Downward Dog

By Ducky Wilson

Essay

My appointment runs late, so by the time I get home the sun has already set. Only the afterglow remains to backlight the trees, transmogrifying them into shadows of crooked old men frozen against the horizon. Though the incoming storm darkens the sky the color of blueberries, I know I have time for a quick walk.

I park the car, run inside, and grab my two dogs, Tonya, my lab-pit bull girl, and The Babyeater, a chow chow mixed with German shepherd, a dog I regretfully have to isolate when my sister’s kids come over.

She doesn’t want to go, but I know the storm is miles away. Tonya hates storms. She’ll take on a grizzly unless it’s raining. I tug her leash.

“Come on girl,” I say as we walk outside, watching over my shoulder to make sure my cat Ellie isn’t around to follow us. Ellie likes to lead the pack, a comic sight I assure you, this little white wisp of a ring-tailed cat leading these power breeds.

There’s a reason cats are feared in the animal kingdom. They are the fiercest predators, built to kill, with every part of them designed specifically for that kill, from their rear legs engineered for the perfect pounce, to their eyes structured to detect movement in less than 20% of the light a human would need. Ellie is an inveterate predator, competing for rabbits and snakes, and I have seen her snatch a kill from both Tonya and The Babyeater.

If it weren’t so late, I would let her come, but I live on a lake with a healthy coyote population, and though Ellie is a fierce adversary, I don’t want her tracking us at night, prime hunting time for coyotes who notoriously hunt in packs.

The Babyeater doesn’t want to go either, but he‘s always resistant to the walk. Like a pureblooded Texan, the thought of walking anywhere befuddles him. He often hides when he hears me reaching for the leash, but he’s an obedient dog (unless kids are around), and he comes when I call, and he usually enjoys the walk once we’re out in the fresh air breathing the crisp winter wind, his black tongue dangling from the side of his smiling mouth.

“What’s the matter with you guys?” I ask as they both turn in circles tangling their leashes. I unknot the mess they’ve made then head out into the inky remnants of the day.

I know this trail. I walk it every day with my dogs, sometimes twice, and I welcome the time I spend disappearing from my cul-de-sac onto the horse trails that circle the lake, a place more magical than Oz.

The woods are my cathedral.

Mornings the turkey vultures and peregrine falcons compete for carrion left by coyotes or bobcats. I watch them dart through the air, chasing each other away from kills. Though considerably smaller, the falcons always win, those crafty warriors of the sky.

Evenings, those same birds infest a dead Poplar tree to sleep. We’re careful not to wake them, and we skirt around some marsh grass to pick up the trail on the other side of the tree.

The Babyeater stops to pee. He’s a bottomless fountain, and I often think he might one day be the answer to the world’s water shortage.

Tonya whimpers. “Baby girl, storm’s not close yet, relax,” I say with a quick tug.

Finally, we’re working a rhythm on the trail. Though the ground is soft from all the winter rain, we manage to find a groove, our gait steady as a bass line.

The woods at night sing a different melody. Not the jazz of the daytime, with the buzz of the bees and the chirping robins that always remind me of Ella Fitzgerald.

The evening plays a disparate tune, something classical, like a lost Chopin nocturne. C# Minor No.2 perhaps, where owls, whip-poor-wills and loons harmonize with bullfrogs and coyotes who bay at the moon.

I love you.

The words come quickly on the evening breeze. Lyrics just for me. Words translated through these natural instruments through the rhythm of our footsteps. I hear them very clearly in this place, in these woods, words I haven’t heard or said in so long.

I love you.

Tonya looks back at me with a big smile. Probably just her energy I sense. Or perhaps my own projection.

The Babyeater stops for another pee.I take the moment to watch the storm crackle and cackle in the distance. The sky blinks a Morse message:

I love you.

So clearly I hear them.

For a moment, I’m lost in these words, until I remember myself with a laugh. Though my Downward Dog has improved, I discount the idea that I might be on some yogic path. How I envy those happy people and their benevolent energy.

Tonya starts hopping from one foot to the other as The Babyeater sticks his head between my legs, nearly knocking me over. I find my footing and scan the vicinity. I know why he’s afraid, and I know why Tonya is dancing.

But I’m distracted. The words keep resounding. I’m dizzy with them, like a Darvesh, and I reconsider the power of my Downward Dog.

I love you I love you I love you

Loud and strong. A palpable energy that covers me so completely. Like my lost childhood blanket.

Tonya whoops, and that’s when I see him. Canis latrans. A young male coyote with a yellow pelt and a black tipped tail. He stares at me with muddy eyes, and I dare not move though I know he won’t hurt me.

I love you, he says again, before turning and disappearing into the shadows of the crooked old men trees.

I love you, too

I say

hoping he’ll come back.

TAGS: , , , , , , , ,

When she isn't making movies or music, DUCKY WILSON serves as a spy for the Bokonon Underground Army, living by the foma that makes her brave and kind and healthy and happy. Her poetry has been published in several literary magazines, none of which you've ever read, and her nonfiction work can be read exclusively on The Nervous Breakdown. Currently, she is in development on her next film, an offbeat musical about misfits looking to belong.

