that,” I said, and caught a glimpse of a white leg disappearing as she slithered over the back edge of the drawer and down into the drawer below.

I stood up straight and stared at the dresser. The fourth drawer down was also open a bit which meant Cleo was now in the fifth drawer and I imagined her sitting there sandwiched between the wooden back of the dresser and the back of drawer four.

“Well, now you’re stuck,” I said.

There was silence from the dresser and I wondered what she was doing in there, just sitting, contemplating. If she had been at all distressed I would have heard about it, but she didn’t make a peep. I had a half thought to just leave her, sure she could climb back out on her own the way she went in, but I wasn’t going to wait around to find out at 2:00 in the morning, woken from a deep sleep by the sound of an elephant rummaging about in my dresser.

But now that Cleo was two drawers below, I could pull out drawer three as far as it would go and then remove it. I placed it on the floor next to me and peered into the space it had occupied. Cleo stood at the back of the dresser, front feet in the fourth drawer, back end in the fifth, neck craned, pink nose twitching, “Well, isn’t this interesting,” she seemed to say.

“Come on,” I said, reaching into the back of the dresser and grabbing her under the armpits. I pulled her up into the exposed drawer where she turned to liquid in my hands and I had to let go, reposition, and pull her out sideways.

When I placed her on the floor she did a little happy skip towards the drawer I had left there, “Ooo did you put this here for me?”

“No, Cleo, it’s bedtime,” I said and lifted the drawer up and away, securing it back into its position in the dresser.

And with that, the nightly Cleo whirlwind was over. Curiosity maybe not quite satisfied, but tempered for now, Cleo turned abruptly and hopped down the stairs, loudly, leaving me to shake my head before crawling back into bed with my book and the glow of the lamp and the quiet.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

The bagel thief

I stood frozen beside the kitchen counter with my mouth hanging open, a gasp having just escaped. In one hand I held a bread knife, in the other, nothing, but my fingers still curled in the shape of the bagel that had been there seconds before.

Beside me Molly sat tall and regal, as she does in her casual way, and watched Murdoch with some curiosity. He sat in front of me, head down, jaws working in a frenzy as he gulped and chewed his way through the bagel, swallowing great chunks, not letting even a crumb fall to the floor.

It was cinnamon raisin. I could still smell its sweetness in the air as I tried to process exactly what happened. It wasn’t particularly early in the morning, but I had stumbled down the stairs just moments before in a blur after a not-very-restful night’s sleep and felt that my brain had not quite awoken yet so I was still frozen in disbelief after Murdoch had polished of the bagel and sat up straight again to stare at me expectantly as if I might have something else for him.

“What the…?… I just…” I stammered in some explanation to Morgan who sat at the table mere feet away and missed the whole thing, swinging around in his chair at the sound of my shocked, sharp intake of breath. I was caught somewhere between disbelief and a weird appreciation for how expertly Murdoch had stripped me of my un-toasted breakfast, which I expressed with a laugh as I said, “He just took my bagel right out of my hand. I don’t even know what happened there.” I can’t deny I was impressed. I let my guard down; he saw his moment and took it, in and out.

But obviously we couldn’t just let that go, so even if it was a little delayed, even though it came after a brief chuckle shared between us, Morgan and I put on our serious voices, “Bad boy Murdoch,” and sent the dogs downstairs.

I returned to the counter and pulled the last bagel out of the bag, noting to myself that it wasn’t quite as nice as the one Murdoch had just inhaled. “I’m glad that wasn’t the last bagel though,” I said as I sliced this one open. “Then I would have been really mad.” But as it stood at that moment, for some reason I found the whole thing more funny than maddening.

I should be annoyed with Murdoch’s pushiness that never seems to stop no matter how many times we tell him to back off, make him sit a mile away from the counter. And now Molly is the same, her tongue ‘accidentally’ brushing against fingers as you move from the counter to the fridge to the stove. “Why is your nose in my hand?” we often ask of her.

