Thursday, April 27, 2017


“Oooo,” I say when Murdoch’s lip quivers in annoyance and I catch a fleeting glimpse of white. “Look at those teeth! So clean and shiny!”

In exaggerated slow motion he swings his head towards me where I kneel beside him on the floor, me desperately wanting to wrap my arms around him, he trying not to melt into a puddle on the floor.

“Sorry Murds,” I say. “I just really want to look in your mouth.” But I won’t. It’s sore and he’s drugged and wobbly and, I imagine, just wanting to curl up in his kennel, slide into a drunken sleep.

He stands in the entryway on sinking knees as though he has just been dropped there, as though he had been happily enjoying himself somewhere else and now, suddenly, he is here and is feeling a little lost, a little confused.

His day started fine enough, although he missed breakfast. But there was a car ride, so that was awesome. But then there was the strange kennel and the muzzle and the people he didn’t know and, later, a soupy brain, a sore mouth, a missing tooth.

At the vet we found him lying on a comfy blanket in a large kennel, his tongue poking from the front of his mouth as though he had slid it out to taste something and forgot to put it back; his eyes glassy and unfocused with big red droopy lids underneath. But there was a slight spark at seeing my face and he stumbled to his feet, walked drunkenly beside me through the clinic and out to the car.

We drove at a crawl through a burgeoning spring storm. Ice clattered on the roof, gathered in a thick white layer on the road like frozen sand and we wondered if we might not make it up the next hill. The car dug in, clawed its way home, as Murdoch slid down slowly in the back seat, looked at me as though wondering, “How did I get here?”

He sways sleepily in the entryway, looks much thinner than he did that morning, more fragile, but he musters enough energy to growl a tiny growl as I pull out some of his hair when I remove the tape and gauze from his arm where the IV had been.

“Sorry,” I say again, holding the tape under his nose so he can see what I did. He gives it a slow sniff and then, on feet two sizes too big, he stumbles into his kennel, turns around and lies down; mouth buttoned shut, eyes staring into space.

The vet showed us on a diagram which tooth she pulled, the smaller of the two that flanked that pocket in his gum. The tooth was starting to rot where the gum had worn away, exposing the root, and there was infection underneath it. But his other teeth look good, the vet tells us. I am relieved.

In his kennel, Murdoch strains to hold up his head, his eyelids droop halfway down his face and I resist the urge to crawl in beside him. I leave him his space in the entryway where a fire glows cheerily orange in the woodstove and just outside the windows ice comes down in sheets.

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.