Through shallow night air, the little boy heard his dog barking lightly at the bedroom window. Careful not to awaken the others, she let out short, airy woof, woof, woofs and waited patiently for his reply. The curtains parted gently to reveal the boy, grinning, standing at the windowsill in his pajamas. She smiled back, then added a couple more airy woof, woofs. He understood her language. She was saying, “Hello, Elijah. Happy to see that you’re up tonight.”
Elijah climbed onto Sammy’s back and tightly clutched a tuft of fur. “Let’s go to Shallow Creek Bend,” he said.
Shallow Creek Bend was a gathering place for the animals in the area, both domesticated pets and wild animals. The wild animals–squirrels, possums, skunks, rabbits, and the like would often hassle the pets–dogs and cats typically–about belonging to people and being tied down to a particular family. The cats scoffed at this notion. Sure they had ties to a family but they did what they pleased, thank you very much. The cats were certainly independent creatures; they were also more reluctant to admit enjoying the perks of pet status.
The dogs, on the other hand, were perfectly willing to trot out their advantages–food, treats, play with children, love, petting–for the rest of the animals to behold. Besides, they were here, weren’t they? Did that not prove that they were not nearly so constrained by being “owned” by people as the wild animals made them out to be?
It is in fact these very arguments, taken too far, that lie behind scenes played out in backyards every day. Squirrels wagging tails and stealing nuts, possums climbing trees and fences to taunt and annoy, skunks wandering inside the fence to steal food from a bowl. The seeds of the these seemingly routine conflicts are planted at places like Shallow Creek Bend each and every night.
Shallow Creek Bend was well named. Copper Creek wound this way and that through Pine Meadow. There were small rapids and deep swimming holes in the crooks of the creek as it meandered through the land. Safe crossing places were not uncommon but Shallow Creek Bend was the widest area of Copper Creek with still waters, a shallow bed, and healthy patches of even ground next to the banks. For those reasons, it was an inviting location for the animals to gather. Like a local coffee house, cafe, or donut shop, Shallow Creek Bend was the place where the animals saw one another, gossiped, disseminated news, argued, and laughed with one another. When Elijah arrived with Sammy that night, it was not the first time that a human animal had joined the activity. But it was the first in a long time.
The wild animals pretended they weren’t staring at the sight of a little boy riding his dog along the banks of Copper Creek to the gathering place in all of Pine Meadow. Eli had heard Sammy’s stories about the animals’ gatherings at Shallow Creek Bend. His piqued curiosity prompted his request of her this night. Before the sun came up, it would be a night to remember.
The typical chatter was hushed for a few noticeable moments as the animals gathered at Shallow Creek Bend that evening took in the sight of the boy perched confidently on the back of his dog. He was grinning and taking them in as well. These were the animals he had observed thus far only in board books and large, clunky puzzles. Now they were meeting eyes. Now they wiggled and jerked, fur fluttering in the soft breeze. Benjamin giggled with excitement.
Sammy spoke to the group: “How are things across the meadow tonight?”
At first there was no answer as the buzz from the human visitor wore off. A heaviness fell upon the congregation. Creatures fidgeted. Then one of the rabbits answered. “The woods are weary. Trouble has returned to Pine Meadow.”