Friday, September 02, 2016
Maxwell likes to take walks in unfamiliar places. (He also likes to take walks in familiar places.) We’ve been driving him around the corner to the Butternut Basin ski area on Route 23—only five minutes from the Farmhouse–this spring and summer, and he particularly likes that because it is both familiar and unfamiliar. I mean, he knows some interesting stops along the path to the slopes—for instance, a pond, now drained, where ducks used to paddle around as if waiting for Max to run down the shore and bark them airborne. Max still runs down to the edge, like a nostalgist. There’s a stream nearby where he likes to wallow, and some administrative buildings underneath which, given his intense inspection of their gappy foundations, fauna must be lurking. And the slopes, so big and open, offer him new territory to explore.
Max has regularly taken interest in a long pipe—plastic, I think, and about a foot in diameter, raised off the ground by things that, well, raise it off the ground. Little stanchions. Maybe it has another pipe inside it—something involved in snowmaking. It goes up the bunny slope, the westernmost and least-steep of the area. Something has been living in there this non-ski season, near the bottom of the hill, Max seemed to be telling me as he yipped and dodged around and under it. I thought I heard frightened squeals and scrabbling from within. Maxwell couldn’t find access.
So I thought. A few weeks ago, I parked outside the area’s gate, so as not to get gated in when the people who worked there closed it, usually around five o’clock. I let Maxwell off the leash and he dashed down to the pipe, about a hundred yards away. Barking, whining, etc. I jogged down after him. There was a loud scratching/scrambling noise, and the barking suddenly stopped. I saw that Maxwell had something brown and furry in his mouth. It was squealing. He shook his head violently from side to side—it went whupwhupwhupwhup. The squealing stopped. Whupwhupwhup. Pause. Whupwhupwhupwhupwhup.
I got closer. Whatever it was was very dead. I guessed it was a muskrat. Maxwell had it by the scruff of its neck. It hung from his jaws like a big furry “n.”
“Are you kidding,” he might as well have said.
“Drop it!” I approached him and he growled at me and moved away. He was panting—exhausted from his first Big Kill.
We did this standoff walkaround—“Drop it!”, approach, growl, evasive tactic– in the parking lot for ten minutes.
How was I going to get him into the car and us and the corpse back to the Farmhouse? I noticed that when I walked away from him he would follow me, at what he must have deemed a prey-safe distance. So I walked back toward the car, and Maxwell followed six or seven yards behind me. I began to think he might want to take this trophy home. I opened the back door for him, like a concierge, and he came right up and jumped onto the back seat, his catch still hanging from his jaws.
Five minutes later, he jumped back out of the car onto our front lawn and began wandering around with this corpse. He was still exhausted, panting like a bellows. When I walked ten or fifteen feet away from him, he dropped his catch. If I went closer, he would pick up the muskrat, if that’s what it was. If I went closer still, he would get up and go farther away and lie down again. How could I keep him from burying this thing or, worse, dining on it, if those were the plans he had in mind?
I got the long green leash—maybe twenty feet long—that we keep on the porch, attached to a rail, which we use for Maxwell in the evening when he wants to be outside but it’s getting dark. I put the latch end through the loop at the other end, making the whole thing into an improvised lasso. I snuck up behind Maxwell when he had dropped the animal and tried to toss the loop around his neck. Missed. But Max didn’t seem particularly upset by this maneuver. (Why not? Because he doesn’t really think—don’t you think?) He just got up, moved away, lay down again, with the critter still in his mouth. Good. The second time I tried the lasso, it went around his head, his jaw, his prey, and his neck, and I pulled it tighter but not too tight.
Maxwell got up and walked away. I followed, holding the lasso leash. Maxwell lay down, let go of the animal, and I pulled on the leash very quickly—quickly enough to keep Max from picking the thing up again. I tied him up to the porch rail, got a shovel, picked up the muskrat, walked down the driveway, crossed the road, and buried Maxwell’s trophy far away from the house. As I put it into the grave, I noticed that its belly was, like, fat. Nah, I said to myself—it’s not pregnant, just fat.
When I got back, I put Maxwell’s shock collar on him and unleashed him. (Please don’t tell me that electric fences are inhumane. What’s really inhumane is letting your dog get run over, in my opinion.) He wandered around the yard looking maybe a little mystified, especially at the spot where he lost his prize, but he was pretty much back to normal.