But now that the dogs were downstairs in the entryway and not flanking me as I slid my bagel into the toaster oven, I missed them. There was no drool on the floor, no head jammed between my legs and the cupboards beneath the counter, no paws to trip over. It was all just a little too civilized.

Their presence in the kitchen demands a certain amount of vigilance on the part of Morgan and I. An alertness I did not possess that morning when I allowed the bagel to cross that unspoken threshold, anything below countertop level is fair game. I could still feel the emptiness of my hand, the phantom weight of the vacated bagel. But in our unbalanced human/canine world, Murdoch was just reacting, really, to an opportunity that presented itself.

Good one Murds, I thought as the toaster oven dinged. I tip my hat to you sir.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Not built for leashes

“This is not fun for anybody,” I told Murdoch as he, Molly, and I bumbled along the narrow trail colliding with each other, tripping over our own feet, all strung together with leashes. It seemed ridiculous for the three of us to be clumped this way in the vast space of the woods, but I was not letting the dogs out of my sight, not letting them follow their noses, ignore my calls again.

I clamped a leash in each mittened hand as we picked our way carefully over the winding, single-file path we had worn into the snow. Murdoch out front, nose in the air pulling just enough to keep me unbalanced, Molly behind, who dropped her stick every few feet and, in stopping to pick it up, hauled me backwards as her collar threatened to shuck itself over her head.

“Guys,” I said. “Come one.” And I snapped Murdoch’s leash to slow him down so the dogs wouldn’t pull me in half. “Can’t you work with me here?”

But why would they cooperate? As I said, it wasn’t fun for anybody. These leash walks were so un-enjoyable in fact, that it had been a very long time since I had actually carried any with me when we ventured into the woods. The very reason for us to walk the trail we did, through our own forest in the direction of the mountains away from the roads and cars and people, was so I wouldn’t have to worry about the pair of them getting in trouble, so we could all walk companionably in nature, lost in our own thoughts together.

But I got overconfident and one day, out of the blue, after countless perfect walks, Murdoch disappeared. He headed off into the trees like he does sometimes while Molly and I stuck to the trail that meandered across one of the open fields between the mountains and the woods, but he didn’t come back. After a good long time playing with Molly and calling “Murd!” and listening for the distant sound of feet shushing through snow or the jangle of a collar jauntily bouncing at a furry neck with no results, I decided to head home.

“He could be anywhere,” I told Molly whose deepest concern of the moment seemed to be whether or not I was going to throw the correct splinter of wood from the shredded pile at my feet that, all together, used to be a stick. As I turned to go, Molly carefully selected the one she wanted and trotted after me.

At home, there was still no sign of him. I had half expected to hear him galloping through the snow behind us, leaping past me on the trail, falling in to line as though he had been there the whole time. When that didn’t happen I imagined we would emerge from the woods and find him sitting at the front door, perfect posture, feet arranged politely beneath him, a relaxed look in his eye straining against a hint of mischief. But the space in front of the door was decidedly empty.

I shuttled Molly inside, told her to wait as I closed the door on her incredulous face. “Murd!” I called again as I headed along the path and down the driveway. I stood in the road, scrutinized the snow-covered ground for paw prints. Not seeing any I contemplated heading towards the trail at the dead end where we hadn’t been in a while. It would not be the first time he cut through the woods and ended up in a completely different place.

But then, from the corner of my eye, movement; I turned and suddenly there he was, running down the driveway, leaping over the edge of the snowbank like a superhero, tongue lolling happily as he scampered to a stop beside me.

“Oh Murd,” I said. “Look at you. What did you eat?” Because his waist, that usually tapered in quite nicely between his ribs and his hips, had disappeared. His body had become one long solid rectangle of dog, making me think of a snake that had just finished unhinging its jaw to inhale its latest meal. He even waddled when he walked beside me back to the house.

