Nine-thirty, early because the day had involved a trying drive to Buffalo and back.
I say good-night. Minor walks out to say his as well, following the car partway down the drive.
I turn back to the kitchen. Good dinner — grilled steak (my favorite), salad and roasted baby potatoes. Enjoyable — but a mess to clean up. The radio plays Brahms and I am enveloped in thoughts of the day. So much reeling around trying to claim my attention!
Gloria, ever demanding, insists she’ll wait not a minute more for her bedtime snack. It’s the only time I give her canned food, initially as a bribe to get her indoors on a summer’s night and now an expected part of her day. She stands ready, telling me loudly that she is.
I load the dishwasher, wiping counters, grill and stove top. Only thing remaining before I can retire is to share a piece or two of cheese with Minor. That’s become our nightly ritual.
Where is Minor?
I call, expecting a quick return.
There is no reply. All right, I can give him a little bit longer. But it’s cold.
Actually it’s 10 degrees, too cold by far for the amount of time he’s been out there.
I call. Frantically. Again. Yet again.
Are there words to express my relief when he comes bounding up the hill, into the garage and straight through the dog door? How happy — and, God knows, the solace I feel knowing he’s home.
We share our traditional chuck of cheese. It’s then I notice for the first time the branch on the floor by the sink.
A good forty inches long, broken in the middle (tho’ still obviously clinging to him). Not only can I see the dog hair among the thorns but also the white feather of a bird. Bad business. He foraged into the bushes — after a deer perhaps — and got stuck. Badly stuck. It was my calling and his determination to get free — to survive — that brought him safely home.
He’s asleep now on his bed. It will be a great long time before my racing brain allows me such reprieve.
What if he had been trapped and unable to free himself? The scenarios are frightening. If he hadn’t barked, I’d have had no idea where to even begin to search on such a snowy winter’s night.
Would his barking have really helped? I would have put on my highest boots — or would those with the spikes have served me better? — grabbed a bright lantern, and a pole or two to steady myself. At best I can go only so far — and really do little — in snows so deep. Would I call 9-1-1 or the local fire department? Dedicated as they are, I do know they sometimes rescue dogs but, while he’s my love, how can any animal compare to a human in need? I suspect I’d be frantic enough to at least inquire. I say another prayer of thanks that that wasn’t necessary.
He may also have gotten so deep into the brush — I’ve seen him follow deer tracks into places none of us have walked in the twenty-odd years I’ve had the property. He might be where no one could find him, no one able to reach him.
Just last night I was talking to an amiable stranger about the problems deer have surviving winters such as this. And 2017-18 was a cruel one. He spoke of the coyotes who can cross on top of the snow, easily finding trapped deer (or my dear Minor).
It’s warm now. I must shake these frights. It’s all over. He sleeps deeply.
We are safe.
Susan Crossett has lived outside Cassadaga for more than 20 years. A lifetime of writing led to these columns as well as two novels. Her Reason for Being was published in 2008 with Love in Three Acts following in 2014. Both novels are now available at Lakewood’s Off the Beaten Path bookstore. Information on all the Musings, her books and the author may be found at Susancrossett.com.