What do we learn from this microcosmic-nature-red-in-tooth-and-claw incident?
1. My wife and I would laugh to each other about how stymied Maxwell would be if he ever caught anything he chased—squirrel, mouse, mole. Well, whupwhupwhup to that. Maxwell knew exactly what he wanted to do but least did it with humane dispatch.
2. For a dog it’s more or less here this minute, gone the next. No notches on his collar, no victory laps, and, I assume, no regret, no remorse, no nostalgia.
3. People are smarter than dogs.
4. Snowmaking pipes are not dog proof.
5 It was a muskrat. I looked it up. See below.
6. Muskrats need orthodonture.
7. If you don’t wonder about What’s Going On Here and sometimes feel bad about it (without being a wussy Sensitive Plant, of course), try burying a plump muskrat whose neck your cutie dog just snapped.
Wednesday, August 31, 2016
Maxwell and I were watching “Marcella” on Amazon Fire last night (well, Maxwell was watching if your definition of “watchng” includes “sleeping”)with Nature outside the Farmhouse quiet except for cicadas and their Philip Gla ss-esque single-note trilling. But then it got much less quiet. Amazingly, I heard this–https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aqClZLE9X5U (wait a few seconds for the loud thing)–before Maxwell did. However loud you played that, in real life, as we refer to the bizarre happenstance of being here, it was, like, ten times louder than that, and it sounded as close as a smoke alarm inside your house. Maxwell registered it a few seconds later and of course started barking his head off. Me not being a rugged outdoorsman–not hiking here and there and always sleeping under covers rather than the stars–and Maxwell not being a rugged outdoorsdog, we both freaked. It kept on going. It sounded much more feline than avian, and at the moment, long before I was able to Google the call, I thought it might be a wildcat (we have them) or a vocally anomalous coyote (we have coyotes).
We devised a plan, the two of us. Well, not really a plan–more like just a thing we would do. We would go outside and frighten whatever it was off. [Anticlimax spoiler alert: we never got so much as a glimpse of this thing, so if you want to stop reading now, I would understand.] Maxwell would usually be champing at the bit–to misappropriate a zoological cliche–to get out there. But not this time. He hesitated when I offered to hitch him up to the leash and held back as we approached the door to the porch. He had stopped barking, so his head was back on and he seemed really spooked. Don’t forget that the eldritch call was continuing, every few seconds.
I turned on the porch lights and the big overhead light that shines down on the lawn and the driveway from the top of the house, and we went outside. The Bengal tiger or whatever it was stopped its awful threats. For a minute. We were about to go back in the house when the cry came again, this time seemingly somehow even closer–just up the hill from the house.
Maxwell found his bark and really let it go. The Thing answered. Maxwell barked–another wild cry. I found myself suddenly shouting, as loud as I could. Max looked up at me. I swear he seemed surprised. I stopped yelling, Max barked. Yell, bark, yell, bark. We were a team! Kind of a first. It was highly unusual for Max, our diffident, independent fellow, to stay so close and act in such a coordinated fashion.
Oh–I forgot. I had also had gotten a big metal collander out of the kitchen and and a big metal spoon and was clanging away among the barks and yells. Whatever this creature was, we were showing HIM, weren’t we? Though he kept up his fearsome call.
We began to move slowly, and I would also say “atavistically,” if it weren’t so bathetic and pretentious, toward the noise. Right near the old apple tree, right at the bottom of the hill behind the house, the caterwauling stopped. And didn’t start again, even when Max and I stopped barking and shouting and clangng.
Victorious, we returned to the house and “Marcella,” with the cicadas trilling away outside. I sat down, and Maxwell (full name William Maxwell) lay down beside me. Before putting his head down to resume his favorite activity, he looked up at me with what you cannot convince me was not camaraderie.
Sunday, August 28, 2016
Maxwell does the following tricks on command: sits, lies down, crosses one paw over the other (“Cross your paws”) (this is my own genius idea, though I’m sure millions of other masters–that is, servants–have had same idea), goes around you in a circle to the right, goes around you in a circle to the left, shakes hands wth his right paw, jumps the gun and offers his left paw unbidden unless you caution him not to, which he obeys in an obviously exasperated or forbearing way, rolls over, puts his front paws up on an arm held parallel to the floor and gets a treat over the arm and then gets one under it when you say “over” and “under” in that order and will even do it in reverse order, goes through between your legs and comes back through them and turns in place 360 degrees, stands on his hind legs and pirouettes 360 degrees.
