Sunday, December 6, 2009

Hard Frost, Morning Dogs

Sunday mornings are always the quietest time on my land. I enjoy going down the path we call Pine Forest Road into the heart of my small, 5+ acre patch of woods. The normal, distant rumble of the Interstate is softer on Sunday mornings. All the party people are still sleeping off their liquor. All the church people are preparing to leave for worship, but churches haven’t opened yet. There is no traffic on my road.

This morning was our first hard frost since last winter. My open ground was coated in a heavy frosty white-silver. There were no crows or other birds in flight yet. Charlie went out with me after I made coffee. Jennifer and my daughter continued to sleep.

There was a moment totally consumed with doggy action at first. As I opened the door for Charlie to go out I was also herding Parks (who now sleeps in our laundry room every night) toward the door for his morning constitutional. I have to pick him up and sit him down the stairs to our carport. His shoulder is bad and we are medicating him for it. But, that is another story. Anyway, he’s still undead particularly about 3 hours before feeding time.

With Parks slowly puttering off, stopping frequently to stare into apparent nothingness, and before I could get out the front door with my cup of homebrewed Starbucks, Nala came up very animated. She looked frisky, she likes cold weather. But, she is used to coming in about this time every morning (we now let her into the laundry room but not usually at night, she prefers her freshly made bed of hey under our front porch, having always been an outside dog).

So, Nala replaced Parks and I had to pet her a bit and make a fuss over her. She laid down, still. I finally got out the door. Charlie was running outside. This was his first heavy frost since being a little puppy. I don’t believe he remembers his last one. I sure don’t. Regardless, he likes a frosty morning, maybe just because it’s something new.

I walked into our woods. The air was still. No breeze at all. Even though it was 24 degrees out I felt warmer than I did outside yesterday in 47 degrees, overcast and wet, with a 10 mph wind. The coffee cup warmed my exposed hands. I was just in sweats and a sweater.

Then I just breathed for a bit. A sip of coffee. Quiet.

The sun, hidden by the ridge behind me to the east was up and bright. My land remained in its shadow for the moment, daylight had yet to touch the tops of my tallest trees from where I stood. I had noticed the sun’s young yellow light in the trees on the ridge to my west about 40 acres away from my house as I walked toward the Pine Forest Road. It was more overcast back to the west.

Now, in my woods, in the shadow, with my coffee, there were squirrels, high in the trees like acrobats, hopping along the thick blanket of leaves at the forest’s trunks. They made little noise and were quick as lightning when Charlie saw one and chased it up a tree. He gets close. He’s learning. He will catch one some day.

I thought of nothing. The coffee tasted nice. Looking back toward the house I noticed the frost of the red tin roof, though all I could see was the edge from my angle. I started feeling cold. I breathed deeper a few times. The cold air filling my lungs. It felt satisfying. I was alert.

There is a place in my woods where we recently relocated a garden bench. It had been sitting under an oak in Jennifer’s wonderful backyard garden space for years. There are patches of fungi from the drippings and fallings of the tree over the years. So, in a sense, the bench is alive. It is not yet rotted but it will soon in a couple more years. We need to replace the wooden slats with fresh ones. Otherwise, it sits great.

I sat there of a moment until Charlie got bored with the squirrels.

By now the coffee cup was two-thirds empty and it no longer warmed my hands. Time to warm the cup. So I walked slowly back listening to my Nike’s in the leaves. Charlie was sniffing for grubs or, more likely, deer poop. He is a connoisseur of venison defecation. Not his most attractive quality, I admit.

I called him. He came after a few seconds and raced past me down the length of Pine Forest Road to the front door where he stopped, sprawling his long, slim four-legged body all over the space of our entry steps, looking back, tongue half out. I let him in, toweled off his wet, dirty paws, and set him free, whereupon he bounced around the house and furniture so happy to be alive. He bounded up the stairs and pounced on Jennifer in our bed.

I filled my cup and coaxed him out from our bedroom. He retrieved a tennis ball but I told him I couldn’t throw with him right now. I sat down to check emails and sip my coffee. Charlie reappeared with a piece of new rope I bought him yesterday. We wrestled with it roughly for 5 – 10 minutes. He growled playfully more than usual, really into it. I growled back which provoked him more. Then he went to lie by Jennifer. Charlie remained motionless, stretched out seemingly twice his natural length until she got about 20 minutes later.

Meanwhile, I had completed my morning routine on the internet. I read some while Jennifer had her first cup, checked her laptop and woke up. Then we shared a cup, talked for a bit in a slow, relaxed early morning pace. Parks returned and wanted in. I picked his densely packed body up and lifted him back into the house. I went back to read, Jennifer went back to her laptop.

After a bit, Parks threw-up on the carpet. Jennifer was suddenly alert and giving orders. “Hold Charlie back while I get this.” I raced downstairs and did so. Parks had been across the ditch to the neighbor’s house and had eaten some ham scraps that they seem to consistently provide behind their house.

On this cold morning, the ham parts were probably frozen when Parks neurotically consumed them. He choked them up roughly intact and without any liquid. It was just this moist mass sitting there. To Charlie it looked tasty. I held him gently with my finger looped around his collar, squatting next to him. He was anxious and intensely curious, but he did not try to bolt. Jennifer deposited Parks back outside.

Unfortunately, as Jennifer let Parks out, Nala thought that the door opening was for her to go out and rose stiffly from the communal doggie mat in our laundry room. Nala has a deformed pelvic bone and this has resulted in some painful pressure on her knees from the angle of her legs in her old age. In addition she has become sporadically incontinent and she spotted the mat heavily upon rising to exit the door with Parks. So, Jennifer had to toss the mat quickly in the washing machine. Then she returned and threw the scraps of Parks’ regurgitation away using vinyl gloves and newspaper.

Toweling up the small spot on the carpet which was luckily unstained by the episode, I let Charlie go. He inspected briefly and decided he didn’t want anything to do with that after all. Jennifer freshened her coffee and returned with a smile. “Well, that was pleasant” she opined, sitting again. “Get you going better than the coffee,” I uttered. We chuckled. The heat kicked on, warming us inside our Christmas decorated home. My daughter dreamed on, oblivious.

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