I remembered then, that Sunday evening, just a few days ago when I sat in my living room beside the tall window looking out into the woods as the overcast sky darkened another shade of gray. The book in my hand partially forgotten as I contemplated the bluish hue to the trees as the light changed, and then there was the explosive clap of a rifle shot.

I snapped fully awake at that cold sound, my heart sinking a little as I waited for another crack that never came. It was my neighbour, I knew, a ways through the trees in his own part of the woods and I couldn’t help but think about that buck I had seen a few times wandering through our woods, the one I made eye contact with on two occasions, the one who seemed mildly unconcerned about the dogs, and I hoped he had wandered away to a safer place.

The next day, after Murdoch ate whatever he ate and then proceeded to sulk in his kennel with an upset stomach before throwing up the pink gooey mass two or three times throughout the afternoon with me running around behind him cleaning it up, I grabbed the leashes as we walked out the door.

I didn’t affix them to collars until we reached the spot that I deemed the danger zone, the place where our trail snakes its way across the very back of our neighbours’ forested property, where the dogs conveniently forget their names. But once attached, we stumbled our way awkwardly towards the far corner of the forest, with me hauling dogs back onto the trail as their noses enticed them off, untangling leashes from trees, tripping over logs emerging from the snow as I tried to not step on any paws, falling to my knees, leashes wrapped tightly around my hands, dogs staring into my eyes. “This sucks,” they said. “Yes, I know,” I replied and pushed myself to my feet, continuing onward with our shuffling, stumbling steps.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Stories in the snow

 “Timber wolves then,” said my neighbour as I put my hands together, making a circular shape with my fingers and thumbs to show the size of the tracks I had found.

For a couple of nights they had been in the woods around our house, not right outside as the volume of their voices seemed to indicate, but close enough. The first sign they had been there was not their voices at all, or their paw prints, but something else they left behind that drew Murdoch’s nose away from the house, down the driveway towards the neighbours’ woods.

I watched him move with purpose along the road, not rushing, but methodical, steady, and far enough ahead I couldn’t catch him. Molly and I followed as he walked almost on tiptoes, his nose in the air, sparing the odd glance in my direction as I called his name. When he stopped and turned abruptly towards the woods, I knew his brain was already somewhere else.

Molly and I reached the spot on the road where he had leapt onto the snow bank and disappeared amongst the trees and we clambered after him. Not too far in, where trees had fallen against other trees in the last wind storm, where branches tangled into a maze with scrub, Molly squeezed through spaces too small for me and joined Murdoch’s dark shape, noses stuck to the ground, tongues busy scooping things up from the snow.

The route I took was much more circuitous; over this tree, under that one, skirt the brush, feet punching through the crust of snow in spots. “Come on guys,” I barked at them, “Leave it!” My frustration at their belligerence building as my route seemed to take me farther away.

But just past where the pair stayed locked behind branches and trees that snagged my jacket and kept me at bay, the land opened up, airy and spacious between grey trunks sunk into the snow. The ground was completely patterned over with the footprints of birds, most likely the ravens who squawked and rabbled in the treetops above. They had formed a great latticework across the snow, so many it was impossible to pick out individual prints, instead it looked as though someone had painstakingly covered the woods with hashmarks, creating a great quilt out of the snow or else as though every bird that ever flew across this patch of sky had gathered here all at once to converse before all flying off again.

It stopped me in my tracks, this patterned forest floor, it felt like I had stumbled onto a secret meeting ground, a sacred place I had no business being, a sight I was not meant to see. I imagined the great frenzy that must have happened here and I began to piece together a story of wolves in the night, a fresh kill, birds in the dark, waiting. And then the wolf tracks obliterated as though they had never been. The birds owned these woods.

Then Murdoch skipped past and I was brought back to the moment as we clapped eyes on the deer hide across the expanse of disturbed snow at the same time. I stepped quickly after him, grabbed his collar as he grabbed for the hide. I dragged him away to the right, planning to skirt around the tangled brush, but there was the ribcage with the spine and skull still attached, small, a young deer.

