I seem to be talking to the dog a lot these days, particularly when things need saying. Last week, for example, I decided that since Waffle hadn’t had a walk in two days, I would take him for a super-long hike: Five miles up and down and around the hilly back roads surrounding our house.
The day was mild bordering on warm and with big bilious cumulus clouds coasting across a pale-blue February sky and with the first startlingly vibrant buds of spring pushing up out of the brown detritus of winter, it felt like portentous day to be abroad.
We started on the lead but Waffle couldn’t decide if he wanted to tangle up my legs or receive a kick up the hindquarters. Taking the decision out of his hands (or paws), I disconnected the lead, heaved a great sigh and all was well once more.
“Come on, Waffie,” I said by way of encouragement as we tackled a steep hill with gusto.
Waffle had already done his sniffing and peeing and was thus content to pad along beside me, bumping his nose against the back of my leg from time to time to remind me (as if I could forget) that he hadn’t gone away.
“What are you at, clown dog?” I might have asked, as we trottled on, breathing in the majesty of a dry day after what seemed like months of rain.
The roads, thankfully, had dried overnight although the verges remained wet and mucky and so I resigned myself to the possibility of having to give Waffle a rinse down when we returned to the homestead, seeing as how he likes to step around in filth from time to time to keep his life nice and interesting (and smelly).
For two creatures (me and the Waff) who spend most of their lives indoors, it was singularly refreshing to be out and about in the fresh air, especially on a day when the rain wasn’t doing its level best to wash our faces clean off. Also, if a person is light of step and not overly loud in one’s admonitions regarding one’s canine companion, there is much to to be seen amidst our glorious countryside. Sometimes, all it takes is a pause in the walking and a breather beside a large Beech tree for fauna to make itself abundantly known.
Pausing by that Beech last week, I was mildly astonished but inordinately chuffed to see three ducks arch past, dark against the sky, long-necked and fast-flapping.
“Where are those lads going?” I asked the Hound, who only glanced at me, his tail a-wag. He was more interested in a patch of moss on the side of the road which, upon closer inspection, turned out to be a large frog.
“Are you not up a bit early in the year?” I asked of the frog, who steadfastly refused to engage. He or she only sat there, unblinking and statuesque, like jade and copper garden ornament. Waffle though, took the opportunity for a long, excited whine, jerking his head up and down. He seemed to be saying, “That thing looks fuppen mental!”
I briefly considered touching a froggy back leg so as to make the amphibian hop, hopefully startling the Hound. Then I considered that silence (or as silent as it usually is with Waffle) is golden and thus decided to leave the frog to his or her mute ministrations.
Eventually, Waffle and I walked on, both of us (most likely) wondering what we would encounter next. As it happened, I would have Waffle to thank for flagging up our next countryside companion.
We had circumnavigated the five miles up and down and around the hilly back roads surrounding our house and were on the last leg of a couple of hundred yards when the Waff went stock still, leg cocked. I should quantify: He does this stock still, leg cocked malarkey every few paces and so I paid scant attention to this latest show of alertness. I had been on the cusp of saying, “Come on, clown, it’s only another leaf,” when, unexpectedly, the leaf moved.
It was my turn to stop (leg uncocked), and watch wide-eyed as the Red Squirrel scampered across the brown patchwork quilt of a million fallen leaves and scale a nearby Silver Birch like a fireman ascending a ladder. It stopped then and turned to regard the devilishly handsome stranger and his congenitally foolish, hairy friend.
“Well, look at you,” I told the squirrel, slowly reaching into my pocket for my phone. I moved – I hoped – imperceptibly and incrementally, lest any sudden lurches scare off the spiky-haired beauty. Un-concerned though and content to watch us from his or her lofty perch on the bough of the birch, the squirrel seemed to glance around. “Is there a drey up there next to the trunk?” I wondered.
Finally extricating the phone from its own drey, I activated the fingerprint sensor without taking my eyes off the squirrel. Ginger brown and with a glorious splash of white on his or her chest, they looked down on us with all the self-assurance of a little countryside deity; its beauty all the more striking because it’s so elusive.
Activating the camera app on my phone, I reckoned the squirrel was close enough for a picture, especially as its bushy tail stood out against the lightness of the birch’s silver facade.
Startled, but instantly realising what had happened, I glanced down at the source of this stupendously ill-timed and moronic barking and resisted an urge to dole out that aforementioned kick up the hindquarters. Instead, I glared at the Hound. And when I looked back, the squirrel was gone. I scanned the trees and their interlocking branches, hoping against hope that my eyes would pick out the pointy ears but to no avail.
Heaving another great Waffle-inspired sigh, I took one last stare into the trees and then turned and walked away, grumbling as I went.
Waffle trotted up alongside me, bumping his nose against the back of my leg.
“Yes?” I asked, stopping to look into his smiling face. This was one of those occasions when things needed saying. “I know you haven’t gone away,” I continued. “But tell me this: Are you thick? You scared away that nice squirrel with your stupid barking. What harm was it doing to you?”
Waffle look up and grinned, his tail going into overdrive. He seemed to say, “Who cares about the stupid red rat with the pointy ears when you have me.”
As if to illustrate his point, he ran off down the road as fast as his hairy legs would take him, before returning double quick with a big stick, so big that one end bounced off the road as he carried it between his teeth. This he immediately spat out at my feet before backing away, growling.
“WOWOWOWOWOWOWOW!!!” he added. This, I translated as, “Come on, ya big Jessie. Forget the red rat and let’s have some fun.”
I picked up the stick and fired it as far as I could back down the road, the way we had come. Waiting until Waffle took off after the stick like a rocket, I started running in the opposite direction towards the house.
“Last one home has a smelly butt,” I shouted over my shoulder.
If you can’t beat them…
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