Today I drove to nearby Lancaster, a good-sized town about an hour away. My GPS said there was a Borders there. My GPS lied. As every other major book store was an hour and a half to two hours away. It was one of the places in my life I went to just be, to wander; to look and make lists in my head of all I wanted to read, do, go; see. I used to go there late at night because it was the only place in Brighton that was open late. I held a period of mourning in my car. It was like leaving another old friend.
Yesterday I pulled into the stable and there, by one of the bends in the drive way, was a dog. He was black with brown accents around his face and chest. He was obviously a lab mix, but only about knee height. He moved in long, fluid strides that brought up visions of a dressage pony. I got out carefully, and presented my hand. He licked it, and I figured that was about the best greeting I could imagine. He followed me to the pasture to retrieve Tristin. He followed me to the ring where I let my horse wander around and I sat down to read. He sat next to me. From time to time he would get up and wander away; jogging across the field to touch base with the trees, or startle a flock of birds into flight. I tried all sorts of names for him, Boris, Constantine, Bingo, Fido. Nothing at all worked. So, I called him Random Dog, which he actually responded to. “Whatcha doin, Random Dog?” I’d ask, and he’d loll his head back at me and smile.
Finally, without warning, Random Dog jumped off and jogged across the pasture. When I looked up, he was gone. 15 minutes later I became curious. Where had Random Dog gone? I watched a small red tailed hawk circle the field. Had Random Dog been content to make friends with me than abandon me to lick the hand of someone else? Was I so much chopped liver? I felt entirely cheated upon. So, I slipped under the fence, carful not to bump the electric wire. I set off through the wet grass, following my canine guide.
I was glad to see that, among the more familiar daisies and Queen Anne’s Lace, a few Amaranth stretched their purple heads out of the grass. If I had to name a favorite flower, it would probably be Amaranth. They’re a strange flower. They’re rather fluffy, either in a cone shaper or a ball. Usually they’re ignored for their own beauty and used as edging; almost never in bouquets. They symbolize the immortality of love. I’ve always found them charming.
At the edge of the field there was a line of thin trees against the wire fence. On the other side, a dog watched me, but not my dog. This dog stood in the endless field beyond, a beautiful painting perfect bird dog in brindle and white. Beyond him, a charcoal black gray hound looked into the distance. The bird dog looked at me steadily, as an aristocrat meeting an equal. It was becoming clear to me that Ohio had decided that all my stories would be animal stories. It was also clear to me that I would not name these dogs. If I was to name every ghost animal that the Ohio wilderness offered me, I would never be done. I took a few steps, losing the dogs behind a tree. When I could see the field again, they were gone, no doubt called back into the sky, or sucked into the grass.
As I climbed back up the hill, I caught another glimpse of Random Dog, running along the lake. He slipped through a bush, and was gone. Maybe this is the land’s way of meeting me, in these tiny agents. Maybe this is her way of saying, “I do not have the things you left behind. I do not have book stores or tea shops. I have these flowers that last forever. I have the ghost of cats and dogs and birds with red tails, that guard me, that watch for me; that like you.”