We're straddling the crack of an icy doom --- that fathomless fissure between light and dark --- but already there's tail wagging, dogs' nails clicking on my hardwood floors. There's also low-throated warbling at The Dog House as its current paying guests, Scot and Ingrid, Labrador and Labradoodle (see pics attached), energetically embrace the day. Given their boundless enthusiasm, you'd think this was the primordial dawn, earth's first, timeless morning.
Ay, me! Scot, a beloved eye-discoursing Romeo to my wherefore art thou Juliet, knows precisely what light from yonder window breaks as Ingrid, sweet girl, the better eyes-on-the-prize hunter of the two, challenges Bold Doe. At first light, she of the family Cervidae, drinks resolutely at the birdbath, lithe legs ashiver--- a hind who will not be moved. Pheromoaning. Cerfing. Long ago, the Celts had a name for her kind --- "fairy cattle" (isn't that lovely?)
"The voice of my beloved! Behold, he cometh leaping upon the mountains
Skipping upon the hills.
My beloved is like a roe or a young hart: behold, he standeth behind our wall,
He looketh forth at the windows, shewing himself through the lattice.
My beloved spake, and said unto me: Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away."
Despite Ingrid's grumbling protestations, this emboldened old dearie, a frequent Dog House visitor, holds her ground, slithered tongue slurping. I chipped at that ice yesterday so my birds could drink; today, I simply haven't the heart to shoo her away with nary a drop of aqua vitae to drink --- that life-giving elixir that sustains us all. She licks the loving cup clean as the pups scowl disapprovingly, whiskers flicking.
Slowly she lopes away; sure-hoofed for now (she might make it through the winter on a wing and a prayer. If so, she'll bring her fawn to show me come May). Eventually, Ingrid grows calm, reserving her fury for the next encounter (which is sure to come some wintry evening soon when I again forget to bring the feeders in).
It's a dance. The cardinals (I have seven pairs this season) prefer to feed as the protective refuge of dusk descends ---but so does Bold Doe. If the feeders are still up, she ravages, browsing seed to the piercing, noisy displeasure of the birds --- "purdy, purdy purdy", "whoit, whoit, whoit," "what cheer, what cheer, what cheer". Occasionally, the Jays join in (though they're usually snug on their branches by then) squawking their annoyance, flashes of blue-black on the sloe-colored sky.
Come daffydill time, these red blooded, hellebore-colored males will aim to please (unlike some of my species!) and, singing in bell clear tones, they'll collect insects, fruit (cherries and peaches from my trees), coarse twigs, stems and rootlets and present them proudly, feathers plumped, to their fawn-green mates, their gals for life. The females do most of the nest building (natch!) but, while she sits, warming her eggs, her guy feeds her, beak to beak. Were that we all had such a devoted lover! Then, sometime during Paschal, that holy blood of the lamb season, she'll pass through those time immemorial gates into motherhood, and her brood will fledge in 10 or so days (that's if the Coopers hawks don't get them first!).
A bit of ornithological trivia: it was legal to keep cardinals (and others) in cages, as songbirds, until Congress passed the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1918.
But I digress, for this is Maggie's tale, the story of an abandoned, dejected, down-at-the-snout, Heinz 57 (part Shepherd, part Ibizan Hound) found roaming Greenport several years ago, before she finally came to live with her forever Mom, who led her from the tottering brink of despair to the sunny side of love.
I'm not certain, but dollars to donuts, it's likely Maggie was initially succored from the storm by that cherished by-every-two-and-four-legged sentient, North Fork being --- our own unsung Saint Gillian, who found her and gave her shelter --- NFAWL style. Maggie's owner shared her story when she came to stay at The Dog House several weeks ago.
When they found Maggie, she weighed a mere twenty-six pounds, woefully underfed, ribs poking through her matted flanks, sad-eyed Lady of the Beachlands. Her owner wanted a challenge, which is why Gilliam recommended Maggie, though she knew that her path to a recovered life would be a rocky one.
No matter how life unfolds --- whatever its later compensations, joys, gem-studded cups that runneth over, or precious babes a-rocking in loving arms, there's nothing in this old, sad world that will ever repair, make whole, or knit the raveled sleeve once abuse --- physical, psychological or some lethal Frankensteinian mix of the two--- rears its ugly hands and raises its loathsome, Doomsday voice. Horses shie, but dogs and humans do, too; shie from the mouth that bites but never feeds, shie from the battering, bloody blows, and later, face tightly pressed to the pillow to drown out the wailing. Maybe he won't hear me; he won't start in again. Fingers crossed, tears are of no account; crying just makes it worse. Virginia, there is no Santa Claus, at least not here or now.
It's the self-loathing that sticks, that churns and burns in the gut. The self-hatred that makes one instinctively shie at a proffered caress, never quite able to accept the gentle glance. The hatred that goes to show, that confirms, it must have been deserved. Had I only been, had I not, if I had, if I just... .IFIFIFIFIFIFIFIFIFIFIFIFIFIFIFIFIFIFIF. Only if. If Only. If only I.
Therefore, when you go to pet Maggie, who is all grace with a young girl's colt-like tottering legs that end in coal black nails, always en pointe, your palm must be open, and do. pretty please, rub her under her bristly chin. No raised hands, no clumsy, unexpected movements, no dancing steps or exuberant voice. Nothing to alarm, concern, reinforce, coerce, displease, undermine, convince, manipulate, stir the pot or rock the boat.
But you can sing to her. Maggie likes a tune now and again, be they lullabies, carols, dog-eared ditties, southern ballads, or the arias of angels. They soothe and comfort her. She's buoyed up on the tuneful air and forgets, for a few, blessed moments, her troubles --- wraps them up in her doggie bag and smiles, smiles, smiles.
For music is indeed (and doesn't Maggie know it!) the food of love. So what can I do but give, to darling Maggie and each of you, excess of it, every twelfth night and all those in-between.
Pipers, Play On!