Mar 26, 2008


I've been scatterbrained this week, unable to deal well with work, tired and raw and agitated but I wanted to share a few moments from my life with you, the good moments.


A few mornings ago, in the crisp morning air, I saw something I've not seen often. I was riding down one of the old back highways that dot the state, riding to the Post Office in no particular rush. On both sides of this particular stretch of asphalt are heavy trees and water and the road wanders back and forth a great deal, so I was comfortably wary. I was watching all around, as I always do, and thought I saw a hawk far up ahead on the telephone lines.

Hawks are fairly common around here, and they seem to like the power lines for the view they afford. This hawk, though, was a little bigger than the usual redtails that I see around. A lot bigger, actually. As I drew near I saw the round, soft head with it's upswept feather tufts and the huge eyes, the cruel dark curve of a razor-sharp beak. It was an owl, an immense one, calm as a lake in morning air. It was sitting there in the suffuse morning light watching the traffic go by, as unflustered as only an old owl can be. It really made me catch my breath--by daylight the numerous owls around here are long gone, hidden away in woods and old barns and such, but this huge old bird had decided this morning to stick around a little longer. I wondered what he would say, were he inclined to share his morning with me. I wondered what message he'd carry for me if I asked him to.


There's a large pasture on the bayou that I pass every day. It used to be someone's homestead; a slowly collapsing cottage and it's sagging, ramshackle chimney still stand in the midst of the field. The front of the field holds several huge old oaks and a line of stately, ancient crepe myrtles, their smooth skins like twines of muscle tissue holding up huge sprays of thin branches to the morning light. The new farmhouse that overlooks the place sits well back off the road, and the rest of the area is surrounded by open cotton fields, so it's an oasis of green in a sea of brown rows.

The farmer who owns the field keeps a herd of Black Angus cows there, all of them solid black but for the very occasional white patch on a head or two. Now that spring is coming the grass is greening up beautifully, and each morning I get to pass by one corner, slow, make the turn and watch the pasture again the whole time if I've a mind. I passed it that same morning I was to see the owl; crisp and cold out, the sun just barely over the horizon, and the scene was perfect, a storybook laid open in front of me. Huge, slow black shapes moved across the field of green, every blade silvered with dew, and the pattern of lumbering bodies was broken only by the occasional gambol of a calf running, exuberant with the simply joy of being alive on a cold spring morning.

The cropping teeth and crushing hooves of the cows had filled the air with the scent of grass, and it carried in the cold air. As I slowed for my turn my senses were overcome with that powerful scent, that smell of life and growth, that sharp odor that sent me back to a myriad of days of my childhood spent watching my father mowing the yard, filling the air with that same smell and myriad tiny flickerings of cut grass.


Umquayquay is doing better. She's fattening up, her belly filling out, her muscle tone is returning and above all, she gets happy enough to bay her deep coon-dog bark. She runs, she trots, she follows me everywhere outside, and she stays around when I'm gone. She serves to remind me of another part of my childhood, of springtimes and dogs long since gone. There's a certain smell to an outside dog that seems to be encoded in my genes, that ties me to all those long-past dogs. It's that musky smell, not sharp but pungent, that smell that grips you by the nose and lets you know that there's a dog around. It's the same smell that our many-times removed ancestor smelled when the wolf he befriended came into his cave to sleep the night away. The same smell that a thousand times a thousand boys have smelled when running with their hounds in the sun.

Quay comes up to me in the mornings after sleeping in her hay pile in the garage and she's stiff and slow, the age lying heavy on her broad head, but she's always bright-eyed and eager to greet me. When she presses her soft muzzle into my hand I can always smell her dog smell, overlaid with the smell of sweet dry hay.

She's careful to meet me every day at lunch when I arrive, and she fully expects me to spend at least a few minutes petting her while she sniffs and snuffles at the scents my riding pants and leather jacket have picked up for her. I in turn start my relaxation with the sensation of leathery dog nose in my palms, the soft, whiskery whuffle of her snout across my face, and that warm dog smell.

When I come home in the evenings the ritual is the same--I have to stop, take off helmet and gloves and let her sniff, snuffle, read off of me like a book the stories that I've unwittingly picked up and brought home for her before I can go inside. She in turn gives me her story. I'm able to pick up the smell of green and white clover in her fur; my hands can feel the warmth of the sun flowing from her coat. For all my senses lacking hound's sharpness I can see it in her eyes. I can see the fields she's roamed across, the backyard as she sees it, and I can feel the warm sun beating down on my tired bones as I lie in the sweet clover and listen to the bees hum around me.


meno said...

I'm a little teary reading all that, especially about your dog. You have a way with words.

Nancy Dancehall said...

You are amazing. These are wonderful little pieces of your day, like the best fruit off the tree.

I saw a giant owl tonight pass over our house in the twilight.

Anonymous said...

I was wondering about Umquayquay yesterday. Glad to hear she's settling in. You do have an amazing way with words.

Scott from Oregon said...

You need to teach this sniffer hound how to sniff out cancerin people.

They do that you know....

(I always wondered about cervical cancer, though. I mean, I understand how they could sniff for that, but how do you train for that?)

mickelodeon said...

Great, great, great, especially about Quay. Reading about her reminded me of Molly and how she'd smell after we'd walked in the rain.

Jean said...

Wise observant owl, happy cows and a loving dog... not a bad way to remember a day.
Very comforting. Lovely.