We have a dog. Little Rhea is a mutt, a canine of uncertain provenance, a largely unremarkable and persistently shedding presence in the home.
Our newspaper appears every morning (well, Monday through Saturday) sheathed in a thin, blue, plastic wrapper that makes a marvelous, repurposed poop bag when we walk Rhea in the park across the street. When I ‘taught’ Rhea to ‘fetch’ the newspaper every morning (Monday through Saturday), I imagined the entertainment value of training this largely underperforming household companion to do something useful. But I also anticipated saving a few steps in my daily (Monday through Saturday) journey down the long driveway to the side of the road whence the newspaper in its thin, blue, plastic sheath gets hurled from a passing car onto endlessly creative subsections of our driveway and its vicinity.
This was not to be.
Rhea is, as one might say delicately of her if she were enrolled in the first grade and learning to read, ‘easily distracted’.
Just outside the house, at the beginning of the daily (well, Monday through Saturday) pilgrimage towards the Wall Street Journal, lies a set of diverse shrubberies and trees, as well as other ground cover that accidentally grows up in and among them. Our 2016 rabbit guest—a delightfully furry little presence that suffers the demerit of producing extremely vulnerable little rabbit daughters and sons—likes to shelter there. Rhea knows this. One on or two occasions, she has managed to roust our rabbit friend from its relatively protected hovel back there and chase it frantically around the yard.
Sadly, we haven’t seen our rabbit for a few weeks. We fear the worst, mostly because a quick scan of the Internet instructed us that rabbits have a thousand ways to die prematurely. Apparently, it is in compensation of this bias towards an early demise that they procreate like … well, like rabbits. Make’em, lose’em, as they might say in some other industry that has nothing to do with rabbits or front yards. Or dogs.
Still, the potential that our rabbit might still be around is a compelling notion for little Rhea. She obsesses over where that rabbit might be right now. Even as time ambles on and the possibility that our rabbit is still alive somewhere wanes in the minds of the rest of us, the memory for Rhea does not fade. It remains as fresh as her last chase.
Newspaper be damned, there could be a rabbit in there!
Then, as one steps out behind the ‘shrub line’—it makes me feel satisfyingly ‘outdoorsy’ to invent a phrase like that—one’s eye takes in the modestly vast expanse of our Indiana front yard. Rhea and I have taken in this view hundreds or thousands of time. I ponder it quietly, when I ponder it at all. Rhea, however, scans the landscape with head-jerking fascination, as though to say with every new morning (Monday through Saturday), ‘Holy cow, just look at this place … !’
The newspaper lies undisturbed at the bottom of the driveway.
Next up, a pile of wood that I have promised to split in preparation for winter. Creatures, either chipmunks or the aforementioned rabbit or both, have taken up residence in the welcoming nooks and crannies of this rustic structure, no doubt thankful that it shows no signs of being split any time soon. Rhea, of course, knows they are in there or, in any case, might be in there. Though by now five or six (in the latter case, an entire week’s worth of the Wall Street Journal, which the reader may recall arrives Monday through Saturday) newspapers could have been brought inside and placed at the ready. Time, in the sense that humans measure its flow, is awastin’. Yet Rhea is at the woodpile, circling, climbing atop it, peering down with snuffling intensity into its bowels. Anything could be in there, and if it’s in there it is probably chase-able. This place is awesome!
One last shrub line, nicely bordered with wildflowers, awaits before one descends to the edge of the road and the zone in which the newspaper, on any given Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, or Saturday, awaits its reader’s attention. As Rhea moves out beyond this last line of wood and leaves, the whole universe seems to expand before her. She can now look up and down our street as far as the (dog’s) eye can see. It is as though vast expanses of possibility have opened up to her, and just her. She ponders it all, in that excitable, dog-like way, wondering how she every became this lucky. ‘There are dogs living in cages, dogs living in apartments … But I get all this!’
By this time, rather than saving steps to the newspaper, I have circled around numerous times, berated Rhea repeatedly, reminded her sternly of the reason we’re out here, ordered her back from lethal encounters (for the prey, not the predator) with a rabbit or a chipmunk or a sparrow that happened to fly low. We have been, well, active out here, though not precisely productive.
I remind her that a doggy treat awaits her return to the house, paper in mouth. I tell her she’s a bad dog. I change my mind, with each fleeting turn of direction towards the waiting Journal, and affirm that she is in fact a very good dog. I grow bored. I wonder if this is a very stupid idea and whether I’d do better just walking down here and collecting the paper by myself. I imagine the neighbors are watching.
Finally, Rhea can be convinced to pick up the paper in its tell-tale, light-blue cellophane, wrapper. Most days. Even after all this raw canine achievement, on occasion something will distract her on her self-satisfied trot back to the house and she’ll drop the newspaper to run off after this new obsession.
It struck me this morning that this is how I pray. I am infinitely distractible. Like Rhea. I pray like a dog.