On the lookout for a lost dog

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My neighbor to the north stopped me out on the road a few days ago to tell me that his dog had decided to run away, asking that I keep an eye out for him.

Seems he and his dog had been in the front yard together, he went in to the house for a few minutes, and when he returned his dog was gone. Compounding the problem was that the neighbor was traveling to Ohio for a few days and couldn’t devote time to hunting for his dog.

These things are heartbreaking out here, miles and miles of woods and fields until one stumbles onto the next town. Having grown up in town, my view of dogs, cats, and animals in general differs from those of my neighbors. I’d cancel my own wedding to search for a lost pet. The way of things in rural America often doesn’t sit well with me, and at times like this I realize I’m an interloper, a come-lately rural resident who sometimes wishes for a nearby Starbucks.

Out in the hollow walnuts already have begun to fall to earth. Their descent seems early this year, but I don’t really know. Walnut trees seem, like me, to be a bit mercurial and prickly; some years the walnuts are large and plentiful, and other years there are few.

Swallows will be around for a little while longer. For now they follow me on the tractor, gobbling up insects the cutter stirs in to the air. At first it’s disconcerting when dive-bombing, swift birds move in and out of my periphery, like tiny ghosts one only imagines, something out of Harry Potter.

I’ve read that in a few weeks we will experience a solar eclipse like we haven’t seen in a century, and the level of excitement here is certainly not palpable. Other stuff concerns us like: what happened to that lovely handsaw I used last year? Or are our schools as average as they appear to be? What of the anxiety that pours oil-like out of Washington, D.C., on a daily basis? Or, who is in the running for county fair queen this year?

The watch for the lost dog continues, and I’ve not seen him. I have never really made any effort to know my neighbors, so my knowledge of the missing dog is sketchy, some sort of hunting dog, a spaniel maybe, but he hasn’t come back around.

Every time I mow the meadows in the hollow I watch for him, hoping he’ll hear my tractor and come loping out of the trees, tongue out, happy to see me. This is all a dream, of course. Real life is more exacting, more painful, and more sad.

These things cause me to think of my late mother-in-law, a beautiful woman who became lost in her own head for many years, unable to ever really find her way home again.

• Kurt Ullrich lives in rural Jackson County

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