To the Dogs


A couple of dogs were here yesterday when I arrived, and they have stuck around.  

I have been giving them food, so I can’t be too surprised that they have stayed.  I had an old can of soft food stashed away on the upper shelf of the corner kitchen cabinet.  It didn’t look too bad; they ate it.  They’ve also gotten a few of the heart-shaped Newman’s-brand treats, which are basically doggie biscuits.  And I’ve given them some kibble I had tucked away in a mouse-proof bucket back in the main bedroom here at Farm, dateline Traderight, MO.

I’ll give them what food I have, for as long as they are here, and then I’ll restock with some fresh food when I return.  Whether the new inventory will be for these two on some later visit or for my own dog Hugo or for some other rando dogs that might appear somewhere down the road, who knows?

They slept out front last night.  They growled and barked a few times.  Somewhere around one or two in the morning they woke me with barking and I had to pee anyway so I went outside.  Even before I stepped out the front door I could smell something dank and rich and garlicky, a very deep and funky body odor let loose into the wild.  Skunk.  There was no doubt about it.  Like a bomb had been released.

I presume the dogs heard it skanking around and went after it.  I am pretty sure they caught some of the spray because they soon started rolling around like crazy on the grass out in front of the house, like they had insects crawling on them and they were trying to rub them off.

When trucks go by along the road that runs just below the house, the dogs rise up, start growling, fire off a few barks, and then go trotting down the hill to where the front driveway meets the road.  I try to call them back, to call them off, because I don’t want them going into the road when vehicles go by, even if the vehicles have to go slow through here because of the way the road bends as it passes by the house before crossing over the creek on a precarious-looking concrete slab and then heading up the gravelly hill.

I wonder if the dogs have been trained to stand guard like this, or if it’s simply in their nature.  Another possibility: they are waiting in hopes of their caretaker returning to pick them up, to take them home again.  If such a caretaker exists.

I thought for sure the dogs would have left yesterday afternoon while I was up on the roof, slinging tar and caulk across any crack or gap, big or small, in the area around the chimney.  I hadn’t fed them anything at that point.  Hell, I thought the male dog I call Tame Coyote might have been an actual coyote, or at least a wild dog.

Tame Coyote in the foreground. Chocolate lab in the back.

I was up on the roof for at least ninety minutes; made little eye contact with the dogs during that span; didn’t really care whether they stayed or left.  I presumed them gone.  But when I came back down the ladder, there they were, lounging in the grass out in front of the house, enjoying an incredibly pleasant and unseasonable mid-December day.  That’s when I decided to give them some food.

From the moment I pulled up the back drive yesterday mid-morning, the dogs have stayed close by.  I was a little worried I might hit one as I drove along the grass path leading from the back driveway to the side of the house, where I usually park.  One dog was on either side of the car as I slowly drove in.  Then they excitedly greeted me on the driver’s side as I opened the door to get out.  Holy crap, I thought, what have I gotten myself into now?


It was comforting to have them out front during the night.  The chocolate lab, a female, laid on the grass, visible straight out through the window pane of the kitchen door.  I would be doing something in the kitchen, with the door closed, and I’d take my eyes off of them.  Then I’d look back out through the glare on the plexiglass and when my eyes adjusted I could see her brown form slightly curled up out there, happily asleep.

The other dog, the male I call Tame Coyote, slept under the back of the Subaru, not a bad spot.  The trunk angles up a bit back there, giving some clearance, with a good patch of dry grass underneath.  If it rained last night, it rained only a little.  It stayed incredibly mild all through the night.

If the dogs are still around tonight I’ll probably invite them onto the back porch.  I’m in a bit of a quandary.  I haven’t let them inside, and I don’t really want to.  Earlier I pulled a tick off of Tame Coyote.  Not a lone star tick but a bulbous, reddish one.  Maybe a deer tick?  I got it into some tweezers—which I had to fetch from the back room because I had put them away for the season—and burned it.  Now I’ve got the tick heebie jeebies.  It’s the middle of December and I’m doing a tick check—crikey!

The problem is: it’s supposed to storm tonight and I’m not going to be at peace inside if I know they’re outside in the rain and thunder and lightning.

Which begs the question: am I going to be melancholy when I leave here, those dogs looking after me in the rearview mirror as I drive away?  I’m not sure I can handle that.  It was Richard Russell, the World War II flyboy and later an investment newsletter author, who wrote, “With all pets comes a contract in sorrow.”  

Damn. Just sitting here writing on this balmy, breezy December day I’m watching them sleep and it’s a bittersweet sort of peace. I can’t leave these dogs, can I? Are they meant to keep me here? Is this a ploy by the Intelligence I know resides here to keep me from leaving again, so soon? Won’t whoever’s dogs these are please show up later today to collect them, so it will not fall to me tonight to give them shelter from the storm?

I’ve also been giving them water.  The chocolate lab avidly laps it up.  Tame Coyote drinks a lot less.  In part because the chocolate lab drinks most of the water and then rather deftly picks up the ceramic bowl in her mouth and carries it off into the grass to lie down with.  It’s her bowl.  

I suspect she is pregnant.  With Tame Coyote’s hybrid offspring.  This is the story I am telling.  She has a collar; he does not.  They are very playful with one another: pawing, wrestling, darting, rolling around, pinning one another, nipping, softly biting.

