Shilo is lethargic in this Duluth heat. Curiosity that once jetted her off the ground at the potential of capturing what made the random noise in the brush has quelled. She has become a passive witness. Her eyes dart in interest, maybe a quick turn of the head, but nothing is important enough to coax her legs into a sprint. Not on August days when temperatures are 80 to 90 degrees and she can only expire heat while sweating through paw pads or panting.
I brush her almost daily. Removing at least a little of her hair layer may help some trapped heat escape. She has taken to lying on the cement slab in the garage, two large doors remain open letting what exists of the midday breeze wave in, a welcomed visitor.
The other loyal companion, Bear, aka Mr. Bearington, a newfoundland mixed with lab, is still on constant guard. Heat does not deter him from his mission. He remains focused on what happens on the other side of the fence. He must protect us from intruders that might sneak through the boundary. Most of the time it’s another dog, sometimes it’s a skater, a horse, a biker, or the most ferocious intruder this summer, a snapping turtle so small it could fit in the palm of my hand. Still, a snapper is a snapper. Once I realized we were being invaded by such a fearsome beast, I scooped it into a bucket and escorted it to the pond on the back 15.
Bear is a lovable, albeit protective, pup, but to put it kindly, he is not the brightest star in the sky. Two acres have been fenced in to give the dogs the space to wander and exist in safe freedom. A swinging gate spans the driveway, and a few access points were randomly strewn in. Along the back fence is another 12-foot swinging gate which is the primary access to the acres we utilize almost daily. It is where harvested wood is brought through to be stacked, where we walk out to lie under the moonlit sky, or watch Pileated woodpeckers bounce around a rotting tree.
This swinging gate, the one my mother’s husband purchased at a barn sale, the gate that was harnessed to the top of my old van and transported a hundred miles, the one I got tired of opening and closing 50 times a day, usually remains open. Bear, my big beautiful, long-haired pup who’s so gentle toddlers can pull at his ears without repercussion, the pup who sits on my stomach when I lie in the woods to wonder at the grandness of the universe that cradles us, Bear, the one who ventures to the woods through the open gate, will dart back in full sprint to run up and down the front fence line to protect us from the disastrous 5-pound terrier, on a leash, on the other side of the road, who’s mostly uninterested in Bear’s defensive threats. Shilo, on the other hand, when interested enough, simply goes around the outside of the fenced in area.
Shilo, a husky mixed with sheltie or collie, is the brains of the operation. She’s the one that found weakness in the fence line in the summer of 2016 when the trees acted like jackhammers making the majority of my fence into twisted metal. She was smart enough to wiggle under the fence while I was fixing it, stand on the other side, then stare at me through the metal rectangles and seem to say, “Just go under, like that.”
Shilo lies on the garage floor as the temperature in Duluth is 86 degrees with a humidity reading of 61 percent. Bear remains alert in the front yard occupying a small swath of shade. I can’t help but sit on the garage floor with Shilo and sneak in a brushing session to try and bring her even a degree of coolness. She pants and seems to appreciate the attempt at some sort of assistance to reduce the heat, but more likely, it is an appreciation for uninterrupted puppy snuggles.
We all talk to our beloved animals, I am sure of this. I hear my friends talk to their dogs as if they would answer. We ask them simple questions, “Are you hungry? Do you want to go outside?” Or we regress to baby-talk, “Who’s a good boy? Yes, you’re a good boy.” We make fools of ourselves in front of our dogs, because of our dogs, and for our dogs. So I don’t mind admitting, as I sat on the garage floor brushing Shilo, her tongue drooping out of her gapping jowls and chest heaving as if she had just finished a chase session, that I reminded her of this past winter when she would change her mind about going outside after I opened the door and she felt the sting of -30 degree wind howl in.
I tried to remind her, as much as myself, the seasons we experience here are what makes Duluth a diverse and interesting landscape. We shovel snow in April, and mountain bike the Duluth Traverse two months later as salty sweat drips into our eyes leaving a brief stinging sensation.
I’ve lived in a few places over the years, from Minneapolis to Ashby, Minnesota. I’ve lived in a mountainous region near Hendersonville, North Carolina and on the desert flats near Nasiriyah, Iraq. I’ve traveled extensively throughout the United States but have never felt the “thing” that Duluth has. This small mountain, Big Lake, road-stretched, city atmosphere, country campground, coffee shop, ship sailing, mall shopping, dog-loving place is home. From 86 degrees to “feels like -37,” fenced in with a gate open that allows me access to it all. I can’t help but be in awe of this area. It is Duluth, it is my home, and it truly is a pretty cool city.
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