Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Close Encounter of the Weird Kind

The frigid north winds of February stirred the tall pines along the ridge behind our house. The chill forced me to shove my hands deeper into my pockets and regret not grabbing a coat before heading into the night, but Teddy sounded urgent.

Teddy is our adopted Golden Retriever, and our yard has become his adopted domain – which he loyally defends…from those menacing squirrels, rabbits, birds, ferocious lizards, and anything new we place in the yard (like gnomes or towels on the back of the bench). He’s usually not much of a barker, unless there’s activity on the nearby tennis courts (for which, he’s figured, barking is the only way he can properly inform the players on the other side of the privacy fence that he’s ready for any tennis ball they’re willing to hit his way).

Tonight’s barking, though, doesn’t sound like Teddy’s typical pining-for-tennis-balls kind of bark. Tonight’s barking sounds more distant, like he’s somehow found his way into the neighbor’s yard and wants to be sure we know about it (“Hah, haa. I’ve discovered how to let myself out the gate AND disabled the invisible fence AND now I’m prancing around in the neighbor’s yard. Ha ha-ha ha haaa.”) Obviously, his distant bark and my overactive imagination led me out the backdoor to investigate.

When I stepped out onto the patio, I could tell Teddy’s barks were emanating from the other side of my garage (well-away from the tennis courts) and though he was hunching in the dark shadow of the garage, the light from the tennis courts illuminated his wagging tail. During a brief pause between his insistent barks I heard some sort of indiscernible reply. However, since Teddy quickly launched into another fit of barks, I couldn't figure out what, or who, he was reprimanding.

Did he have some unsuspecting tennis player trapped in our yard? Perhaps I’ll find a middle-aged man cowering against our fence…in his high-dollar tennis outfit and Olivia Newton-John signature headband and he’ll be saying something like, “I…I just wanted to…to retrieve my tennis ball, man, until those teeth showed up.”

Maybe someone’s provoking him from the other side of the fence? That’s possible, but I can’t tell with all the barking.

I wanted to get Teddy’s attention without alerting anyone, or anything, to my presence. So, as I approached him I whispered, “Hey…Teddy…shhhhhh.”

Teddy glanced over at me, then immediately returned his attention toward the fence. He offered one or two more barks, then dashed behind me, as if to say, “I’m troubled by something over there. Yeah, over there, there’s something over there. Hey, where have you been?”

Teddy panted heavily at my heels as my eyes slowly adjusted to the shadows on the dark side of my garage. He was trying to remain quiet, but I could tell he was getting impatient as I strained to hear, or see, any signs of what might be bothering him. I didn't see a cowering tennis player and, as far as I could tell, there wasn’t anyone in the neighbor’s backyard either.

My gazed followed along the base of our privacy fence and up the hill. Then I tried to focus on the pine trees along the ridge, which spans the length of several backyards, thinking he might’ve discovered a sleep-walking squirrel, or something.


An owl called out in the distance, but it was too far away to be of any concern to Teddy. So, I waited to see if something might stir in the trees.

“NEEEAAAACKKKK,” cried out an unknown creature hidden somewhere among the neighbor’s pine trees.

What the...?

Teddy bolted halfway up the hill and began rooting around at the base of one of our cypress trees, but the noise was certainly not coming from there.

“AaaawwwwNEEEEEAAACKKKKaaaahhhhhhh,” it cried out again.

Teddy pulled his over-sized rawhide bone out from beneath the tree and sprinted back down into the yard with it. Obviously, whatever's out there, Teddy seems to think it knows the secret location of his new Valentine’s Day bone and he's taking this opportunity to relocate it. Yeah, good boy.

In need of a flashlight, I returned to the house. Teri, my wife, asked what was going on. I told her, “I think E.T.’s getting raped in the neighbor’s yard.”

“Where’s Teddy?” she asked.

“Guarding his bone.”

Chase, our son, followed me back outside. He was rambling on about something (I don’t know where he gets it from) and I said, “sshhh…listen.” While the cold wind pushed the trees back and forth, we stood and waited.

Teddy remained near the patio; one paw covering his bone and a why-are-you-looking-at-me expression.

When the wind kicked up again, there was another cry from the ridge, “eeeehhhheeeeeNEEEEEAAAAACKKKKK.”

My son looked at me like I just gave him a graphic “Birds and Bees” speech. (Yeah, that’s coming soon.)

I turned on the flashlight and scanned the trees in the vicinity of the noise, but I couldn’t find anything. No reflecting eyes. No shaking branches. Nothing.

I checked the night sky for a mother ship, but the low cloud cover may have obscured my view.

Since neither of us were wearing jackets (once again disqualifying me for “Father of the Year”), we headed back inside.

“Tomorrow,” I said, “we’ll return with some Reese’s Pieces.”

“Ha ha,” said Chase, “Why?”

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to find a basket that'll fit Chase's bike.

Copywrite 2009 Rick Rantamaki

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