THE USUAL NOTE FROM LB: From the summer of 2002 to the spring of 2010, Gwen the Beautiful and I were the proud and often exhausted owners of a beautiful Ozarks property we called Cloud Creek Ranch.
In many ways, the ranch was paradise. But it was a paradise with a price that started going up before we even knew it existed. Here’s another Monday musing about our adventure and the lessons we learned.
Oh, and if y’all detect any irony, please believe me when I say it comes straight from the universe and not your kindly Uncle Larry B.
by Larry Brody
The Brodys came to Paradise with three dogs. Dineh was half red heeler and half coyote. She’d grown up wild in Monument Valley, Arizona, and came into my life by jumping into my car and refusing to leave. In her youth, Dineh was supremely capable and wise, but by the time we got to Arkansas she was only a shadow of what she’d been.
The first time she and I thrashed through the woods to search for the Original Settlers’ Cabins Dineh got herself so lost I had to search half the day to find her.
Emmy the pit bull was a rescue to whom life was a game and every living thing a toy. Here in the land of Rabbits Unlimited all she wanted to do was dash back and forth between clearing and woods after all critters.
Her best pal was Draco, another pit bull rescue far less healthy. Draco’s limbs twitched and his body shook uncontrollably. His tail spent most of its time between his legs. Draco didn’t chase squirrels; squirrels chased him. He was, one vet said, “neurologically challenged.”
Draco loved to run. Sometimes it seemed like he could run forever. Usually away from something or somebody. But the minute he got to our mountain he heard the forest’s call. Nothing could keep him in the clearing. Given half a chance, Draco would head into the woods at full steam, and be gone for hours at a time.
We tried to let the dogs out separately so they wouldn’t lead each other to trouble, but one day during our first weeks on the mountain both pits pushed by me when I went out to feed the horses and tore off together into parts unknown.
At sunset Emmy and Draco were still gone. As I tucked my pants into my boots to go looking for them I heard barking outside. When I opened the door a panting Emmy galumphed into the house. She was intact but exhausted. And alone.
I went out to find Draco, calling and listening for his mewling bark. I stayed out until it got so dark I could barely find my own way back. I stayed up all night, going outside and calling, “Draco!” at the slightest sound. Nothing. No dog.
I spent a week combing the woods. Put flyers with Draco’s picture in every mailbox on our road. The mailman and UPS and FedEx drivers learned to beat it when they saw me so they wouldn’t have to say they hadn’t seen our neurologically challenged friend. And every time I drove anywhere I watched the roadside for a glimpse of Draco’s tan coat.
For weeks after Draco’s disappearance my heart burned with rage. My target became the woods.
“The forest took a sacrifice to prove its power,” I said to Gwen one night. “I want to burn the trees to the ground!”
“Tomorrow,” Gwen said. “Tonight let’s go to bed.”
Rage gave way to dull sorrow. A few months later Emmy became pregnant by a wild chow that had come out of the woods. When she had her puppies I saw her firstborn son cradled between her paws as she licked him and was struck by how familiar he looked. It was his expression.
The puppy looked at me like we were old friends. In the weeks that followed I named him Decker, and Decker started greeting me with a mewling bark I’d heard before. As he grew older and bigger – we’re talking mastiff-size – I got more and more of a sense that Draco was here. But a powerful Draco, a secure Draco, an unshakable Draco completely at home in the house, the clearing, and the woods.
One night a few weeks ago, while I was sitting on the front porch, Decker ambled over and before I knew it was lying on my lap, filling the entire porch swing. He cocked his head the way Draco always did and licked me lovingly, and I heard the wind from the southeast part of the woods say:
“You had it wrong. We take nothing. The forest welcomes you with a gift. Your sick friend has been returned, healed, and well.”
I love Decker, whoever he is. And I want what I heard to be true. But even now – as recently as yesterday – every time I drive anywhere my eyes still search the roadside, hoping for a glimpse of Draco’s tan coat.