Sunday, August 08, 2010

The Stray

It was less than a week ago when leaving my house that I first noticed her, alone and on her own, walking around the old section of roadway that parallels the railroad tracks at the end of our street. My immediate impression was that she was a stray. I saw her again later when I returned. There were a few neighbors with their dogs huddled in her vicinity.

Within a few days it seemed that most everyone in the neighborhood, even those who aren’t “dog people”, were aware of her. Speculation was she had been abandoned there in that secluded place at the end of the street, where all manner of trash and debris gets regularly dumped under the curtain of dark anonymity in the middle of the night.

My wife told me that some of the neighbors said she was a German Sheppard and was wearing a collar that was too tight. Someone said that if anyone could get close enough they should try to loosen it.

Yesterday morning I decided to have a look for myself. I started up the road with a small bag of dry dog food in my hand and saw her immediately. She certainly had no intention of keeping herself hidden.

Two bowls had already been set out for her near-by; an old metal one with dirty water and a cheap plastic container with about a day’s worth of dry food. When I approached she took a few steps back from the road onto a little path that runs off into the dense unkempt kudzu vines and scrub vegetation that fill the narrow strip of land between the road and the tracks. She seemed neither scared nor hostile—just cautious. I stopped about twelve feet from her. It was not my intention to capture or befriend her.

She was very handsome, barely medium size, with short brown fur and features that although resembling a German Sheppard suggested an ancestry far more gnarled and complex. She was young, possibly less than a year old, certainly no more than two, and looked to be in good health. She was not underweight.

I looked but could not see the collar and wondered if someone had already gotten close enough to remove it. When I later mentioned this to my wife, she suggested it might be on so tight that it just wasn’t immediately visible. Involuntarily, I reached up and stroked my throat. Could it be that this last vestige of her former confinement might eventually become the instrument of her ultimate demise? I wondered. And do we all enter this world with the means and moment of our departure determined from the beginning, strapped around our necks like the collar on that stray? I turned to walk back, stopping first to empty my bag of kibbles into her bowl—like an offering of biksha one makes at the abode of a great saint.

That was a few days ago and though I haven’t returned to see her, she still remains in my thoughts.

And what is my interest anyway? It is not that I wish to befriend her or make her my own, but something in her situation resonates with me. I know it is the edge.

The edge, and those who live on the edge, has always attracted me, for the edge is the place where real possibility begins. There on that narrow strip of land, just beyond the reach of the society’s fingertips, meaning is sought and found, reality can be glimpsed. Along that dusty strand, both the sinner with his spiked chain and the saint with his golden chain, can win freedom from all chains.

And so I continue to think about her and her precarious life filled with snakes and dangers. “How long will she be wily and lucky enough to survive? Will she, in a moment of carelessness, make a mistake? Will she some day, in a moment of weakness or need, willingly trade her freedom for a life of human companionship—and a leash?”

This morning, when I returned home from walking our greyhound Nazar, I saw a white pick-up truck with a cage, slowly circling our block. The truck, however, did not go up the road and I took care not betray her when I looked in that direction.

She was not there, but I did glimpse her later, following a woman who was walking two dogs. She followed the group for half a block, barking defiantly but keeping her distance. Was she chasing them away, or calling them to freedom? Perhaps she was just lonely.

That was days ago, I have not seen her since and I feel she is no longer around. I am curious, yet admit my reluctance to actually attempt to learn her fate. I have avoided the subject with our neighbors, instead preferring the company of my own imagination where, in idle moments, over a glass of wine, I play out the different scenarios of her fortune and allow my mind its freedom to return to the edge—to contemplate that nexus where the soul experiences its need of solitude and consciousness its need of experience, to ponder the mystery of that place where the spirit’s thirst for freedom encounters society’s need of restraint, where silence, on a whim, asked the question, “Who am I?” and began the dream of stones and snakes, sinners and saints, companions and strays.

© copyright 2005 Michael Kovitz


Anonymous Andy Hinkhouse said...

I like this short story, I think I remember you reading it when I was taking lessons from you.

10:17 AM  

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