It’s after midnight, and my computer screen holds images of my favorite place. Each image from years traversing a single mountain valley reflects an aspect of country. Square photos of the alpine mountain floor make up a quilt of time, and I remember the crunch of lichen, the lush feel of walking on an infinity of tiny flowers, the popping of fat blueberries – it’s impossible to walk and not be an elephant of destruction. When I look up from my feet, the first sight is the open valley, clear back to the headwall, and the sight of the dog – his spirited tail high and brushing the side hills of a living canvas, brilliant in its ever-changing color. I scroll through more images and relive the climb along falls, the moraines covered in scorched lichen and resembling the flecked coloring of the birds we hope to find. Over the rocks appears the first milky jewel of a glacial lake – solitary mountain pools surrounded by hills of time.
And then, I think to myself, do I smell like pee?
Between the exultant memories, I’d been noticing a pee smell. It’s not on my hands or clothes, but there is a certain undeniable scent of urine about me. English setters are in various states of repose around the loft – we are in another kind of heaven here, less active and more reflective. It’s impossible not to find glamour in every setter posture – centuries of breeding have created an animal that has perfected the haute lounge. There’s no greater athlete or bored model in the dog world as a pointing dog. That’s just my experience. But, one of these lordly little dogs has most definitely peed somewhere. The fact is so distracting that it’s killing my sentimental mood.
I get up and begin sniffing around the room. The setters lift their heads – seven of them. They lie on blankets and dog beds. The little chocolate Labrador sits in the recliner and cocks her head.
“Somebody peed in the house,” I announce.
They look at me with disinterest and lay their heads back down. Unless I have something pertinent to say, such as “go” or “treat,” they are not interested in all the other words, which must sound like senseless barks. At least, I thought, a Labrador portrays a modicum of guilt at the discovery of a domestic crime. If a couch cushion is destroyed or a bag of chips consumed, a guilty Labrador will give herself away. She’ll shy backward and dance in her feet-switching, tail wagging, way. She’ll flash that Labrador smile that lets you know she did it. If there are two Labs – and Jack has given up climbing the stairs in his age – an innocent Lab will display no sign of guilt.
“I know it wasn’t you,” I say to Cheyenne. At least, you admit it, I thought. A setter, I had learned, will never admit to anything. The aristocratic air of the setter inheritance cannot bother itself with a human who-ate-the-cheese or who-peed-on-the-bookcase inquisition. There are more important things. Like “go” or “who’s a good boy?” When it comes to “who’s a bad boy?” they pull the let sleeping dogs lie act.
When I find the pee – likely deposited by a male dog as it appears at the height of a setter leg – no one but me cares about the evidence. “Hugo,” I say. And, I wonder why he fits the pee profile. I wonder why he is still peeing in the house before it occurs to me anyone else could have done it. They’re right, I figure. At this point, it doesn’t matter who did it.
It takes a few minutes to clean up the mess. No one is disturbed except me, and I sit back down to the computer. The image of Hugo fills the screen with a mountain valley falling behind him as he stands on a rocky outcrop. His chest is puffed out, and the wind blows through the feathers of his tail. The sight of him causes me to catch my breath at the screen image less so than in the field. I’ve got work in the morning, I can’t continue to stay up through the night again to make sense of it all before it’s gone.
I go to bed, and I lie there thinking about the mountains and the list of things I need to do other than go back as many times as possible before the season ends. And then it occurs to me again – the reoccurring theme of my broken thoughts in a long, sleepless night, a sort of smelling salt dose of reality.
Do I smell like pee?