Why are we always looking for something more?  The dog who has more knowledge than what you would think a dog would have.  The dreams of a kid that, in our imaginations, are more tangible than shadows and bad gas.

This winter desolation can not just be this winter desolation.

Spike was looking at me with big brown eyes this morning.  (What did those eyes know?)  If I had my way with the dog, I’d take him out back and, lacking a gun, lay into him with an ax.  Or a hatchet.  Or the business end of a garden trowel.  I don’t like the dog.  The kids love him.  I’ve mentioned giving him away and they couldn’t even tolerate joking about such an idea.  (I wasn’t joking.)  The dog eats dirt and winter gloves and kitchen towels and bits of carpet.  Why do dogs do that?  The vet says a handkerchief or a stray sock could kill him, has killed many dogs before him.  When it goes down, it can get lodged in the intestines, and then cause the building pressure to rupture septic bacteria into the rest of the body.  Game over.  Pretty painful.  My grandmother had a couple of bowel obstructions over the years.  I don’t think hers were caused by stray socks, but they were pretty painful.  And so thinking about that, I consider, “How would I get the kids through a handful of school nights (because it would inevitably happen in the middle of a busy week) of dog howls and dog whimpers until we’d finally find the damn thing rigid one morning, dead of its own stupidity.  (Oh, beautiful day!  What a wonderful sunshiny drive through the country it would be, looking for a gravel patch leading into a hardwood grove that, standing naked under a winter sky, would be a nice place to lay the dead body!)

This dog has nothing more.  It looks at me occasionally in the eye.  Some dogs are strange like that.  It seems most prefer to avoid eye contact.  This one is indifferent.  Indifferent about eye contact.  Indifferent about racoon shit.  Indifferent about personal space.  It could take it or leave it.  And sometimes it does.  Take it.  And sometimes leave it.

I look at the tree outside my window and I realize I like trees more than I like dogs.  Dogs lick their balls.  Dogs grunt when they lie down.  Who knows what dog skin really looks like under all that fur – probably mottled and flaky and disgusting.  The tree outside is a forty foot pine.  A lot of the pines in the yard are sick with some kind of fungus that slowly eats away at the lower branches.  Well, right now it’s the lower branches… (“We’ll just keep an eye on that growth that’s not quite a mole, not quite a tumor,” says the doctor.  And then, four years and a month later, what you thought was weakness and soreness from the flu suddenly engulfs you as that “growth” spreads its progeny into your bones, guts, and brain.)  But this pine that I’m looking at is pretty healthy.  Little if any fungus at this point.  I had to remove some of the lower branches last summer only because they were infringing on the field next door that our neighbor uses to feed his cows.  Without those branches on the far side, the entire lower six feet of the tree has become thinner, and like a balding head, each of the feathered strands that are left have become more visible.  I can see right through the skirt of the thing so that the branches that remain look like oddly-angled tentacles growing off of the torso of some sea creature or an underground nematode that has mutated and is oddly comfortable with its mutation in the way that only animals that lack a self-consciousness can be.  Funny how tree branches seem so static – like the legs of a table.  But if you stare at them long enough and with enough imagination, you can see in their curving grace the very path that they grew through – the path that the cells and fluids of an individual branch pushed into, ever longer and thicker through thin air, as if they were themselves animated entities.

Maybe that is the animation of a plant – its very growth, the way its branches push into or grow around the branches of its neighbors, the way its roots search out the nooks and crannies around the rocks under its feet, the way its leaves or needles feel and respond to the change in seasons.  Animation.  Who said that only animals are animated?

I am tired of this animal life.  I wonder what the dirt feels like between bare toes.  Not just the grit or moisture of it, but the slow rise of it as the ground freezes and the eventual exhalation of it as the frost leaves in the spring; the tumbling of it through a summer of dry winds and the slow decline of it as a wind-gathered pile relaxes back down into the arms of gravity.

The snow in that field is about three inches deep right now – deep enough that everything is without color and shallow enough that the heads of the tattered grasses bristle in the wind.  Cold.  The dog’s asleep on the bean bag.  He looks warm.  I still hate him.  But he’s quiet now.  Still growing, breathing, his limbs and body searching with rushing fluid and pulsing cells an unforged path in the air around it.  He looks ok there.  Almost like it would be ok if I walked over and rubbed his ears.  But no, then my attention would be taken from the tree that’s in some decades-old path to a knowledge that is still dark and frozen against me.

from the collection of: d. heidel