Standing behind the kitchen window, I sipped tentatively from a cup of morning coffee, watching a pair of roosters strut along the eastern side of the garden fence. Summer was finally in full swing after spring’s indecisive start, and the bounty emerging from haphazardly spaced rows was clearly attracting a diverse audience. Clusters of swollen raspberries forced their heavy stalks toward the damp earth while Walla Walla sweets erupted from below, dividing traffic, searching for the same light that had burdened the neighbors. The sunflowers had begun to bloom, too, enticing birds to pause and peer through the wire mesh for a closer look. I suspect they would have lingered had my father’s Brittany not broke point and streaked through unannounced, flushing the pheasants downhill to settle beyond the shrinking creek bed, safe from immediate danger.
Instinct urged me to yell out, but Lucy was never much of a listener. No amount of shouting or screaming ever swayed her puppy ways, despite five years of maturity and sporadic professional training. But she was cute and had a great nose, traits endearing enough to let Dad ignore the conglomeration of other bad habits. Despite her shortcomings, however, she was better than any seasoned dog when it came to pointing. And nothing was off limits. Gloriously plumaged cock pheasants generated as much attention as a nondescript grouse perched high in a spruce. Grasshoppers were also fair game, as were sow bugs, caterpillars, and the black dung beetles found scurrying under garden mulch. Fish in the lake? Shallow enough, she’d let us know they were there.
Some years ago, a classic point on a pile of dried hop vines revealed a squirming mass of pink, hairless mice, still blind from birth. This discovery, of course, fascinated my four young children, who were quick to react. An old robin nest found on a hike for deer sheds was quickly transformed into an emergency home for rodent babies, subsequently relocated to safety in the shed, away from canine peril. Normally, I’m not much for interfering with the natural cycle of life, much less introducing mice to my stored goods. I thought about saying as much to the kids as they labored to save the helpless offspring, but doubted Lucy would be so forgiving once they left to pursue their next fleeting interests, so I let it go. There would be plenty of time for life lessons as they matured, hopefully at a rate faster than Lucy. Perhaps this would be one of them. Most times, it seemed, things were best learned on their own.
Lucy darted off, chasing something trivial, no doubt, and disappeared over the far rise near the shallow pond dug into the knoll. The branches of weathered snag placed to attract fall doves framed two deer, cautiously working their way from the forest edge to open field. The coyotes had been busy as of late, evidenced by the remains of the fallen scattered across the lower pasture.
I heard the slow, raspy shuffle of an early morning teen sidle up beside me, still wiping sleep from his eyes. We didn’t speak, choosing instead to share the window in silence. Lucy’s joyous, uncharted dash through life inspired contemplation of my own, and I felt moved to tell my son of recent revelations, of hopes and desires for the remainder of my days, and those for the rest of my children. I wished to warn him of life’s pitfalls and contrasts; the potential for unbridled bliss and unexpected cruelty. I wanted to tell him a lot of things – about respect for the outdoors, the futility of war, the value of a good book, the need to be a good man.
I leaned in to say as much as Lucy flashed by in hot pursuit of a brightly painted swallowtail, but caught a youthful glimmer of recognition in the watchful eyes of his reflection, and chose not to say anything at all.
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