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  • My mother never called him by his name. I imagine she regretted allowing me to have him, because he killed the neighbor's chickens and left one feeling ever so slightly anxious at his wild blood. She called him "Stupid."

    But he wasn't stupid. He was street-smart, cunning, and beautifully wild, though gentle as a lamb with me. He was a coy dog, a wandering stray dog with a bit of coyote blood in him.

    I called him Timber. It suited him. He belonged to the woods, to the wind, and to the worn rabbit paths in the tall grasses. I would explore as much wildness as I was allowed with him. We drank in the trees and the moss and the wild animals and the scent of the earth. He would go ahead of me, and I would feel safe from rattlesnakes by the streams, and when I clicked my tongue he would know to stay near. I listened to the things he listened to, gazed at the things he gazed at, studied his body language, and caught a glimpse of the language of nature. A precious awareness crept over me and made the solitude of my childhood golden.

    I never heard him bark. He was silent, except for whimpers and growls. We had to put him in a pen once, to keep him from fighting with another male dog over a girl. He seemed quite emotional over it. He climbed to the top of his doghouse, threw back his head, and for the first time ever, wailed a wild and lonesome coyote wail into the golden afternoon sky. It was the most tragically beautiful sound. I was so impressed and honored to know him.

    For a season, after my neighbor had passed away, the deer trail passed through the vacant yard next door. Timber and I sat together in silence as half a dozen doe grazed twenty feet away. I carefully copied his movements, his eye contact, his posture. Every moment taught me the unspoken understanding between animals through their body language. In my childhood I caught the rhythm of the dance--the awareness and the understanding that poets speak of.

    Today, when the little field mice merrily eat the oats that the horses dropped out of their pans, and they aren't afraid to dine right at my feet as I sketch them in my moleskine, I am grateful. When the crows cry out and the deer leap across the fence and the crickets begin their nighttime symphony, I remember my brilliantly sneaky, wild, beautiful, wise coy dog, and I know I am a better person for having the privilege of knowing him. If animals go to heaven, and I believe they do, I can't wait to get to the edge of the woods, if there are woods in heaven, and call him.

    *click click*
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