Dog Walking In Suburbia

Sometimes I don’t like walking the dog. It can be a very repetitive activity, walking the same circle around our little subdivision, seeing the same bit of scenery. And our neighborhood doesn’t have sidewalks, so we trot down the middle of the street, like drunkards. But then there are days, like yesterday, where we get some excitement—for suburbia. As soon as we step outside I realize (belatedly) that the neighbors’ pug is in our yard. It’s an ugly little turd of a dog, and I don’t even think its owners like it anymore. They let it wander outside, as if hoping for a car strike, or a ravenous bald eagle. The pug crosses back to its own turf before commencing to bark at us. It’s so small, so brachycephalic, its face so tortured into flatness, that you can’t really hear it from far away. Ruby (my dog) mostly ignores it, and while she is hardly a bloodthirsty killer, she is, as the trainer put it, blessed with “self-assurance.” So I try to keep her away from this evidence of doggy sass.

The pug avoided, I now realize the neighbors—the nice ones, the ones we talk to, from two houses down—are out walking their three dogs—two Dobermans and a toy poodle. Ruby doesn’t know what to make of that toy poodle, who weighs all of eight pounds, but she’s fine with the Dobermans. One is a beautiful dog, the most beautiful dog I’ve ever seen. Mine is the cutest, of course, but this is the super-model of dogs, the Cindy Crawford, twenty years ago. She’s a gorgeous purple-brown, deep chest, well-formed head. The other, a recent rescue, is a neglected seven-month old, ungainly, unsocialized, underfed, a big boney head and ears that would look better pinsched. He, Loki, the puppy, won’t let Ruby sniff his bum. She circles, relentless, while he turns, scared, until finally hiding behind Dad.

Should one narrate the actions of one’s dogs? I always do, and feel ridiculous, but can’t seem to stop myself. “She just wants to sniff your butt!” I announce to the Doberman, as if that will make him feel better about it. “She sniffed the poodle’s, and the poodle only weighs eight pounds!” And yes, I talk in just these exclamatory sentences, incapable of actually holding a conversation with the nice neighbors, as I’m so preoccupied with narrating our dogs’ interactions. This is a shame, because I think the wife just told me a story about our neighbor, a woman we jointly dislike because she’s maligned both our dogs while remaining steadfastly oblivious to the destructiveness of her own. Hers, a goofy golden retriever-lab mix, has twenty pounds on my mutt, but they can no longer play together, because Ruby might “hurt” him. You can imagine how she feels about the Dobermans. I think the punch line of the story was that the lab was so frightened by the sight of two Dobermans that he wouldn’t do anything, just sat and drooled and eyed the pair of them. Somehow, I know her take on this story is that this is further proof of our neighbor’s abject stupidity. Look, she tells me, Loki is scared of the poodle.

I walk with them back to their house and Ruby and I continue along. A bit later on I see that one of our neighbors is moving out—not so exciting, maybe. I don’t know them very well, but it’s a small neighborhood and everyone knows they’re the only black family. I wonder why—too many Romney signs in the last election?—but there’s no one around to ask, just the movers and three moving trucks. As I cross the street to go around the trucks, Ruby freezes. Amazing how oblivious I am, how attuned she is. It’s a turkey vulture, hunkered down in someone’s green, TruGreen, weed-free, St. Augustine grass, eating a bunny. I assume it’s a rabbit—we have a plethora of them here, running around, breeding like, well, you know. I see a tuft of white fur that seems as though it could be—could have been—Peter’s cottontail. I suppose it could be a cat, but if so, a small one.

I’m surprised there’s only one vulture. Usually good carrion will attract four or five, at least. I once saw a dead gator surrounded by—I’m not kidding—probably thirty of them. It was a big gator. The vulture hisses at us, steps away from the dead rabbit, shrugs its shoulders the way vultures do, the way you might shake rain off an umbrella. Ruby wants to investigate, but I pull her away. Vultures vomit when frightened, as a defense—ghastly, super-acidic, bacteria-laden vomit that consists of half-digested carrion. This vulture, solo, may back off, rather than vomit, but I don’t fancy taking the risk. I love the dog, but she’s about as smart as most canines—i.e., not Lassie. And Lassie had all her lines written for her, so.

The walk ends with a near run-in with one of Ruby’s doggie enemies. She doesn’t have any people enemies, thankfully, but there are two dogs in our neighborhood that must have somehow insulted her—peed on the wrong weed, so to speak. This one is walked by a teenage girl, the dog on a retractable leash and her ear glued to her cell phone. She was blissfully unaware of the dog war going on until my husband announced to her one day: “My dog hates that dog! Every time you let it pee in my yard, the feud escalates!” That’s what we dog-owners do—narrate the obvious for the oblivious.

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Refuge

The wind catches, lifts, pulls over the low palm scrub and sings out, refreshed, over the open water. Up from the marsh comes the smell of the land—brackish water, drying mud, sunlight, snails, fish, mangroves. The scent is heavy in the humid air, like a mantle.

The wind flows past moorhens, egrets, red-winged blackbirds; past horse shoe crabs, black vultures, hawks; past mullet and manatees: past life.

The level of the estuary changes with the tides; the marshes fill and shallow. Whitman replaces Emerson in my brain: “There was never any more inception than there is now.” This is it, this is all, this is everything: there isn’t any more, and there won’t be.

Roseate spoonbills, audaciously, irrationally pink, but small, distant—twined into their feeding flock out closer to the horizon. Vultures, solid, heavy, anything but ephemeral: a Gothic rendering of the glory of God, the wide black arch of their wings catching rising currents of warm air as they twist into the sky. Osprey calling to each other as they hunt, one high, spare note, given, answered, repeated. The mystery is always free and moving in the sky.

Only sometimes do I see it, only sometimes do I know: there isn’t any more, but what has been given is more than enough.