On the occasion of Roo K. Beker's sixth birthday

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Six years old. Thereabouts, anyway. Pretty close. When Roo showed up more than five years ago, she looked so much older than her real age, but when the puppy emerged, she was an eight-month-old, and that would have put her birthday right around November 11th, 2011, so that became her official birthday. 11/11/11, the only day thus magically numbered in the millennium. I bet it’s the right day. She’s the dog who would have been born on it.

Her sixth birthday finds us alone in some deep woods in the far west of Maryland, just north of the West Virginia border. Roo’s not as exhausted as I am, though I suppose she’s got a little road rash, too. A malevolent blast of cold has us pinned down because of the constant extra work it takes not to freeze when camping. The inside temperature of the camper isn’t much of a problem. It can stay warm easily enough, though this takes lots of management of electricity and propane, there is no water and in general extreme cold means having to deal with it every minute of the day and night. 

Roo doesn’t cooperate in matters of cold. Up in Maine, she finally began to agree to go out for a late night pee again, after many months of refusing. Getting her to go out, though, is always something of a production. By then, she’s been asleep and groggy and lazy and the idea of peeing isn’t sufficient to rouse her. She has to be incited. By now I have the kinks in the system ironed out. I pretend to hear something going on outside. It doesn’t occur to her that if there was anything to hear she would have heard it way before I would have. She assumes that I possess auditory superpowers equal to hers. When the idea that some kind of night cat or nocturnal mouse is prowling around gets her up, she bolts to the door to begin Phase Two of going outside, which consists of her standing at the open door for one to two minutes assessing the risks of the outside world. That’s not a problem unless  one of three conditions exist: high humidity, mosquitos or cold. Of those, humidity is the least pernicious, because it can eventually be cooked out of the inside of the camper by doing things like running the heater even if it’s 90 degrees outside and then venting the accumulated vapor. Mosquitos are annoying as hell, but we have a nightlight-sized bug zapper that seems to take care of them. 

Cold, however, is a bigger problem, because it fills up the tiny space inside the camper and it's harder to get a livable temperature stabilized again. I become sorely tempted to just drag her outside, but that would only make Roo more nervous, and then she would only want to get back inside. So, I have to create the impression that there is definitely somebody out there, which I do by telling her that under no circumstances is she allowed to check whoever it is. “Check” being the word I use for her various hunting activities. Checking mouses, for example, might mean digging them up or chasing them. Checking deer is prohibited, but she takes this order to mean that she is limited to running them off. I don’t know what she has against deer, but she likes to run them off.

“Do you hear that?” I repeat a few times while I stand at the door. She doesn’t, because there is usually nothing to hear, but she is willing to take my word for it, all because one night I lied to her about there being a cat outside and by sheer coincidence there was, and that bought me a lifetime of the benefit of her doubt. 

“Listen,” I say, and she comes to the door and positions her nose where I hold it open an inch. I then have to rile her up so that she’ll bolt outside instead of going through her lengthy assessment process by saying, “OK, but NO CHECKING. Oop — do you hear that?”

When she’s excited enough that I know she’ll jump out, I swing the door open and hop out ahead of her. Usually this works. Not always, but most of the time. Then, when she clears the door, I have to slam it shut behind her, because once she remembers that it’s night, she’s prone to changing her mind and running back inside the camper. If she gets back in, all bets are off. She considers her work done. If I succeed in getting the door slammed behind her, sooner or later she realizes that unless she pees she won’t get back inside, so she starts sniffing around a little. Often she likes to charge at the dark and let out a series of deep barks, but this I think she does without justification. She’s just letting the night know who’s boss. That’s one of the great things about dogs, the way they’ll stand up to their fears like that.

That’s a few hours away, though. For now, Roo is lying on the bed, sleeping. I bought her a little roast beef for her birthday. She ate it and to display her pleasure she wiggled elaborately on the blanket.

Nonetheless, her birthday finds Roo happy and healthy, still without any idea of how precarious our lives have really become.

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