The Neighborhood

Everywhere the signs of life, and death

Justin Kern/Flickr
Justin Kern/Flickr


It was a rainy weekend. The kind of weekend during which you sort through the junk in your basement and get rid of a dozen garbage bags of hand-me-down kid clothes that don’t fit anyone anymore. I dropped them off at the house of a friend who has two daughters younger than mine. Baby gear endlessly shuffles around town here.

Between squalls, my daughters and I managed to get out on bikes in the neighborhood. The not-quite-four-year-old is still getting the hang of backpedal brakes, which makes riding on streets with her terrifying. So we biked just one block over to a dead end road that is paved, unlike ours, and where friends live.

Worms had come out in the rain, leaving the streets a ribboned massacre. We found it fascinating at first—the density of them, the patterns of their coils. Then it became a sporty challenge to bike between their sodden bodies. Finally, the sight of them became revolting.

The first thing we noticed when we biked up to our friends’ house was their two-foot-long bearded dragon lizard sitting on the back of the couch looking out the living room window. Apparently it has the run of the place. The kids came out and joined us on their bikes and then the dad, Jason, did as well.

An old white dog lives in the house next to theirs. And by “lives in,” I guess I mean he lies under a tree in the yard. He’s got a tumor the size of a cantaloupe on one of his back legs and barely hobbles around holding that leg in the air. The other back leg looks like it’s starting to go too. Spanky is a gentle dog, and the kids came up to him where he lay under the tree and loved him ungently. He didn’t seem to mind.

No one was home. Like quite a few places around here, assorted vehicles were parked out front in various stages of decomposition. Jason has been keeping his eye on the dog over these past months. “It’s time for him to be put down,” he said. “Look how much pain he’s in.” A neighbor from across the street walked over as we were talking. She carried a metal bowl of dog food—bacon flavored. As soon as Spanky saw her, he hobbled over to meet her, wagging his tail.

Jason and the neighbor chatted for a while. They both think it’s time for the dog to go, but it seems the owner hasn’t moved on the issue. Jason said the owner talks about dispatching the dog sometime when he’s out fishing on his boat. “I hope he does it with a gun first,” the neighbor said.

“Yeah, but it’s not always quick with a gun,” Jason said. “I know a guy who shot his dog in the head and then afterwards, the dog licked his hand.”

The neighbor then walked off to make sure Spanky’s water bowl was full. “Look,” she said, carrying the bowl, which was full of rain, down the driveway. Inside was a knot of dead worms the size of a baseball and a floating mouse. She dumped it into the ditch at the edge of the yard and then filled the bowl up from a tap on the side of the owner’s house. She carried the water to where Spanky stood in the yard and held it at the level of his head. He refused and then stumbled over to the ditch to take a few sips.

“Stubborn old guy,” the neighbor chuckled.

She mentioned that somebody else on the block had offered to pay for euthanasia. Dots, the local vet, would come to the house. “She’d do it right there under his tree,” Jason said. “He’d just fall asleep and never feel a thing.”

The kids had biked off, exploring a trail on an undeveloped parcel at the end of the road, looking for other signs, no doubt, of life and death.

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Miranda Weiss is a science and nature writer. The author of Tide, Feather, Snow: A Life in Alaska, she also wrote the Northern Lights blog for our website.


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