Maybe this particular mouse meant more to her than previous mouses (the plural of mouse as far as Roo is concerned). Maybe it’s because Roo is on a diet and she was in the mood for an hors d’ouvre.
Maybe it was because someone from the Bureau of Land Management happened down the trail in the first truck I’d ever seen out there and we struck up a conversation. Which, in turn, meant that Roo, instead of being pressured to leave the hole she was digging, had the time to develop a textbook case of target fixation.
The problem was that the sun had set, and the rest of the twilight was running out. We had more than a mile to go, and in minutes it would be pitch dark. The feeble dynamo-driven headlamp on my bicycle is roughly equivalent to one candle when viewed from another planet. It was getting cold in a hurry. Navigating the track in the dark would be no problem for Roo. I would be the one stumbling over rocks and tripping in ruts.
We could have gotten a ride in the BLM man’s truck, but it was full of old tires that had been deposited by citizens in the San Pedro River, because there really is nowhere else in the ten million square miles of dirt out there to put old tires than in that narrow band of pristine water. And anyway the pickup cab was full of his gear and there was time - as long as we got moving right away.
When the BLM man put the truck in gear he said, “I better be careful. I don’t see your dog.”
“There she is,” I said. “Over there with her head in a hole.” Roo’s butt was sticking out of the ground among the desert grasses and thistles.
He laughed and said so long. We shook and the truck rumbled off. I was glad to meet him.
I went over to Roo. “All right, Rooki, that’s it,” I said. “We gotta go.”
Roo of course heard nothing but the muffled, far-away squeak of someone half of one percent of her own size who was managing to outdig her in the hard dirt. You had to hand it to whoever it was. That was one hell of a mouse. Roo was determined, though. She was chugging away rhythmically, digging as if she were some kind of nuclear-powered probe headed to the center of the Earth. She had dug a hole the size of an oven and had her head in it.
In the course of another 30 or forty strokes it got darker. The BLM truck was long gone. There wasn’t any sound but that of the sky and Roo jackhammering.
“Rooki! Let’s go!”
Moments like that, when you know something your dog doesn’t know, when she’s not listening to you at all, when you’re tired, when you know that she’s so focused on something that nothing short of a meteor landing on top of her and plugging the hole will stop her from digging - well, everyone knows there’s a special way you sigh when a dog reduces you to that.
I bent closer to her and said, “ROO! MOVE IT! NOW!” from a distance of two feet.
DIG-DIG-DIG-DIG-DIG-DIG-DIG-DIG-DIG-DIG-DIG-DIG-DIG. She was absolutely convinced that today was going to be her lucky day.
I looked over at the mountain behind which the sun had long ago set. I could barely make it out. For a moment, I wished it was about 15,000 feet higher than it was and I was up on the top of it, freezing to sleep on a glacier.
“Roo - I’m not kidding now. MOVE IT.”
Nothing. I reached down and pull her out of the hole.
Roo stopped cold and turned her head to me and, without looking right at me, let out a short, loud growl.
She was willing to kill me over a rodent of some sort.
This made me laugh, but I knew I had to control that so that she would think I was serious. I got down close to her and held her head for a second so that she had to look at me.
“Roo. You. Do. Not. Growl. At. Your. Daddy.”
She already regretted it. She had her ears back and looked mortified.
“Now get out of that hole.”
She plunged wholeheartedly back in and started digging again.
“OUT, ROO! NOW!”
It is a rare event for me to yell at Roo. I felt bad right away for doing it, because she slithered out on her belly - but after three feet the mouse reeled her back in like some black hole exerting the irresistible force that would drive an entire galaxy to destruction and she sprang up and catapulted herself back in the hole. In an amazing feat of acrobatics, she managed to land nose-first and digging.
That was it. I hauled her out again. She was worked up into a frenzy, flailing around, her tongue flying like it was another out of control animal on a leash, snorting and grunting. Roo appeared to have lost her mind.
“That’s enough, Rooki! You’re coming with me. Right now.”
She deflated a little. It was as if she was snapping out of a week-long bender on powerful hallucinogenics. She looked at me and blinked a few times. Her eyes were filled with dirt.
“You better listen to your Bearface, Daddy. I mean your Daddy, Bearface. I’m not kidding.”
It killed her to have to leave that hole behind. It was like being sent on a mission to a distant planet only to be ordered to turn around just as you were coming in for a landing. Too bad. I know Roo. She could have kept digging until border agents of whatever country she popped up in caught her in a net. She would have to make do with having achieved a record-setting degree of being covered in dirt and tangled in burrs. Which guess who would have to remove.
If you think little Roo is an easy dog, guess again.
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