Thursday, February 5, 2015

Stranger in the Shadows

Hoarfrost Where It Belongs
The Ignored Crow Tree
Horses in Fuzzy Sweaters
Driveway Glaciers Melting
Almost a Sunny Day
Stranger Slinking in the Dry Grass
Which One of Us is More Scared?
A Coyote Dog?
We Keep a Watchful Gaze on One Another
And Then It Was Gone
Hoarfrost crystallizes the top trees of the ridge like a confectioner; the monster is sweet when he stays away from my barn. I admire his work from the valley floor below where crows continue to commit murder elsewhere.

They fly over head -- caw! caw! -- each passing by the pond, the barn and the tree I decorated for them. Baubles remain like unopened gifts. I'd take them down and spare my gilded ribbon exposure to the elements, but I'm not risking the drifts of snow that remain.

This is not snow for trekking. Snowshoes or cross-country skis would make it passable, but walking is treacherous. One moment you step across glistening crust, the next you break through and become entangled. I will stay on the icy worn trails and emerging bare patches.

Beyond Elmira Pond, the neighbor's horses trample the drifts and seek clumps of dry grass. Their winter coats are fuzzy as angora as if they put on full-body horse sweaters. Come spring, they will need a good currying.

Spring can't be too far away, after all the driveway glaciers are melting from underneath. Small pools and glacial streams form during the day. It's not sunny but the clouds are high enough to make the day feel expansive. The dogs bark and I think they have cabin fever.

But then I notice Bootsy, the barn cat. She's still and pressed against the outside wall of the garage not far from her kitty door. She's staring in the same direction as the dogs are barking. Wouldn't you know it? They are all focused on the barn where I thought I heard a monster last week.

With camera in hand -- if I can click Big Foot or a grizzly it might be worth my moment of terror -- I go outside. Bootsy dashes through her kitty door and I feel as though I've at least saved the cat. I stand at the fence and stare. Nothing. Dogs continue to bark.

Then I see it. A shape so cleverly still, so perfectly camouflaged that I thought it part of the wood pile. Inside the wood barn is...something.

As soon as it realizes that it has been seen, it zips out the structure in odd little leaps the way coyotes do when they hunt mice. How did it know I finally saw it? Did it smell my fear, a chemical reaction in my body, a subtle change in my stance? I didn't move or make a sound. I merely saw. How did it know?

In the light of day, it has a coyote muzzle and ears but a hound-like body with a cream chest and brindle coat. What the dickens is it? Dog is the obvious answer. Coyote dog is a possibility. Is it wild or domestic? Is it lost? This is not a critter I've seen before and I'm not comfortable standing in my snowy pasture looking at it looking at me.

It's not comfortable either. I'm not sure if my stranger is male or female. I'm not even sure if my stranger is scared or scary. It bounds away in those funny leaps and hops through the wires of the fence as if they were mere illusions, simply shadows of lines.

The stranger stops and stares. First at me then toward the highway. Maybe it isn't sure which one of us presents more danger. I opt to consider the stranger a lost dog and whistle. It trots down the road, then turns around and trots toward the place behind ours.

And then, the stranger disappears into the dry grass and trees, slinking away into nature as if it had never been here in solid form.

Linking up with Abracabadra for Wordless Wednesday. Photos by Charli Mills.


  1. Be interesting to learn what and who your dog-like stranger is. Wonder if you ever will?

    1. Very coyote-like but definitely a dog! I'm keeping an eye out for him.

  2. I'd like to know more about that dog too. It looks like it has really nice markings. Always so much going on at the pond, I envy you.

    1. His markings are beautiful, but there was something almost wild about him (or her). Never a dull moment in Elmira! :-)

  3. That striped dog is interesting, Charli.
    Of all the above snow captured pix...your stranger took the limelight away :)

    Always a pleasure to have you...thanks!

  4. Your writing is gorgeous, Charli. You choose very descriptive words. Your beautiful word-created pictures are enhanced by your photos. I can't imagine writing something equally as beautiful about where I live. I will have to give it some thought. My home is so different. I wonder if you'll ever find out more about the dog. As Susan said, the markings are interesting.
    You said that the horses will need currying. I am unfamiliar with that term. I have an idea of what it means (thinning/cutting their hair?) but am not sure. Would you mind explaining please. :)

    1. Thank you, Norah. This is where I practice "voice" like practicing scales on the piano. :-) The photos are fun for challenging me to tell their story, though they are about things right out my window. I would love to do a nature writing retreat at Elmira Pond. I love the writing of Annie Dillard, Aldo Leopold and Edward Abbey and I think the nature writers have much to share with us in learning to observe our surroundings no matter where we live!

      That dog is a puzzle! I know some people raise hybrid wolves and it's not uncommon for coyotes to cross with domestic dogs. I just don't know which side the dog is on -- domestic or wild. The brindle markings are very tiger-like and work well as camouflage.

      Oh! Currying! That probably sounds like I'm going to eat horses in a curry come spring. A curry comb is a round, concentric wrap of metal with sawtooth blades. Horses have hide so a curry comb digs in and gets all that shedding winter coat. The horses either love the scratching or they flinch their hide because they are unfamiliar with the feel. I curry first then follow up with a soft brush and hide glistens like a woman's brushed hair.

  5. I'm with Norah, you have such an easy style that squeezes every drop out of the situation. The dog reminds of the pack of hunting dogs we saw in Africa years ago, especially the brindle coat and huge ears.

    1. Thank you. My challenge is how to cultivate my natural style into works of fiction. Practice! And that's the purpose of this blog. I'm over here singing notes. :-) Interesting! There's something wild about this dog. And it was skittish as if not accustomed to people. Or lost. I don't know if I'll ever find out.

  6. What a story Charli! And of all things, the very place where your ice monster existed, there, a real-life mystery existed all along! Who would have thought? I was gripped by your beautiful story-telling and I am as mystified as you about this strange creature. I wonder if it will return? I'm so glad you have your dogs. And as for Boots, she had the right idea, bless :-) I sense a return to spring is on the horizon, as the snow melts and the hoarefrost dissipates, moving higher and higher into the fog. Beautiful this, you take me along with you with every step...and glad you keep to the path. I've ended up in hip high snow enough times not to do it again.

    1. Makes me wonder if this critter has been hanging out in the wood barn longer than I thought! One neighbor said she had to move her horses from one pasture to another because they were scared of something that has been lurking...maybe our mystery doggish critter? And spring is on its way with a deluge of rain and melt! Once we get open water the pond will get migratory visitors! Then the real fun starts! :-)