Sunday, January 22, 2012

Puppy, the Rain Must Fall

The rain has been coming down in sheets in these here parts.  It started as a sprinkle on Friday morning, then rose to howling winds and driving rain by Friday night.  The nearly hundred year old, eighty foot Monterey Pine in our backyard shed a branch or two and multiple pine cones, all of which crashed onto the roof and the deck with dramatic percussion.  By Saturday, it was a curtain that rose or fell throughout the day so quietly that it was easy to miss until one opened the door and took a step outside.  Today, the only time it has rained is when we took our walk.

Central California isn’t like the southlands.  Nor, for that matter, like Northern California.  The stereotypical image of our state comes from all the attention paid to LA and its environs: sunny and warm all year ‘round.  That’s almost true.  The Central Coast is entirely a different story.  Though our winters tend to be mild (some would say milder than our summers, but that’s just expectations talking), we regularly dip into the 30s at night.  In Salinas, our close neighbor to the east, the temperature went down to 29 last week.  Believe me, I’m not crying “poor me” here.  For those of you who live in truly cold climes, as I have done, temperatures in the 30s seem like welcome relief of balmy weather.  I remember my days in college in Vermont.  Every year, we celebrated the January thaw, when the thermometer briefly rose above 32 degrees, by donning our bikinis and snow boots for a stroll around campus.  This wasn’t grandstanding; when you’ve acclimated to 20 below, breaking the freezing mark feels toasty warm.

Anyway, the point is that Monterey isn’t LA (in more ways than one, but we’re talking weather for the moment).  But then, neither is it Northern California whose lush greenness speaks to its regular snow and rain.  Except for this year.  There is real question whether the annual school skiing expedition will happen this February.  There was minimal snow at the resorts until this weekend.   We haven’t had a significant rainstorm since last winter.

How come that other puppy
is in my house?
This hadn’t particularly registered on me until I witnessed Cleo’s reaction to the wet weather.  Last winter, when she was just a little puppy, she took the downpours in stride, going out to do her business or playing in the yard and coming back a grinning mass of sodden hair.  Hey, it was nothing a vigorous shake and a warming towel-rub couldn’t fix!  When she and I took our walk before school Friday morning—both of us in our water repellant outerwear, hers natural, mine applied—the rain didn’t seem to faze her at all.  A periodic head to tail shake set everything right.  It was when we got home from school that I noticed her reactions to the changes that precipitation works on the world.

We were reclining quietly on the chaise in the living room, Cleo stretched so that the full length of her side was pressed against my legs and her chin was resting on my ankles.  I was talking on the phone with John who was at the NAMM convention, the musicians’ hajj.  In a flash, Cleo was off the chaise and at the door, stiff-legged and barking in the Bedlington’s surprising baritone cry.  Had someone come up onto the front deck?  Had people been talking loudly on the street?  I’d heard nothing, or at least, nothing that registered as warranting such a fierce reaction.  I thanked her and told her that was enough.  She regarded me with a small degree of wonder, as if to say, “Really?  You’re not going to do anything about that?” then gave her version of the canine shrug and settled back down at my legs.

The second time she went through the same rigmarole, I was off the phone and could perform a mental playback of the outside sounds.  A car had driven by on the street, making a high swishing noise as its tires encountered the now-very-wet pavement. I reassured her and got the same doubtful glare.  One more repetition of the whole ritual and she finally accepted that the unfamiliar noise didn’t demand full-throated defense.

The rising wind, banshee cry of the wind chimes and thunking of dislodged pine cones onto the roof provoked the occasional opening of the eyes or, when very loud, a raised eyebrow and a glance in my direction, usually without troubling to lift her chin from my ankles.

Our going-to-bed ceremonies involve multiple trips back and forth between kitchen and bathroom for the humans and two outdoor excursions for Cleo.  I don’t know why this is, but for reasons known only to herself, Cleo insists on one trip outside through the kitchen door while we get water, heat up bed warmers, coax the cats in and give them a late night snack, check doors, and turn off lights.  At some point during all of this, she comes back in and follows us around.  Then, as we brush teeth and get ready for bed, she has to take a second trip outside, which we’ve taken to calling her “last hurrah,” through the bedroom door.   It’s not like we live on an estate; the doors open onto virtually the same territory.  But try to deny her that last hurrah, and you are likely to witness a hissy fit of magnificent proportions.

So Friday night, we began as always.  As soon as I walked into the kitchen, she was at the door waiting for her first pre-bed outing.  The rain was coming down so hard that it sounded as if I’d opened the door onto a rushing river.  Cleo flew out as usual, took two bounds into the side yard, spun around and dashed back inside.  After giving herself a hard shake, she turned a deeply offended look in my direction.  “It’s not my fault it’s raining,” I told her.  “Besides, you used to go out in weather like that all the time last winter.  It never bothered you then.”  She contented herself with shadowing me as I made the bedtime preparations, only getting excited when I opened the front door to call in the feline holdout.  One cat was clever enough to already be asleep on the guestroom bed.  The other obviously decided that wherever he had hunkered down was far better than a trot through the downpour.  But Cleo and I stood at the front door for several minutes, looking out at the raindrops bouncing off the pavement shining with the reflected glow of the streetlights.  She gave it all a thorough sniffing from the shelter of the doorway, seemingly curious about the fact that, yes, it was raining here, too, not just in the side yard.

Back in the bedroom, I had just started the tooth brushing process when I heard Cleo scratching at the glass door.  “Really?” I asked her.  “Are you sure?”  Honestly, it was a relief to think that she wanted out.  I wasn’t looking forward to being woken up in an hour or two by a dog with an unbearably full bladder.  She pawed the door with frantic earnestness.  Before I had it fully open, she forced her way out and dashed into the backyard.  Where she froze in disbelief.  Even here it’s raining?!  She turned around and sped back to the door which I was holding closed.  “Go pee!” I called through the glass.  She smacked the door with her front paws.  “You know you have to,” I reasoned.  Then she did what she always does.  She sat down politely at the door and locked eyes with me like the devotedly attentive creature she can sometimes be.  I have never had the heart to deny her when she does that.  So in she came, tracking mud onto the rug.  As I turned the light off, she was sleeping, as she always does when John is out of town, pressed tightly against me.

About four o’clock in the morning, I knew the rain had stopped because pointy puppy feet were stomping all over my lower legs.  As I surveyed a backyard carpeted in pine needles, shattered tree branches and Spanish moss, Cleo took a wee of impressive duration.  The air smelled clean and crisp, freshly washed and thoroughly renewed.  It was good to climb back between warm sheets and feel the touch of a cold, damp nose on my cheek, then Cleo curling up, back against my chest, chin resting on my arm.

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