Our Wilderness Neighbors
By Ruby Murray
Gypsy printed L-O-S-T, thinking he was gone, gone, gone. Squinting through tears, she added seven-year-old Chihuahua-Pomeranian mix, Hollenbeck Park. “It’s my fault,” she said, crossing her arms over her tiny belly and curling forward in the narrow aisle of the RV.
“I’m coming, Fluffy,” she whispered.
The day after they arrived from L.A., Brad went fishing and his
stepdaughter, Jen, rafted the White Salmon River. Gypsy put her
dog on a long leash outside the rented RV and sat to absorb the
scene before her.
Mt. Adams reclined like a pasha waiting to receive them, tilted back on an elbow. Snowfields dotted its belly and firs covered the flanks that extended for miles. The forests rolled down to the pasture next to the park, where tan cattle grazed lime-green grass. Time, light, even the air felt still.
Gypsy sat for hours. She brought a drumstick outside and stood
chewing. She was memorizing the lines of the mountain’s body—the
circular snowfield, a long vertical stripe that punctuated the
red-brown surface—when yellow jackets began to encircle her chicken.
She waved one onto the gelled tufts of her hair, where it stung
her scalp; another pounded her forearm. She threw the chicken and
went to put ice on the stings. When she returned, less than an
hour later, the leash was stretched tight around the RV tire and
Fluffy was gone.
When Brad and Jen came home, they canvassed the area. Neither the grass nor the stream bank indicated his direction. The one neighbor had not seen him.
Shadows in the pines were deepening when they finished posting lost dog flyers. Gypsy hadn’t noticed the reader board that shouted “Bee Spray” until her second trip to the store. She hadn’t seen the yellow plastic bee traps tacked to the trees near the picnic table. Nor had she read the “Bears and You” leaflet near the register.
“Sorry, Grandma.” Jen read, “Leave your pet at home. The excited barking of a dog can enrage a bear.”
“I didn’t hear any barking,” Gypsy said.
Gypsy took Brad’s steelhead from the cooler. She shifted ice off the fish, listening for her son’s half-snores. Jen slept a few feet away. Gypsy put on wedge sandals, picked up fishing line and her keys with the tiny scissors, and stole outside.
The number of stars stopped her. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen the wide path of the Milky Way. This is what she wanted to give Brad and his stepdaughter. She tied line around the fish, looping it on a cottonwood branch. She would wait for the animal that came to get it; she’d know who had taken the dog. She’d follow—at a safe distance—and find the place Fluffy died. She owed it to him.
Wrapped in Brad’s sweatshirt that smelled of his sweat and faintly
of fish, Gypsy settled into a canvas chair and waited.
From a bend in the river near her home, Ruby Murray can see the sketched outline of Astoria’s Megler Bridge. A writer and photographer, she welcomes the chance to become intimate with the Columbia River in its other manifestations.