I left my apples on the cliff’s edge, and crept towards the road, which was silent although it was still warm with the burning sun of day. I learned again the trick of walking in the narrow sandy strip along the edge and ducked when the infrequent cars tore towards me, their occupants so blinded from their need for light they could not see me in the ditch. Even before I came to the garden I smelt onions, and their scent brought their taste and associations to my tongue. This time, like a chary Noah, I would take one of each thing in the garden. I will take the hard rutabaga, and the brain shaped cauliflower, a plant like the ears of boxers, and maybe even a squash, although I was hard pressed to say what I would do with it.
Near the top of the small hill, I came to a low cottage, whose inhabitants were sleeping in their city beds and dreaming of those two weeks into which they would have to press every wish of the year. Their two-week fantasy barely fit the four walls of this tiny bungalow, but after being stretched over the warped looms of their leisure, it’s packed into the trunk of their new car. Listening to talk shows they speed with a thousand others back to the city, which from this distance is a mere glow on their horizon, and fall asleep only to notice the next day, and sweep away with disgust, the sand in their beds. The smell of the garden, which was even stronger now, did not come from this low house perched uncomfortably on a tiny plot of land, but was from further up the hill.
I heard the growling of the dog before seeing the house, for it was set back from the road and presented only one unpainted wall to the world. The angry dog was chained in the front yard to a small fir that trembled as the dog strained towards me, smelling how I had walked away and how I did not care to return. I waited in the ditch for the effect of this snarling and shortly, from the window where a flickering blue glow rimmed the shade, there came a curse and command. A tied dog is a deadly and lonely being. Striving all day against confinement, such dogs coil themselves tighter and tighter, until the day the chain breaks and they burst upon the world. When I was a child the neighbours always tied a dog in their yard. They claimed that Killer Karl, who lived less than a hundred yards away, would shoot any animal merely to arouse the ire of his fellows. Once, to avoid that eventuality, they shot their own dog since the dog was continually getting loose and would often stray into the next yard. The logic of that action still escapes me, and although my expression inspired them to explain, they eventually left in disgust.
The dog eventually settled, although from where I sat I could see raised hackles. I waited for the strident television commercials to end, so the lower volume of the program would distract the viewer and I might creep to the garden’s edge. Like the garden I visited a week before, this one was near the road and although it promised a rich haul of vegetables, I was in danger of getting caught. The dog watched me, and glancing between the lit window and my low form, growled continuously, although there was no offer to otherwise alert the violent voice from within the house. The house dweller had probably lapsed into that semi-conscious state of those before a television, his stubble-lined mouth slack and open, in which I maliciously imagined a busy fly.
I picked carrots and potatoes (and I tore up whole plants without the guilt that probably should have accompanied this gesture) to fill my sack. I moved between the rows like a groundhog, staying low to the ground, and when once a car flashed its lights across the plants, I bared my teeth and hid behind the tomatoes. The dog grew increasingly quiet, and I almost expected an attack. I now believe that the dog read my gestures as an attempt to creep through the world in defiance of a master, and that I would spend my life chained at a single bark. I regretted my earlier assessment of the rabidly vicious dog whose concentrated anger is vented upon any who pass. Forty thousand years ago their wolf like ancestors had came out of the darkness to the warmth of the fire, never dreaming that such a collegial gesture would merely buy centuries of servitude, waiting for an idle scuff of the head while chained to an iron stake. When I had filled my sack, I hesitated over that brother of mine, who spends his life tied while I had slipped my collar and now walked about as if free. Timidly, I didn’t risk getting caught; understanding my fear, the dog settled quietly on his haunches and watched me leave.
I walked back down the hill to the creek and remembered many years ago when I came upon a trap set for fox in the winter snow. It was my practice, and is still today, to spring the traps of that rabid braggart who one year hung sixty fox hides from his garage so the local paper might carry his photo on its front the following day. Although it was not the trap’s mindless intention, it had caught a great horned owl by the talons, and as I approached I was beat back by the wings and the rushing sound of warning. The magnificent owl was essentially unharmed if I could but think of a way to release the trap. I had returned from the forest with a pole to lever open the trap’s spring, but the spring had proved too strong and the pole broke. I tried this method a few times and approached as close as I dared—even while the owl’s head swivelled and hissed with rage—in order to reach the trap by hand. I could feel a hooked beak in my hand and my imagination had pulled back my arm before I reached the trap. Finally, with the same heaviness of guilt I felt upon abandoning the dog, I had left the owl, trusting to a generosity I doubted the trapper could provide, and watched the tread of my snowshoes walk the two miles home. I never found out if the owl was released, although I could easily picture both versions. The silent sweeping wings that swept through the surrounding pines and also the ignominious death served merely to satisfy the blood lust of a beast. Much later that same winter, I thought of a ridiculously simple answer to the problem. I could have merely covered the owl with my coat while I sprung the trap with my foot, and then run away until the owl sorted a way out of my jacket and flew into the trees. Squirming with cowardice, I never went back the following day.
BARRY POMEROY is an itinerant English professor, boat designer and builder, traveller, carver, sometimes mechanic, carpenter, and web designer. As a writer he is responsible for Multiple Personality Disorder, a long poem in dialogue, and a collection of satirical biblical stories called A Bloody History of the Fertile Crescent. “Chained in the Yard” is from the novel Naked in the Road.