I swung in the other direction. Legs. One over here, one over there, we were hemmed in by deer parts and connecting all of them, a million bird footprints. So I went in the exact opposite direction I wanted to go, hand clamped on Murdoch’s collar, made a big loop back to where I had arrived at this spot.

When Molly wandered near in her own little world, nose stuck to the ground, I grabbed her collar too and the three of us stumbled and tumbled our way back through the woods to the road. Behind us the busy voices of ravens called to one another, seeing us off, reclaiming their space, working to eradicate any signs we had been there too.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

An unwelcome snow

The forest is full of snowflakes. Those giant ones that fall steadily as though in slow motion but really moving too fast to follow just one, a stark speck against the treetops, from the moment your eye lands on it until it hits the ground. White clouds overhead, white clouds at my feet, and in between, against the black of the woods, the mass of trees melded in to one dark shape, a pouring down of white. It is beautiful.

But in its beauty, on this day, it is heart wrenching. The snow covers everything. It fills in the large tracks of my snowshoes as fast as I can make them; it changes well-worn deer thoroughfares into long, muted troughs running away between the trees. It obliterates any tracks I might stumble upon and follow over the quiet landscape that will lead me to the lost dog. That little dog we have been looking for for days.

I trudge the tracks once foreign to me, now so familiar, mentally marking the trees I had never passed before that I now recognize as landmarks, and I call his name, and I wait, and I watch the snow tumble down in its perfection. A snow I would welcome any other time, a snow that falls as though the sky itself has been torn open and poured out and would normally make a dark winter day so very perfect, but today it is deflating.

There is a steady pick of merry snowflakes banded together into circling clumps as they hit the hood of my jacket and break apart, they flick coldly against my face, melting quickly, they gather on my eyelashes so I have to blink them away. On my mittens the muted sparkle of perfect crystal formations, their feathery arms reaching out in six distinct directions. I want to enjoy it but instead I look to the sky, will it to stop.

The snow falls and falls. The world is silent, nothing moves, the trees watch, and I make tracks that disappear behind me as though I was never there. It is a beautiful day, this perfect snow day, but it is disappointing and despairing. It feels empty even as it fills up.

When I get home I hug my dogs, capturing their wiggling bodies as they frantically sniff my snow pants, my jacket, my boots, to see where I have been, what adventure I have again taken without them. “This is why you don’t run away,” I tell them, kiss the tops of their heads, hug them hard. “It breaks hearts.”

Thursday, February 2, 2017

A world lit up


The wolves circled through the woods in the dark of a winter evening beneath a heavy black sky, the moon a cold icy sliver, an afterthought of silver light. Trees creaked, moving stiffly with the cold, snapping and cracking in protest. And the voices rose around the house, a chorus started by a sonorous, distant howl like Murdoch lost in the woods and joined by rising yips and a high pitched sweeping song.

A swell of voices upon voices put a stop to our puttering in the house. We stared at each other, a flicker of a question in our eyes. The dogs are inside?

It filled up the dark spaces between the trees, approached the house as though the pack were right outside, right there, with their giant paws and long legs, just on the edge of the ring of light spilling from our windows. And then the voices receded again as though part of a current, or the ebb and flow of a tide washing through the woods.

We stepped out on to the snow-packed deck to listen, fighting past the dogs at the door, telling them to stay put in their stiffened, agitated state. Outside, cold settled heavily on our bodies as we stood silently listening to the snap and creak of tree limbs in the rising breeze, straining to hear the sounds of dozens of feet padding swishingly over the snow, of the whispering glance of furry bodies weaving around trees, angling shoulder-to-shoulder through the black of the woods. But there was nothing. The voices were gone as suddenly as they had started. The night fell heavily, silently, around us. At our backs, behind the closed door, Murdoch’s voice called steadily, a deep, forlorn howl.