In the bedroom, our alarm goes off faithfully at 6, and I see through the sliding glass door to the back porch, the lump of wood our neighbors’ dog, Angel, has left like a calling card. It tells me I’ve missed her invitation to throw the chunk and watch her hurtle down the mountainside in its pursuit. She has been known to run so fast that she wins the race with the stick, which hits her on the back of the head or lodges itself in her throat as she turns and lifts her head to catch it.
She first approached us in our driveway, where Bob was carving a stone boulder too large to move any further onto our property. With the stick placed on the ground in front of her, she would crouch with her haunches in the air, her front legs stretched straight out in front of her in anticipation. Her eyes would fix on the stick, then on us, then on the stick, her mouth stretched in a huge grin of expectation. How could we not throw?
Later, she ventured farther up the driveway and onto the porch if no cats were around. Now she knows every entry to our house and stops at each on her rounds, watching me make paper and Bob drill stone, occasionally lifting the stick and dropping it to the deck until we give in and throw again.
At the time I first met Angel, I didn’t favor dogs, preferring my crabby cats. But I made an exception for this Australian dingo of a dog who was so happy to see me–so happy to see anyone who would throw a stick. This dog who now comes into my paper making studio to drink from my water bucket. Who once got pulp on her nose dipping into the wrong bucket. This dog who might show up covered in cement, and when the cement finally wears off, shows up covered in white paint, conjuring up images of workmen not patient enough to deal with a dog with sticks to chase.
This dog who seemed not to know about dog biscuits and who, the first time we threw one to her, retrieved it without eating it. This dog who for months would come no closer than five feet––friendly from a distance––fleeing away from any attempt to touch. Who had to be taught that an outstretched hand contained a pat or hug. This dog who sees the cats as bosses and who detours all the way around the house to retrieve a stick if one of the cats puts itself in her pathway. This dog who is an old dog but acts like a puppy.
She fills a place in my husband’s heart– a heart that needs the amount of child a dog can bring: companionship that doesn’t need to borrow the car, a stick chase that doesn’t involve any exercise more rigorous than pulling the arm back and letting the hand open as it swings forward. She is the way children should be when you’re in your sixties: being pleasant, being around without a lot of talking, fetching things for you.
Slowly, as we meet our neighbors at gatherings to try to stop the harvesting of the redwoods on the land adjoining ours or to discuss the cellular phone tower at the end of our mountain street, we find that they all know Angel in varying degrees. And we begin to understand that she needs to continue her rounds to find enough love, bit by bit, from all of us–like some children too ready with devotion toward strangers, too needing of attention from teachers or their friends’ parents. And that hard part of us that doesn’t want to love the person who needs it most can release a bit. Enough to throw a stick. Enough to teach a dog how to be petted. Enough to add a case of dog biscuit bones to our grocery cart at Costco, enough to try to get the matted cement from the tail, and to go to the woodshop to cut sticks. That part of us can thaw a bit, knowing that the dog will not take itself from us voluntarily. That she will stay with us as long as we will throw an occasional stick, talk to her every half hour or so, give a few pats, put down a pan of water. That she will stay with us for a minimum of our effort.
In this era of Angels pulling people from cliff tops and burning cars, in this time when Angels are the fad, we who usually shun trends, we who seek to be the exception, we who need no angels have an angel sitting in our driveway. Have evidence of her outside every door.