That's the view across the Mississippi. I rarely have reason to go down there. I wish I hadn't found one.
It had been a perfect Friday, so far. Laid down for a nap. Woke - with a start - checked my phone; urgh. 17 minutes of restorative unconsciousness. And I wasn’t going back to sleep, I could tell.
Well, get up, make a cup of coffee. I sat outside feeling oddly remote from the night ahead - the usual routine, pizza, a nice whiskey, some ice cream. I suppose. I’ll get some work done. I’ll watch a movie. I love Friday nights.
Phone rings. Daughter, asking me to open the garage door. Except she wasn’t outside. She had smacked up her bike on the way home from work - ran into a trash can on the curb, fell over, and now the brakes were stuck. She locked it in the church parking lot; I picked her up. Couldn’t put the bike in the back because there was 400 pounds of dirt in the rear of the Element. I bought them Monday to fill a hole and forgot about them. Explains why the car had been handling so oddly on the freeway, waddling and swaying.
After dinner we took out the dirt and got her bike. Wife took Scout to the dog park down by the creek.
And now the Friday begins. Sat down at the computer, finished listening to a British radio show from the 1960s about a mother and father looking for their lost daughter, who’d been selling lemonade outside a pub. The show cut back to the daughter, who was with a man. Everyone was worried about lost children, because there’d been a murder. At the end they find the man and the little girl, and we think the girl’s been saved - but it turns out he was the father of the little girl who’d been murdered, and was just playing down by the creek with the lemonade girl. In a second we went from dread and loathing to relief, and quickly to pity.
The phone rang. I looked at the caller ID. My wife. And I thought:
Picked up. Wife, nervous: Scout had run off, and she had been looking for him for a long time and couldn’t find him. A high note in her voice.
I've been everywhere and I can't find him and it’s getting dark.
I got two flashlights - one was light; no batteries. Refilled it. Filled my pockets with Milk Bones, grabbed a leash, collected Daughter, and drove to the dog park. As we pull up there’s a dog in another car barking at us; the owner gets out, shushes the pup. I tell her we’re looking for a lost dog, a hound with brindle color, and she says she’ll keep an eye out. She knows how we feel.
We found my Wife and split up, heading down into the woods. Into the dark.
That was 8:30 PM.
After an hour of walking and calling SCOUT we met back at the parking lot, and formed a plan: I would walk the path in the woods to Fort Snelling, and they would drive there and see if he’d ended up in that spot. She’d lost him by The Point, where there was once a fragrant deer carcass, and figured he might have bolted off across the shallow stream to the wilds beyond.
I set off down the path. Pitch black, just the maglight to tell me where the path was. Shouting his name. Shouting his name. After half a mile I wondered if this was the right path. Wondered where I was going. Kept walking.
Been through this, in the neighborhood; a dozen times, I swear, Scout’s bolted. It was anguish at first and despair and catastrophizing, but this time, I’m just . . . I don’t know. It might be that I made my peace a long time ago with his tendency to follow the scent wherever it took him, and perhaps that’s because I figured he’d always come home, because the few nights we didn’t find him, he found his way back. Every night when I call him in I expect that he found a way to run; I have to call him from the back door, shake the box of Milk Bones, and eventually he trots out of the woods from behind the house.
Every damned night I have the thought: he’s gone. But not for good. Maybe, but probably not. Scout! SCOUT! Dammit, I’m tired of this. I’m so tired of worrying all. The. Time.
Mother-in-law called me last week at work she had opened the gate and he got out. I swore and left the office and texted Daughter, who was coming back from some event - get the leash, go looking. I was a block from my car when I got a phone call from someone a few blocks away; they had him. They weren’t happy. This was the second time he's come here!
You can always tell who’s a dog person, and who’s not.
So I'd stopped on my way back home and texted daughter from the lobby of the 333, then headed back to work. It was just another incident. They’d all ended well.
But now I’m walking through the deep black woods.
And I know he’s not here. I can just tell he’s not here. I don’t know how I know it but I know it.
