Dead squirrel lies prone,
Chin resting on its two paws.
Looks like it's sleeping.
Dead squirrel lies prone,
Trying to turn the corner.
"Not that way," I say.
But Ella insists,
So I give in and follow.
Not that big a deal.
This short, narrow lane,
It's a valid path back home,
Not such a detour.
Along the sidewalk
We rush, my arm stretched out straight,
Not pausing to sniff.
How can you live with a dog,
with its lifespan of ten to fifteen years,
and not realize how quickly the clock
We often say, my wife and I,
that Ella is our first dog,
the one you make your mistakes on.
But for me, that isn't true.
My first dog was Jessie,
a runty black shepherd mix.
Some of the mistakes I made
with Jessie were things like
Don't scold the dog unless
you catch her in the act.
Don't let the dog bite you.
Don't ever hit the dog.
Don't buy a dog with someone
you don't like, let alone love.
All mistakes I wouldn't
ever ever make with Ella.
with a high of seventy degrees in the forecast,
amazing for a November in Chicago,
I drove the dog to Warren Park.
That's where we go for a special treat
instead of our usual neighborhood walk,
because the squirrel chasing is most excellent,
and there are never any cops there to harass you,
a scofflaw walking his dog off its leash.
We like to run up the steps of the sledding hill,
which a parks department sign actually proclaims "Sledding Hill,"
and then charge down the slope,
after which we make our way around the skirt of the hill
where the squirrels rummage through the leaves
like so many bargain hunters.
We crunch crunch crunch across the orange carpet,
and if we're lucky we spot a squirrel far enough out
in the open that Ella can chase it full-bore
back to its tree.
She has never once caught one.
Or at any rate never killed one.
Next we like to follow the cinder jogging path
all the way around the little nine-hole golf course embedded
like an off-center yolk
in the albumen of the park,
and that's exactly what we did this morning.
I walked in the leaves at the side of the path,
trying to encourage Ella to do the same,
but unless she has a rodent, lagomorph or marsupial in her sights
she prefers to walk on pavement. Go figure.
We were on the south side of the golf course,
the tall chain-link fence meant to protect us from flying balls
off to our left,
when I saw two men coming our way along the path,
youngish menyounger than I, at any rate
neatly bearded men dressed in long robes the color of wet sand.
It was already warm enough out that I was regretting
the heavy coat I wore over my hooded sweatshirt.
I snapped my fingers imperiously,
calling for Ella to return to my side,
to leave the path and get out of the way
of the two youngish men engaged in animated talk.
Earlier from the second-story deck
I caught a glimpse of the gate
slamming shut as Ella chased
someone out of the yard.
Her wild barking was
what had summoned me.
The thunk of something landing
solidly on the wooden deck below
brought me down the stairs
to find a package for my wife,
too big to fit through the mail slot.
The gate latch was still vibrating
at a high B or C.
Let me tell you a story.
This morning I was out walking the dog,
who, honestly, can be a grouchy pain in the ass.
But today she was pretty good. It was clear and cold, being October,
and we had waited more than five minutes
to cross a busy street. Ella was alert for squirrels,
trotting with her head up like a tiny horse,
when half a block ahead we saw a woman walking a shepherd mix
of some kind. It was small for a shepherd, brown with
a little bit of red to it.
Ella sat down on her haunches, as she sometimes does,
and wouldn't budge. It's her way of telling the
other dog that they're equals, and she's not afraid.
I made her keep walking, though, but I kept her
on the side of me away from the other dog,
just to be on the safe side. Because you never know.
As we passed the woman, her dog lunged in front of me,
growling. Ella lunged back. She's a soft-coated wheaten terrier
and doesn't look like she could be that tough, but they
were both about the same size and it was an even match.
In the confusion of bodies and leashes and guttural snarls,
I could see the other dog's teeth, points of gleaming bone,
trying to find their way home in my dog's
throat. I hauled Ella into the air by her leash and
swung her clear of the scrap. She wears a body harness and not
just a collar for exactly this reason.
The woman, sounding shaken, could not have apologized more.
Her dog never acts like that. I was shaken too. She
thanked me for being so cool, but it's like I told her:
"Sometimes things like this just happen."
There's no reason for it.
It's much the same way that I don't like you.