Hightailing it through the high grass and high sun, off track, water mad, ducking under the low branches of trees, the dogs avalanche down the cut bank to the stream and, I know, stand chest deep waiting for me to bring rocks. They will chase them (and seashells and frisbees) until collapse, but dog paradise is found in the water of a shaded section where I submit to their command to chuck and chuck again, and they catapult themselves madly, their eyes as bright as lamps.
Bending from the waist, my hand scrabbling the moist dirt in thick scrub, two feet away from mine the face appeared, assembling itself out of the dark colors, its camo suddenly gone. A black snake in shadows, thickly coiled under brambles. Its tongue flicks measure my thermals; its round eyes hold mine so close — a strain of olive circles the dark iris.
No sequence of actions but only a hitch in time, an interlude, a long, long pause where everything around me and in me seems hushed — only that gaze and the closeness of the air. That gaze. There is no recognition in it as we see in dogs and horses and birds. It holds steady and does not turn away. It is not vacant but separate, remote, aware, but in a way I cannot reach. Nothing moves except the tongue.
Very, very slowly I rise to my full height, keeping its eyes in mine, and take two deliberate steps back, and only now do I let myself be released. The dogs have remained unmoving, watching me from the water. I find their eyes. Signaling with my hand and a short whistle, they begin wading to the shore, and then I turn and move from under the tree, and then the dogs bounce out before me and all three of us are back within an orderly time whose seconds tick off as they should.