56 responses to “Downward Dog”

  1. Ducky Wilson says:

    Hopefully, this will soften Wills’s post. If you haven’t read it, go read it.

  2. Anon says:

    Simply beautiful. Thank you, Ducky.

  3. Zara Potts says:

    The woods are your cathedral and that coyote was an angel.

    I love it when you write about your dogs, Ducky. You write them so well, their personalities just shine. Lovely, lovely, lovely.

    Ah.

  4. Ducky Wilson says:

    Zara, you’re the angel.

  5. Matt says:

    I want to go on a walk with you and your dogs.

    And after reading this, I really miss mine once again. In the best way possible.

    • Ducky Wilson says:

      Have you thought about adopting a new dog? There are so many who need homes.

      • Matt says:

        Yes. But my financial status right now is such that I wouldn’t be able to give it the proper care it needs–vet trips, shots, etc. And because of my karate teaching schedule, some days I leave the house at 6:30 am and don’t get home until 10 pm. It’s not fair to keep a dog cooped up for that long, even a housebroken one.

        Luckily, there are a lot of dogs in my apartment complex, and their owners let me play with them.

        • Ducky Wilson says:

          Why not take the dog to work? And I doubt that the dogs are getting any better care in the shelter. Just saying.

        • Anon says:

          Ducky makes a good point. I trained at a BJJ school awhile back where the owner let his two pit bulls roam about (off the mat, of course). It was funny to watch them occasionally get inspired during classes and start going for ankle picks on each other. (:

        • Matt says:

          Ducky-

          I looked into that option but unfortunately dogs aren’t allowed at my workplace…and since I don’t drive, I would have to get a dog small enough that I could haul it around in a carrier on the bus.

          Le sigh.

  6. Jude says:

    I can’t believe that The Babyeater doesn’t want to go for a walk – but then we have a dog that doesn’t want to eat…

    • Ducky Wilson says:

      The Babyeater LOVES to eat. Anything.

      He also has Cushings, so that affects his desire, but I’m militant about the walk.

  7. Ronlyn Domingue says:

    Enjoyed this so much! Sometimes, encounters with animals do have Divine qualities. We have no coyotes where I live, so I’ll have to be content with the little Pekingese mix who gently watches me as I walk past her house.

  8. Richard Cox says:

    Love your descriptions of the animals, both your pets and those in the woods.

    One of the reasons I enjoy domesticated cats is because they are built to kill, as you say, but in your house they stalk foil balls and pieces of foam and their own shadows. Endless entertainment.

  9. Irene Zion says:

    Oh Ducky,

    What a relief to read this beautiful animal story after having to come to grips with David’s.

    • Ducky Wilson says:

      That was a hard post, wasn’t it? But I’m glad I know about it. I can add rescuing Korean dogs to my list of causes.

  10. jmblaine says:

    yesyesyesyesyesyesyes

    yes

  11. jmblaine says:

    i love you

    into the trees

  12. Simon Smithson says:

    This was really beautiful, and so just… in tune, Ducky. You and Ronlyn should get together and write a co-blog sometime.

    Really, really liked this.

    • Ducky Wilson says:

      Thanks Simon. It has felt that way lately – that I’m in tune with something, though I dare not name it. My ancestors on one side are Cherokee, so maybe it’s some kind of genetic super power. My “people” believed that the coyote created the world, humans, even brought us fire. They are very spiritual creatures, and I definitely sensed that staring at the beautiful beast.

  13. This was beautiful, Ducky. What a perfect combo–your writing and dogs. Yep. Love it, love it, love it.

  14. Gloria says:

    This is breathtaking and an absolute pleasure to read. So beautiful. I want to live near some woods.

    • Ducky Wilson says:

      I lived in NY for so long that I forgot how much I love the woods. I’m going to be reluctant to leave, that’s for sure.

  15. Gloria says:

    P.S. I love the title.

  16. “There’s a reason cats are feared in the animal kingdom. They are the fiercest predators, built to kill, with every part of them designed specifically for that kill, from their rear legs engineered for the perfect pounce, to their eyes structured to detect movement in less than 20% of the light a human would need.”

    Hmm… As I sit here and read this wonderful piece of writing I can’t help but laugh… because I have two cats and they don’t quite fit your description. They are Korean street cats – inbred little scavengers. One of them is smart. She’s the smartest little kitty on the face of the earth. As I read this she’s standing beside me on her two legs, reading with me. Because she can read… Whenever I sit at my computer she gets lonely and stands up and puts her paws next to the keyboard, then stares at the screen.

    But she is no killer. She’s a harmless little hopeless case. She scavenges crumbs from the floor, but she wouldn’t kill a hamster. I know this because she was once punched in the face by a hamster, and ran away crying.

    My other cat, who is sitting across the room, trembling in fear and confusion, staring at my… is a moron. She is inbred and brain-damaged. She is dumber than any living thing. At one yr old she has already chipped all of her teeth trying to eat plastic, metal and stone.

