Saturday, July 12, 2008

An Uncommon Morning

July rarely surprises. It is not cruel February, which, here on the Front Range, occasionally sets aside its icy countenance for hours at a time and masquerades as June, with sunshine and warmth, gloriously blue skies and sidewalks that are free of ice. Nor is it May, which can be fickle and temperamental and even a little schizophrenic with warm sunny days and then sudden, unexpected––and certainly undeserved––snow storm tantrums and cold front fits. July, though, is always July: full-bodied, blistering and reliably fierce. July is always and only ever July.

Except, of course, this morning, when it dressed up as June and we awoke to a shockingly cool fifty-five degrees. The sun was up, big in the east, and the birds were out, perched on shadow-kissed branches and boughs, singing in short staccato bursts that matched the marching of the relentlessly searching ants, who wound up and down the trunks of the trees or fanned out over the still cool sidewalks. Or perhaps it was the other way around, the ants keeping time with the birds. Our nights have been unusually cool this year, but our mornings have been typically hot and dry, even by 8 AM. This morning was too good to pass up, so Duncan and I leashed up and went outside for a long tromp through the tall, wet grass.

The rabbits which seemed to have taken over the world only a few months back have all but vanished. We see them only occasionally, just after dawn, when the sun is still low but steadily climbing, or in the evenings, after it has set and the shadows have swallowed the world, which turns from blue to purple before our eyes. They sit in the grass on the edges of the lawns, their backs hunched up behind them while they try their hardest to look like small stumps or gray stones. Duncan loves to watch them even more than the squirrels, who scamper up trees and rain down curses on us from above once they're well out of reach. The rabbits sit, their ears up and twitching, their bodies tense and ready to spring, but they allow us to get quite close before they bound away into the low shrubs along the sides of the buildings, flashing their tails and the white bottoms of their furry hind feet as they go.

I like the rabbits, too, but even more I like watching Duncan watch them, the way he leans forward and his face turns solid and determined, like a hunter, like something on the prowl. But his ears stay up and his eyes stay wide and friendly and I can see that more than wanting to catch them and eat them, he wants to sniff and turn them over and bury his nose in their bellies. He wants to play and lick them and roll on the ground next to them, maybe get carried away and roll over them. He wants to make them his friends. I know this because I know my dog.

The rabbit we saw this morning was still small and quite lean, but once he fills out will make a handsome Jack. He crouched near one of the bushes whose short, stubby leaves stay poison-apple red all year, and just a few feet from the parking lot. Just behind him an obscenely yellow Penske truck had parked and a group of young women attired in CSU sweatshirts and baseball hats and very short shorts were busy unloading it and carrying its contents into their new apartment. They were a bit loud and obnoxious for 8 AM and I suspect that several of them were probably still a little drunk from whatever misadventures they'd had last night. The rabbit was well aware of them but he also had to contend with Duncan and myself creeping up on him from the front. Other than his ears, which turned this way and that, back and forth from the sound of the former sorority sisters to our gentle push through the damp grass, he did not move. Perhaps he was one of the ones we've encountered a hundred times before, who knew that Duncan never gets too close but instead takes slow and cautious steps, his eyes wide with wonder and curiosity rather than hunger.

He eventually stopped listening to us and kept his ears turned toward the women, who struggled to carry a heavy black leather sofa down the truck ramp. At the tops of the red bushes behind him several small sparrows squeaked and hopped and some alighted on the ground beneath them, pecking and darting quickly with the awkward convulsive grace of heavy brown butterflies. Each of their movements stirred the thin branches of the shrubs, bending and rustling the twigs and leaves as they went. The bunny listened to them as well, but when the couch was dropped quite suddenly the birds lost his attention, which was once again focused on the movers. After some time they were able to lift the thing and carry it across the parking-lot and into their new home. The bunny relaxed and the yard become very quiet and not even the birds sang. Duncan had stopped his slow advance but kept a single paw raised in the air before him. He turned and glanced at me and then went back to watching the bunny, who seemed content with our presence and the gentle rustling in bushes behind him. He took a cautious hop forward and began chewing on a bee-less patch of clover.

The cat was swift. It sprang from the red shrub and landed on the rear haunch of the rabbit, whose body elongated as it stretched to bound away but was caught. Rather than launch into the air it fell flat on its belly, its legs splayed out around it, ears standing tall above it. Duncan jerked on the leash and it was a moment before I realized what had happened. The rabbit let out a squeal, a high-pitched sound I will probably hear in my head for the next few days, and tried to kick but the cat, sitting full on top of it held it down and curled its claws into its prey.

"Hey," I said, holding Duncan back. Then, "Hey," again, louder. This time I let the leash go slack and Duncan leapt forward dragging me along with him. "Get out of here," I yelled and waved my free arm over my head. The cat, who hadn't seen us, looked up, its eyes wide, shocked that its plan had gone so terribly awry, and jumped clear, back into the bushes where we heard it scamper off around the side of the building. The rabbit jumped straight into the air and kicked with its long hind feet before bounding around us in a wide arc then across the yard, kicking every third hop. Duncan turned to follow but I reeled him in and we watched the rabbit dive head first into a dense thicket of brambles and vanish.

Duncan plopped down next to me, his tongue out, his ears up and alert, a big, goofy Golden grin spread across his face. I may think what I want of July, but Duncan knows better. The world is full of surprises and he is here to marvel at each of them.


caboval said...

Curt, what a great way to start my day! That was a beautiful post. I was holding my breath and was caught by surprise by the cat!

Greg said...

The cat was a total surprise, just as you were to it. I'm sure the bunny is grateful for your help in making good his escape. I wonder if he will equate this with Duncan in the future.

Sounds like your boy needs a cape to flap in the summer breezes behind him: Super-Duncan, Protector of Long Ears!

I'm still trying to figure out if Em just doesn't see the bunnies on our walks, or if she simply doesn't care that they are there.

Curt Rogers said...

The cat WAS a surprise! For a second there I felt like I had front-row seats to some Nature channel show. I've always been somewhat amazed by the ability of documentarians to sit back and let nature happen in front of them, no matter how violent or gory. That certainly wasn't me, though. Before I even thought about it I leapt into action. Besides, my mother has a soft spot for bunnies and would never forgive me.

Greg, I wonder if maybe Em doesn't care about your bunnies. Duncan and I walk among prairie dogs all the time, entire metropolises of them, and he doesn't give one iota unless I egg him on, and even then he only seems interested to appease me.