Sunday, September 22, 2013

elliott & the river, or, wanderlust by moonlight

Elliott disappeared.

Not poof disappear in a puff of smoke, like in a fairy tale, although earlier I had been thinking that I live in a magical place. But more like
Hmm. Have I seen Elliott lately? Did he come back from the river? I wonder where he is? What time is it, anyway? Hmm. He missed his afternoon meal …
Elliott: lost?

I last saw Elliott that day around four, four-thirty, down by the river. We had walked together, “together” being a rather loose term as Elliott always lags behind, so I dawdle, wait at the top of the bank, and together we descend the steps that go halfway down, mosey around, take our time exploring under the cedars and birch and spruce. The shade is cool, deliciously cool and dappled on a warm afternoon in mid-September. Leaves are turning ever so slightly, falling ever so slowly.

Elliott and I go down to the water, sit on a log, watch the water bugs. The river is shallow and clear, cold to the touch, ever-moving, and I see every pebble in the stream, every little dam of sticks and stones, every sunken leaf. A turtle scurries to the opposite bank, swimming and running, lightly touching the riverbed, each step raising a small sandy cloud. On the far bank, asters bloom.

Eventually, I head back up the bank, stop, wait for Elliott. He has wandered off, gone a different way. Suddenly he is in a chase, heading back toward the water. It is a snake, a small black and yellow garter snake that falls into a snug crater in the wet sand, coils, hunkers down. I take a picture, distract Elliott, the snake gets away.

The snake snug in its hollow.

Heading back up the bank, but Elliott turns back to the river. He stares at a space under a log. It is late afternoon on a perfectly pleasant day. I leave Elliott to his pursuits. A few hours later, as the sun sets, I wonder where he is.

My last look at Elliott?

Cats come in neat little wrappers, so self-contained. No less loving than any dog I’ve known, but showing it in such a different way. So less obvious about it. And they have this uncanny ability to be themselves, to follow their own lead. They straddle domesticity and wildness with such apparent ease, sliding between the two as if there were no difference. Elliott kills critters and eats them, every bit of them, as far as I can tell, then he comes in and eats canned food from a bowl on the stairs. He sleeps alone out in the tall grass of the fields along the creek, and then he sleeps inside, next to me, on the bed, every once in a while snuggling under the covers. I wonder which he prefers. The wild? The domestic? Or, does he simply make the best of both worlds? Maybe, to him, it’s just one world. One big, crazy, magical world.

After the sun sets, a nearly full, pale moon creeps up through a clear sky. I go down to the river, calling Elliott’s name, which is, more accurately, a sing-song of his nickname: Eeeeeelliiee Beeelllll. No answer, no sign. Along the river all seems hushed, quiet, just a soft gurgle of water over a haphazard dam of sticks and stones.

The moon that rose that night.

I wake up the next day with a plan to first walk along the river’s shore as far as I can both ways. The water is shallow, there are many things Elliott could grab hold of, if he’d fallen in, a log or even an island that short ways downstream. Then I’d look along the road, check with neighbors up by the road. I would call for him, and I would wait. If there’d been trouble with a coyote or a wolf, well, there was nothing I could do about that until I found him. But the first thing I would do would be to get up, open the door, see if maybe he was there, on the mat, waiting for me.

But no, he isn’t. I stand on the porch calling softly into the dim light that comes well before dawn. Then I hear it.




I see a dark shape moving leisurely across the lawn, coming toward the cabin from the direction of the path that leads to the river.



He comes inside, he eats, he goes back out.

A friend asked if I could imagine two-stepping through the dance halls of Texas, and surprisingly enough, I could. I imagined it feeling like wanderlust, like Elliott, maybe, following a lazy afternoon along a clear flowing river, listening to its whispers, and dancing to its moonlight.

Be sure to check out the new page, The Magical Spud, as it may be up for only a short while.


  1. We always had cats. And I was always appreciative. They provided a needed service at my farm house, which was surrounded by open fields. But, perhaps I could have enjoyed their two-step routine a little more.