I wake up to a window full of mist. Within an hour, it vanishes, and the view out the window is green and blue. I feed the dog, and slip out the front door for a walk, noticing that the air doesn’t feel as clean as it could — probably due to the Fort Ord burn, a couple days ago. Still, it’s beautiful. There are a lot of chirpy sparrows in the bushes, but no crows or hawks this morning. I creep past Wendy the chihuahua guard dog, who is lolling on the asphalt. She doesn’t bother to harrass me when her human, Gustavo, is not around and she can’t show off.
The pasture is empty of its usual cows and chickens. But the pit bulls give me a few dispassionate barks behind their wire fence, as if it’s just their job, and they’d really rather not be bothered.
The walk down the road is pleasant and without incident. Strolling back up the drive toward my house, I pass by the four white goats. They regard me with their golden eyes, and then suddenly turn on their hoofs as one, and race away fearfully, kicking up dust in their haste. I decide to test them, stopping to lean on the whitewashed fence, sans even the appropriate gift of branches or leaves. This is when I realize that they really want to visit. One by one, they turn around, and take tentative steps toward me. The small sheep dog in the adjoining yard barks as if to say “don’t you dare!” They look at her, then look at me. Take a few steps. Look at her. Look at me. Take a few more steps. “Danger! Foreigner! Alien!” the sheepdog seems to be saying. But they have minds (mind?) of their own. Finally, they are up to the fence, and nosing my fingers. We commune for a moment.
That’s when I notice the gurgling sounds. Babbling and gurgling, coming from behind me. But it’s not a brook. I turn, and notice a very large toddler in a brown corduroy jumper stumbling happily down the hill towards me — without a parent. He doesn’t see me, however. The child just seems to be reveling in the fact of his “walking” down a hill. He’s a very big toddler, but I can see that he’s just learning to walk, and…there really should be a parent! Nevertheless, he grins at his feet, salivates charmingly, and lurches down the hill, followed by the poodle (who, along with Wendy the chihuahua has become a member of the tiny-barking-dog-gauntlet that I have to navigate every day), and who has now begun barking at me vociferously.
As if in counterpoint, my own dog, Gracie, a large Staffordshire Terrier in her yard just down the lane, begins to bark loudly; she stares at me pointedly with her “serious face” as if to warn me of some impending doom. “Can’t you see, you idiot?!” she’s saying. And I’m thinking — uh oh, maybe I should — but that damn poodle! I imagine the toddler falling flat on his face, and the poodle attacking me if I try to help.
And that’s when it happens; the toddler, his head way too big for his tiny feet, lurches forward, and hits the ground with a plop. At which point, all bets are off—I rush up the hill to pick him up, poodle be damned!
Coming up from behind the child now–who has somehow pointed himself back towards his house–I pick up his hand, making what I hope are reassuring noises so he won’t be scared, and try to help him to his feet. Wheeling around, he sees the looming stranger, and suddenly begins to shriek! The poodle, now alarmed, begins yapping loudly, and rushing at me, without, however, actually venturing so close as to bite. Hah! He’s a coward! The toddler is now so upset that he’s forgotten how to walk. The sheepdog begins to bark again, waking up Wendy the chihuahua. My own dog is barking as if she’d like to tear the poodle to pieces. Between the shrieking and the yapping, and my dog’s barking, I realize I have to do something drastic.
Knowing this will upset the toddler even more, I pick him up — Oof! He’s heavy! — and start up the hill–with him screeching bloody murder– towards the house. The sound of canine alarms follows us. Where ARE those parents? And then, his father, conveniently named Jesus, emerges from the garage, wiping his hands with a rag and grinning. My saviour. He takes the screaming bundle, who immediately quiets down, as does the poodle, the sheepdog, and Gracie.
We exchange a few neighborly pleasantries. He was under the car, and hadn’t noticed the baby wander off. It’s Sunday morning, after all. I learn that the poodle’s name is Fluffy. Figures. We part to go on with our Sunday morning tasks. Gracie, happy to see that I am still alive, is jumping up and down, and waiting for me to open the gate.