He could learn more tricks, I’m sure, but I figure that as I am who I am if not past it at 75, Maxwell is who he is at 7X7=49 and deserves the respect of his maturity and shoud not be sent back to circus school. I do wish he would come whenever he is told to instead of just as a velleity. We have bought gourmet “training treats” as an inducement to obey the command “Maxwell, come!” every time. But if there is some vile, dead animal in the woods that he feels required to roll and get stinky in, or a UPS guy whom he sees as an intruder to be deafened with barking, forget it, Zuke’s Roasted Pork Recipe Mini Naturals and Cloud Star’s Tricky Trainer Chewy Liver Flavor Wheat- and Corn-Free Training Treats notwithstanding. Zuke is evidently a paradigm of obedience in Durango, Colorado–who, according to the packaging, “sits, stays, and focuses–ready to learn or just enjoy a healthy treat for being such a good boy.” Well, you go, Zuke. Maxwell will be too busy dirt-swimming with his two front paws after a mole who just scooted under the stone bench in our yard.
For all these complaints and even though I am foregoing most further trick tutelage, I am–as you might guess from this and other efforts at literary Maxwelliana–hoping that he will do one more thing I find myself silently asking him to do. And that is to let me Lie Down for good before he does
Saturday, August 27, 2016
Maxwell of course knows when only one of us is here in the Farmhouse at night. Usually but not always me, because my wife usually goes down to NYC to keep an eye on this renovation we are enduring–yes, yes; I know we are very lucky people–and an ear on her intense and growingly important involvement in the hearing-loss community. I want nothing to do with the renovation besides living in it when it is completely done, with not a $400 closet shelf absent. $400–no joke, except for the fact that it is a joke.
Anyway, in the middle of any given mono-spousal night, at, say 2 AM, Maxwell, seizing the main chance and open bed territory, like Putin with Crimea, jumps up on the bed and commences an exhaustive self-grooming. Half an hour, at least. Not only licking his paws and his parts, such as they are, poor guy, but scratching every aspect of his body he can reach, rubbing his snout and elongating himself against the cover as if he were a submarine trying but failing to submerge, snuffling and sneezing like a fat Victorian gentleman after a healthy pinch of snuff. The ear scratching is seismic, because his elbow, if that’s what it it is, does a Hawaiian hula-drummer beat on the bed.
Then suddenly he is barking like mad. For thirty-six pounds, he has the most decibelistic bark you can imagine. In between barking fits, I can hear outside the hoo-hoo-hoos of coyotes in the hills behind our house. Is Maxwell alerting me or does he maybe harbor a yearning to join them? This goes on for ten minutes, Maxwell jumping off the bed, barking and waiting by the bedroom door as if I really might open it, let him go downstairs, open the porch door, and attack or join the coyotes. (Have you been reading about the environmental conflict over coyotes, the one side extolling their intelligence and remarkable adaptability to our ecosystem incursions, the other decrying their merciless predations on flocks and herds and other assemblies of livestock. I’m with the coyotes. Easy for me–herdless as we are–to say.)
He settles down–if you can call his Simone Biles sleeping maneuvers settling down. Until 5:15, when I experience his trampolinesque jump down from the bed and hear his plaintive whimpering at the door. OK, OK. This is unusual and decidedly un-feral and tells me that he needs to go out, if you know what I mean.
Downstairs we go, me in my boxers and T-shirt that says “Clinton Gore 96,” Maxwell much more comely in his handsome and hypo-allergenic fur. Completing my outit, I put on the black rubber high-top boots–with yellow toes (why?)–that I wear to walk him at around 10 every night, the grass on our lawn as wet with dew as it would be from rain, and put Maxwell on his leash. The moon is out. It is just barely getting light in the East–over Boston, I imagine. Maxwell courteously leads me over to his preferred download zone, as far from the house as his shock collar would allow if he were wearing it, as he now all Pavlovianly believes he always is, and takes care of what needs to be taken care of.
It’s tempting to go right back in the house and back to bed, but the light is so eerie and the time of night so unusual, and the time of year–the end of August–so poignant, in its reminder of summer’s end, that I take Max back to the main part of the lawn and just stand there, pondering the imponderables and the *lachrymae rerum*–the tears of things. Maxwell sits down at my side. He has no imponderables, I bet. Unlucky lucky dog.