Turbulence

As I sit at my desk, pecking out a rough draft on my computer, the small dog paws repeatedly at my thigh. I offer some temporary solace, reaching down to scratch her ears and neck. She drops down on all fours, only to rear up again shortly after my hand returns to the keyboard. Finally, I let out a short sigh and decide to pack it in: nothing short of a walk will do, it seems, even though we’ve just come back from a morning stroll around the block less than an hour ago.

I zip the collar of my fleece up to my chin, reach for my coat, don my hiking boots, pull on my wool cap and gloves, snap the leash on the dog’s collar; and we head out the back door at a brisk pace down the deserted street in the winter cold.

We turn right at the end of the block and continue down the long grey ribbon of sidewalk to the center of town. Today the school yard is barren, devoid of children. A solitary car sits in the parking lot outside the barber shop. No one, it seems, wants a haircut on this last day of the year.

We round the corner onto Main Street and wait for traffic to thin out on the highway. Despite the crosswalk, no vehicle slows or stops for us to cross. The dog shivers and lifts her nose in the cold air. Finally, the last northbound car disappears over the crest of the hill, and we scoot across the tarmac to the other side.

I let the dog off leash at the old mill and trudge along the loop of frozen gravel road to the bank of the river. Patches of white water bubble and churn in the current. Overhead, billowy clouds press against the backdrop of pure blue sky.

I snap the leash on the dog’s collar as we approach the mill. Linked together once again, we descend the short slope to the concrete retaining wall, built to withstand the torrents that continuously lash against it.

At the top of the rise we follow the great curve of road to the cul-de-sac, then hop the guard rail and pick our way through the remnants of last summer’s brush to the concrete bulwark where the old bridge once stood.

We peer over the edge into the gorge. Just below our feet white water boils against the old bridge abutments, leaping into the air as it scrubs them clean in its turbulent descent. Mesmerized I stand, unable to tear my eyes from the torrent.

We retrace our steps back to the mill, cross the deserted highway and pick up the road to where it intersects the blue-blazed trailhead. From here we follow the leaf-strewn path through the forest back down into town.

A lone dog barks and pads back and forth behind the invisible electronic fence in a front yard, his cinnamon tail erect, curled into a full arc above his back. Tragedy has come to this house over the course of the past year; the couple that had lived there has dwindled to one.

We cross the street and huff up the hill toward the house. The air is cold on my cheek. Despite the gloves my finger tips have turned numb.

We step through the back door into a warm kitchen. I pull off my cap and gloves and rub my palms together. I unzip my coat and throw it over the back of a wooden chair.

A cup of hot coffee restores feeling to my fingertips, but the turbulence of the white water in the river still churns in my soul.

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It’s almost Thanksgiving again

It was a grey day. Yesterday’s biting cold had lifted to a balmy morning temperature of 42 degrees. I took the dog out for a run over the grassy expanse at the mill down by the river.

When we passed by the entrance gate, I let her off leash; and like a small white sheep she bounded through the remnants of dry leaves lying in the tall grass at the base of the ancient sycamore trees. The river was low and black and fast as it ran along the base of the concrete retaining wall at the back of the old mill. We paused to watch it pass around the bend where it would begin its descent into the gorge.

I snapped the leash onto the dog’s collar and we crossed the main road at the stoplight and headed up Mountain Road to the blue-blazed trailhead. As the dog nestled her nose into the brown debris at the far edge of the tarmac, I noticed a man standing on the front porch of one of the small shanties perched along the street. He was a big mustachioed man with a shaved head. You could see tattoos on the biceps that bulged beneath the short sleeves of his T-shirt. He stood coiling a heavy-duty extension cord around a bent forearm.

“That a Jack Russell?” he called out as we walked by.

I paused and nodded. “I think they call it a Jack Russell rough cut,” I said.

“Jack Russell long hair, Jack Russell rough cut—same breed. I had two of them myself: a Jack Russell short hair and a Jack Russell long hair,” he said. “The long hair was the best. She was a good dog.”

“They’ve certainly got a lot of energy,” I said.

“Oh, yeah, that’s the breed. Mine lasted 14 years,” he said. “Had to have her put down. In the end her bowels gave out. She couldn’t stop throwing up. You don’t like to do that, put a dog down, especially a dog you’ve had that long; a good dog, too.”

I stood in silence, aware of a slight tug on the leash in my hand.

“But I figured, hey, she had a good life. Fourteen years, that’s a good long life for a little dog,” he said.

“I guess so,” I said.

“Well,” he said, “you have a nice walk with your dog.”

“And you have yourself a nice Thanksgiving,” I said.

He gave me a big smile. “You, too.”

Up ahead we picked up the trail. A little way into the forest I let the dog off leash again and watched her bound through the bed of dry brown leaves.

Morning Notes on Lincoln’s Birthday

We awoke to a clear morning.
The thermometer read zero degrees.
No matter the temperature,
High or low,
The dog must go out.

I bundle myself in layers;
The dog seems oblivious to the cold.
Shoving snout in jaundiced snow,
She drops her trace of amber excrement,
While overhead a red bird sings:

Clear, lusty notes cut the frozen air.
Mesmerized, I pause to listen.
Momentarily, the dog ceases to strain.
Only the refrain sounds in our ears.

The red bird cannot know
That night will bring more cold and snow.
He sings for the morning only—no,
He sings for this moment only.

February 12, 2014

"Cardinalidae Warholis" 2013 © Thomas A. Doty

“Cardinalidae Warholis” 2013 © Thomas A. Doty

Haiku dog walk

White terrier stands
Head tilted, one brown ear cocked—
Eyeing the black leash.

Ski cap tight, warm gloves
Bulky fleece coat collar zipped—
Door creaks, biting wind!

Titmice perch and peck
Feeder spills, swings to and fro—
Grey squirrel attacks!

Hound dog approaches
Straining at the taut choker—
Vicious snarls exchanged!

Rough coat buries nose
Beneath cinnamon needles—
Organic treasures!

Starlings sit on wires,
A bar of slurred sixteenth notes—
Bird’s eye notation.

Photo eye captures
Afternoon winter debris—
Frozen artifacts.

Stark limbs stretch skyward
Broken branches snapped in two—
Matchsticks on cobalt.

Sudden shot echoes
At wood duck and white water—
Turning tail, dog yaps!

Silver skillet rests
Over open orange flame—
Welcome kitchen warmth.

Copyright 2012 © Brian T. Maurer

"Two Take Flight" 2004 © Barry H. Penchansky, M.D.