The corn has been cut and the stalks at ground level look like the frayed ruins of a bombed city. I’m on my haunches looking at a dead rabbit discovered by Wolfie. It has been torn apart. It spreads out below me, red flesh set against all this mud. I am tired of rain and mud – gray-brown mud, black-brown mud, pooled mud, squashed mud. At the edge of the field gray-brown trees are outlined like scaffolds against a uniformly flat gray sky. The rain is hard and relentless. Wolfie pulled me out of a book to come to this. He is relentless in his yearning to be outside. I think he send me telepathic messages: Come out. It is time. Now. You must come out.
South of where I balance over the rabbit, the field dips into a hollow and then into thick trees. Wolfie, hunched and loping, seems dismissive of the wet. His world is filled with smells. I follow him into the hollow where he has climbed onto an old, grass-grown hay bale. From there he surveys the woods, an edge to his gaze. I follow the line of his eyes and 30 feet away see a gray squirrel doing its mindless hops, oblivious to the move-less intensity of the dog. I swear that Wolfie leaps six feet out from the humped bale, and that his legs are moving in the air before he strikes the ground. He is on the squirrel in a moment but misses trapping him with his paws, and the squirrel, who must be silently screaming bloody murder the whole time, races up a walnut tree. Wolfie leaps about the bottom trying to either fly or defy gravity and climb it like some CGI special-effects dog.
Back in our yard he races to the Frisbee. The rain continues. He can catch the Frisbee at a dead run 3 out of 4 times now. I float it out to him again and again. His whole belly is awash in mud; his legs look like brown sticks. His eyes never leave my hand – their intensity of focus feels like a force.
A few weeks ago I was sitting with my father-in-law, Earle, comfortable, shielded from that day’s rain, the dogs sleeping, Patti and her mother shopping. We were drinking coffee, talking and laughing. At one point Earle said, “I can’t believe that I’m 86.” He said this wondrously, as if, how could this have happened? He said, “I know this though — you have to keep moving.”
That wasn’t the word I muttered at 3:45 this morning when Wolfie brought me awake with a whine at our bedroom door. He had to go out, quickly. I dressed in a creaky daze, and out we walked into a bracing north wind, the rain gone, the sky streaked with thin clouds being driven south, and to the west a big moon, especially bright after so much wet weather. We walked into the field, the stars visible and welcome. It felt as if all the land belonged to us alone. Wolfie finished and then stood next to me, both of us unwilling to go back inside.
I too often fail, but I try to be thankful for much in my life. Wolfie is one of those gifts. As Edward Hoagland wrote, our dogs are “the tug of life at the end of the leash.” Covered in mud, fresh from eating deer turds, his eyes so alive they make me happy just to look at them, he is one of the messengers who brings me the spark to move and thus to live in the present. Amen.