A very Novemberish Friday. Veteran’s Day. No school for Emme, or work for me. The day is mostly cloudy, with occasional breaks of blue sky. Its most prominent feature is the wind, which is coming up the hill in gusts of 40 mph. Fallen leaves are whipped about in the air, a loose screen door slams open and shut until I pull it tight. And the temperature is dropping quickly. I climb in a thick fleece-lined sweater, which in the house seemed adequate but is no barrier up here to the sharp knives of the wind.
It is beautiful in the tree, I am rocked about by the gusts, I get cold very quickly. I climb down to the dogs waiting eagerly below me.
This ritual around climbing the tree has become one of the best things about it. I walk out the front door and move past the car onto the lawn—and the dogs go nuts. They erupt into a frenzy of excitement. Sometimes it starts even before this, when I am kneeling to put on shoes inside the house, and they think it’s likely that this is one of those outings, and I am not just heading for the car. If I pick up the camera they know they’ve got it made.
As I walk up the lawn towards the tree, they race alongside me, leaping and barking. They tear off in wide arcs, chasing each other, and circle back. Nutmeg nudges my hand excitedly with her nose, or my leg, as she trots beside me. And then lunges for Quillan, rolling him down the slope to keep me all to herself. He is on his feet in the blink of an eye, unfazed, racing back towards us. I rub their heads vigorously, encouraging their excitement because it’s all such fun. I wrestle a bit with Nutmeg. Sometimes we run towards the tree, all three of us together.
And then I am up the ladder and gone. Sometimes Nutmeg stands on her hind legs, her forepaws on the ladder, looking up into the tree. Early on in my tree climbing, if she caught sight of me among the branches she would raise the alarm with repeated staccato barks. Get down, you fool! That’s no place for a dog! It unnerved her that I would be such an idiot as to be up there, where the ground exists only in narrow strips and at irregular intervals, and with a chasm beneath. Our lupine and simian ancestries are never more apparent. She, descended from wolves and their grabless paws. I, fortunate possessor of thumbs and arms.
But now she is used to it, and they ignore me when I am up there. They race off together to explore the stone wall, seeing chipmunks and snakes invisible to me with their noses; or roam about individually, sniffing the lawn; or sit quietly and gaze off over the meadow.
When I come down, their excitement re-ignites. Nutmeg rockets over from wherever she is, Quillan racing along behind her. Because here is the payoff: if there is no other time in the day when they get things thrown for them, there is at least this. Nutmeg noses my hand, again and again, eyes bright, darting away and back, as we scour the lawn together for a stick or ball. If I see something and start toward it, she will lunge to try to get it first. I get a foot down and turn my body to block her.
If all I can find is a twig, I hand it to her and she tears it apart vigorously. A larger stick gets thrown and she goes bulleting over lawn, driveway, and more lawn to get it, with her preternatural ability to stay beneath it–is she following its sound in the air above her? Then I look for another stick for Quillan, he of the eternal grin, who runs over with his tail wagging so hard the back end of his body looks like it could hit him in the head. The first dog to knock himself out from sheer happiness. He seizes it from my hand and carries it off to a private spot to chew it into pieces.
Their sheer joy in these moments!
At least one of the reasons we love our dogs so much.
Especially in days such as these.