Eventually I pass under the highway, wind my way up to the parking lot where daughter and wife went. They drive me back to the dog park lot to my car - and the car that had the barking dog and the concerned lady is still there. It’s ten PM; stone dark. And she’s down ther stille?
I head off into the woods, wondering if I should call the police - but within a few minutes I run into her, and since I’m calling out SCOUT she says oh, you’re still looking?
She offers to help. She offers to walk down to The Point, which is 3/4 of a mile away. This seems to me to be an act of great kindness and bravery; I realize I’m pointing the flashlight everywhere but at myself, so I point it at my face and introduce myself. She’d seen me with Daughter, so I think she figured I wasn’t a bad guy.
“Lucy will help find Scout," she says, pointing to her dog. "I’ve seen lost dogs down there running around waiting for their owners. We’ll find him.”
And I think of the butler in Titanic holding a crying child as the ship goes down. We’ll find your mummy. We’ll find her.
“So you write for the paper,” she says after a while. “I’ve seen your picture.” And my life is now completely absurd. It gets better: she was married to the son of one of the paper’s columnists in the olden times. She used to live on the West Bank when I did. We talk about the bars and restaurants we knew, and I shout out SCOUT every other line like I have some intensely focused Tourette’s.
“There’s a stairs up ahead that goes down to the Point,” she says. And indeed it does. It’s steep. It ends on a path that has several treacherous ravines that lead down to the shore - tree roots for steps. We find one that’s reasonable and clamber down.
Dead dark, moon painting the water. Just my flashlight.
Now we’re on the flats by the broad creek, with a marsh on the other side - thick woods - and then the Mississippi beyond. Lucy is rummaging through the leaves, following scents, never straying far.
We call for Scout.
After a while we head north up the creek, until we come to a spot where we ford the water by stepping on some stones and rocks. I have no idea where I am. We’re calling for Scout, whistling. I rake my light across the underbrush and the trees, expecting that happy excited stupid face to end up in the light -
- but no. I don’t actually expect that at all. He’s not here. I know it.
She finds a pathway back up to the main asphalt road, and I note that I was lucky to find someone so conversant in the ways of these woods. I mean, with minimal illumination she knows where to go. The woods are so thick my maglight shows little but what’s right in front of you. But she’s all Sherpa. When we emerge from the woods it’s 11 PM, and I thank her for her help. We talk for a while about people who lost dogs and found them again, how it’s hardly over but it’s hard, this is the worst.
I tell her I don't know if I’m not anguished because I prepared for this, or because I think we’ll find him. I honestly don’t know. He’s got a collar with my phone number. He’s chipped. It’s not over.
She gives me a hug, and I give Lucy one of the Milk Bones I had in my pocket.
Someone had told my wife to leave something behind with the pack scent, and she’d left a quilt from the backseat of her car, something to keep Scout from tracking mud on the car seat.
I see the quilt on the edge of the parking lot, and wonder whether we’ll come here tomorrow morning and find Scout sitting on it, waiting.
Pretty sure, no.
Drive home, examining exactly what I feel. It’s possible I just shut off all the sorrow-thinking and worrying about coyotes or Scout being alone and afraid, because it’s too awful. It’s possible I’m just thinking that he’s having a great time, because he is a dog, and this is dog heaven-on-earth, to run unfettered, pursue the scent, follow the invisible line until you tire and stop and curl and sleep.
That wouldn’t be a bad day for a dog.
They are with us but they are not us. Perhaps I made my peace with this inevitability before, because you have to understand that a dog will always break your heart because he is a dog, and he never means to break your heart, because he is a dog. He doesn’t give a care for tomorrow; there’s no such thing by his lights. There’s the sleepy now and the food now and the play now and mad glad glorious now when the world fills his nostrils and says follow me.
I'm writing this Friday night. It seems completely likely we’ll find him Saturday. It seems completely likely he’s in the wind for good. He wanted this. He caught a scent, and it spelled joy, and he ran.
When I saw my Wife’s name on caller ID, heard her voice, and I knew: he’s gone.