    She is, however, a merciless killing machine. She once took a hamster out of its cage… thru the bars. She ripped it apart and then liked the bars clean, leaving nothing but a hamster kidney by my bed. Weeks later she did it again. Nothing but a kidney by the bed…

    ***

    My my point is that as I read this my two retarded cats were staring at me, as if to say, “She doesn’t know Korean cats at all…”

    • Ducky Wilson says:

      She was punched in the face by a hamster? I love it!! But I promise you, hungry enough, she would find her killer instincts. And though she may not use them now, she is built for it. Her eyes. Her legs. She is designed to kill, even if she doesn’t.

      I do hope you’ll write a story about these cats. They sound worthy of a nice long story.

  17. D.R. Haney says:

    Ah, Ducky, this was such a warm, sweet, reassuring read. I especially responded to the dangling black tongue and the sky’s Morse code, but the poet in you is evident throughout. I’d like to think of this post as a summer companion to mine about snow.

    Apropos your aside about cats, did you see the clip that recently went viral of a cat going off on a bear? It was filmed from inside a house, where the residents had holed up till the bear had disappeared, and the bear seemed to want the cat’s food. No fucking way, dude! The cat goes flying at the bear, which backs off, and snatches its food away. At least that’s how I remember the clip, which I watched on the fly.

  18. josie says:

    In the words of our beloved Reno,

    “duck, duck, goose!

    This was a good tale of tails told very well.

    The forest is church for me as well. (Though I am a little jealous that you got away with the woods as cathedral line. I used it once and was mercilessly stoned to death in edits for it. )

    I love the romantic tone to your writing.
    Ah, to walk under blueberry skies by bottomless fountains. . . you speaka my language Dervish-girl.

  19. Lovely, lovely read.
    Thank you.

  20. This what not what I expected. But obviously what I needed, what a magical journey you’ve taken me on, my dear.

    Thanks, you.

  21. Ugh, WAS not. You get it.

  22. Wow. I felt the wind on your dusk walk – and your commune with the elements.
    So beautiful.

    We live basically in the woods – it’s kind of a shame that we don’t have dogs. I feel like we live in the perfect place for dogs. The people who lived here before us had dogs – they even left their electric fence.

    Your piece here makes me know that one day I will have a dog. I have always wanted a dog, though I don’t fancy myself a dog person. I’m a cat person because ever since I was born I have had a cat or cat(s) in my life. And I love cats – I understand cats – I get cats.
    Dogs scare me a bit. I used to think it was because I was pinned down by a 200 pound dog named King when I was a little girl. But I actually think it’s because I truly believe somewhere in the universe, my dog waits for me and it’s not time yet. I need to fall in love with my dog. Does any of this make sense? I don’t know when, but I know it will be right. And that’s when I’ll become a dog person.

    Anyway – woof!

    • Jude says:

      Steph – I understand perfectly about waiting for the right time for your dog to come. (When the student is ready, the teacher comes…)

      I waited and waited for a long time for my dog, and never was in the right place for her. When I finally had my own house, a phone call came from my friend, saying a friend was visiting her with 4 puppies…”come and see”.

      Turned up to her place to find the most adorable puppies and instantly fell in love with my girl. She lived till she was 14 and a half – the last two years she had diabetes. I felt very privileged to have had her for so long – looking after her from being a small puppy to being an old frail lady.

      And now we have another beautiful girl. I’m sure you’ll find your dog – or that your dog will find you. Woof, woof!

    • Ducky Wilson says:

      Steph –

      I understand. I had dogs years ago but my ex got them in the divorce (very amicable). I got the kitties, who stayed with me all through my years, even relocating to NY with me. When I came back to Texas last year, I sort of inherited my dog. And I’m grateful every day. She pours love into me that fills me with so much awe. It sounds cheesy, but she’s a sort of soul mate.

      The only thing stopping you is the decision. I say, go to the pound and liberate your new love.

      • Hey – sorry just answering this now – we were vagabonds for a week
        with no power and Greg hogged the laptop wherever we went 😉 .

        It does not sound cheesy in the least to feel that she’s a soul mate.
        I had that with my cat Bob who lived with me in the city for 12 years. Ugh – miss him so much.
        We were totally connected – we would take naps together and wake up and look into each others eyes like lovers for hours. Now, that sounds cheesy – but I don’t care.

        Anyway – I love your writing – thank you.

        • Ducky Wilson says:

          Staring is so fun. Those animal eyes get me every time.

          Glad you’ve got power again. Storms were bad everywhere. Tell Greg to share.

    • Ducky Wilson says:

      Well, that nested incorrectly. Sorry bout that!

      • Ducky Wilson says:

        Jude – that’s awesome about your girl. I hope to have the same with mine. They are gifts. Animals just make us more human, don’t they?

    • Ducky Wilson says:

      Damnit, that one nested weird, too! Arg…

  23. sheree says:

    Excellent writing! Thanks for the read.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *