At 6:30 every weekday morning, my neighbor Mary lets Brandy out of the house. The golden retriever races across the lawn and skids to a halt at the end of her 50-foot rope, where she proceeds to yap and snarl at every passerby. Lying in bed, I pull the pillow over my ears, to no avail. When Brandy starts barking, dreamtime is over.
At 8:30 a.m., Mary puts Brandy on the back deck and heads off to work. That’s when my neighbors to the rear put Bear outside. Bear is some kind of mixed breed, tall and thin with long white hair and a scruffy muzzle. As soon as his owners leave, Bear starts woofing. It’s an intermittent bark, one every five seconds. Woof. Woof. Woof. After an hour, Bear realizes that–surprise, surprise–he’s not going to be let in and shuts up. Then I can finally get down to work.
I am a nature writer. Seated at the computer in my home office, I travel to places where sea gulls cry and streams hiss over mossy boulders. I need my silence, but what I hear are barking dogs, pack animals and hunters by nature, sentenced to solitary confinement in postage stamp yards all over town.
At first, I tried turning on the radio, but I couldn’t help listening to the announcers. I need to hear what I write, to capture the rhythm and resonance of words. Even classical music interferes with my thought process. So I bought a set of ear protectors, the kind that gunners use at shooting ranges. They shut out the noise alright, but left me feeling like the clueless Mr. Jones of Bob Dylan’s Ballad of a Thin Man–“There oughta be a law against you coming around, you should be made to wear earphones.”
I decided to confront the neighbors. Mary was accommodating. She offered me the key to her back door so I could put Brandy inside if she got too annoying. That’s O.K., but it requires me to get up from my desk and walk next door, where I bribe Brandy indoors with a dog biscuit. My neighbors to the rear were equally sympathetic, but said they couldn’t keep Bear inside or he’d soil the carpet. “Maybe you could keep him in on weekends so I could sleep a little longer,” I said. Yes, they’d be willing to do that.
A week ago, I heard a pathetic yipping coming from the lot catty-corner to mine. That would be Echo’s house. I stormed over and found the old sheepdog in a tiny pen built right against the property line. Echo’s been around for years. I’ve never known him to bark. “Hey, Echo,” I said. “Shut the f*** up!” Though he was only yards away, Echo never turned. I realized he’d gone deaf, and probably incontinent, which would explain the new enclosure.
I schlepped back to the house and resumed my place at the keyboard. The chorus of longing rose and fell, rose and fell. It’s just me and the dogs, dreaming of freedom, confined to quarters.