Dogs in the night

Tame Coyote seems deferential to her.  When she returned yesterday from the creekbed with the torn-off foreleg and shoulder of one of the poor deer that detestable poachers butchered and then dumped into the creek last month, she asserted her ownership over the leg, not so willing to share it.  It’s still out there in the yard, torn up and gnawed on, cracked for marrow, dust to dust.

They both have nice coats.  Soft and shiny.  Tame Coyote has very clean teeth.  And the most amazing, bushy, ringed tail: alternating bands of white and creamsicle orange.  When he trots, the trail sticks straight up into the air, like an antenna.  He has white speckled dots dappling his flank and back legs, reminiscent of a baby deer, a fawn, something from the forest.

The lab has intense, yellow eyes and short, black nails.  She has droopy ears, long legs, and a deep, rufous voice.

Tame Coyote has twice tried to clamber up into my lap while I’ve been seated out front in Doug’s chair.  I manage to get him off of me.  They’ve both been pretty good about listening to what I ask of them, considering I don’t know them, considering they don’t know me.  The lab started barking at the cattle in the pasture when I was rearranging and adding a new carload of split wood to my stack in the machine shed.  I put a stop to that barking right away.  Cows and dogs, in my experience, do not mix.


Order online: yard spinners.  I love the one that’s in the yard here now.  White face, orange petals.  It had been stuck in a box on the back porch but I pulled it out of there earlier this year and planted it in the lawn in front of the house.  It spins furiously in this growing wind.  

I have vague memories of yard spinners from my youth.  I’m talking about fake plastic flowers on metal stems that you stick into the ground.  They spin when the wind gusts.  Did I see them when I was out in Okawville, visiting my grandparents’ house?  Were they in the ground at the Meentemeyer farmhouse, when my aunt and uncle lived there?  Or did we have them in the yard on Signal Point in Belleville, when we lived there back in the eighties?  Maybe all of the above.

It’s partly cloudy.  The sky is very mixed.  Some clear blue patches show through a steady dose of low, fast-moving cumulus clouds.  Above that are streams of cotton contrail, like sutures stitched into the sky.  Then way up high above everything else are wispy, mare’s tail cirrus clouds.  Beautiful thin strands made out of what looks fine hair flowing in a breeze.  The low-flying cumulus in contrast are patchy and puffy, sometimes bruised blue-black, and moving with urgency.

I had one other task in mind to accomplish on this trip, but it can wait.  It involves ladder work, and wrangling at least one long rectangular sheet of corrugated metal onto the barn roof, from where it was torn off however long ago.  

My back has lately been beset by spasms, causing it to lock up whenever I hold myself in such a way.  And this formidable wind would make a fiasco out of trying to hold the sheet metal in place so I could get some nails through it; or, even better, a series of screws.  So I’ll hold off.  I’ll rest on my laurels: getting more tar and caulk around (and on) that chimney yesterday.  Plus, I’ve got the dogs with me.  They’d follow me over to the barn and because the lab doesn’t care for the cattle I’m thinking I don’t want to mix the two.  Which is a shame because I sure do like those cows.  I could sit and watch them all day.  Like the dogs, they bring me peace.


This wind is insane.

I’m sick of this wind!


I did the barn work.  I couldn’t sit like I was for too long.  I haven’t been able to ‘just sit’ it seems for years.  The idea of the work needing to be done wore on me like a heavy blanket, so I got up and did it.

I’m back inside, trying to prepare for the night.  As I go in and out of the house, the kitchen door makes a cracking sound when I open it.  I can’t tell where the cracking sound is coming from, precisely.  The hinge?  The hydraulic arm?  Like Helm and probably Harry before him, I have spent parts of many days messing around with that kitchen door.  It just doesn’t seem to fit.  

The dogs are not here.  They must have gotten bored and wandered off when I was working on the barn.  Where did they go?  Did they go home because they knew this weather system was on its way?  Who could know those dogs, who could have cared for them only to let them run so free?  That’s a hard act, a difficult bit of balance to achieve.  Loving and letting go, an art I still don’t know.


I’ve made a couple of tuna melts.  This meant getting the wood stove going.  Firing up the wood stove seemed to be the best of several unappealing options.  I thought about grilling out front on the charcoal kettle.  But I’d be grilling in the dark, in the wild wind.  And I wouldn’t have been able to prop open the kitchen door, in fear of it flying away.  I could have used the microwave.  It would have melted the cheese but resulted in an otherwise soggy, steamy mess of a sandwich.  Or I could have just eaten the tuna salad cold, with crackers, a few pretzels, and some sliced cheese.  That would have been fine but I wanted some golden-brown, skillet-toasted bread.  After all, I’d brought half a loaf, not to mention a bevy of sliced Swiss and Muenster.

It’s the blimey middle of December and I’m in the farmhouse kitchen in nothing but boxer shorts, so as not to sweat.  I’ve got plenty of wood to burn, and I want to burn it.  I love to split firewood, although doing so means I am constantly bending over to pick up all of the split pieces, which plays hell on my lower back.  I have to offload all of my meticulously split wood somewhere.  I’m my own best customer.

I keep on looking out the front door to see if the dogs have returned.  I look and I look but so far as the night is windy and dark, they do not appear.