Category Archives: Stories

As the Crow Flies

cloudIt’s stormy again today.  My phone beeps at regular intervals, letting me know that we are under this severe warning or that, but like most people who live inland from the coast, storms are a part of our life and Mother Nature has to do something pretty spectacular to get our attention.  From my desk I look out to the south and I know that past the fence, the fields and the far tree line, across another small town, then an inlet bay, lies the Gulf, her ever churning water stirring up the sand and silt.  As the crow flies, it’s not that far and we know her by the gulls that fly inland, the ancient sea shells we dig up now and again that say she once breached our borders, and by the clouds and storms she tosses across the coastal grassy plains of our home.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor a time, my husband and I owned a small plane and I remember flying home, watching for her, watching for the faint line of darkness that signaled a vastness 151beyond, and as we flew closer to make the turn that would lead us back to earth, a reflection of light over moving waters would welcome us. We loved to fly along the coast, heading east over towns with names like High Island,  Boliver, Oak Island, Gilchrist, over beaches, wildlife preserves and empty places where homes used to be, claimed by the waters when the great storms struck.  Just along the edge of the sand, where the water washes up and recedes again, you can make out the shadow of an old highway that once ran the length of her shore, but now dormant and broken, slowly giving itself up to the sea.  Sometimes as we rose from the runway, we would point the nose southwestward, climbing up over Burnett Bay, rising across Kemah OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAwith Galveston a sliver of sand in the distance, slowly coming into focus and then we’d bank to the right over Surfside heading due west as we leveled the wings. We would head towards Matagorda, sailing on air over the sands and jetties, the inlets and canals punctuated with fishing boats. Out the right window oil rigs and the dark silhouettes of ships far out to sea offered themselves up to us, and to the north, clusters of small fishing communities surrounded by fertile green inland fields beckoned, back-dropped by the shadows of cities and the broad expanse of Texas beyond.

I’ve known her all my life, I feel her presence just past the horizon.  I’ve lived through her storms, first Alicia, as a young wife, bracing against the storm in a small frame house with my husband. A hand-held radio and flashlight between us in the darkness, the sound of a hundred trains barreling outside our walls, tossing debris and swirling, cutting a path through our town.  The silence of the eye of the storm, the strange brief interlude of sunlight, neighbors cautiously stepping outside to see how the world had changed and then quickly back ihurricanenside again when the other wall of wind arrives.  I can remember the stillness and the light rain that was still falling when the wind finally passed.  It was a different world then, no cell phones or social media, no online reports of damages or loss of life, so you just waited until the world came back on again, until the lines were connected once more.  You opened your windows, sat outside with neighbors and shared what you had.  There were rumors of barges piled up on the freeway that ran behind our house along with tug boats blown inland from the ship channel, so groups of the brave, curious and bored hiked the distance down the highway to see for themselves.  It would be seventeen days before we had water or lights, but youth lends an elasticity to tolerance and we coped with the help of family and neighbors.

Hurricane Ike was a storm of a different kind and by that time we had lived in this small town and on this land for  almost ten years and our children were now adults.  Of course, after witnessing the human suffering and tragedy of Hurricane Katrina and the panicked evacuation of Rita, everyone paid attention when reports started coming in of athCAOF0VM4 possible storm in the Gulf.  If you live on or near the Gulf coast, you understand how it plays out as the winds of Africa push unstable air out into the ocean, as it bubbles up into tropical waves and you watch to see where it goes, how it grows and if the Gulf will pull it in and slam it against the land.  You watch the storm track, those wildly erratic colored lines creeping in every direction until the lines begin to come together and you see if it’s your time to worry.  We live far enough inland that storm surges cannot reach us, our worry is the wind and the tornadoes that the walls of the storm toss out, the wind that uproots trees and crashes them into roofs and windows, the wind that flattens metal buildings and wood houses, consuming the lives within.   The land we live on is flat and much of it treeless, we have no natural barriers to the wind and debris, but we have a sturdy home, built with storms in mind and there are many in danger that must evacuate so it’s reasonable that we stay put, off the roads and out of the way.

ike_041It’s the solemnity of the hours before it hit that I remember, the unknowing hours of wondering what life would look like tomorrow on the other side of our boarded up windows.  We watch the skies, recognizing the dark outer bands of clouds as the storm moves closer, we worry about our older son on duty out on the streets, whose only shelter will be a patrol car.  From the television we learn of those choosing to stay on Galveston and other islands, mostly older people who would not leave. They insist they will be okay at home with a beloved dog or cat, and thastorm pict their shelves are stocked with water and food and they tell of past storms they have weathered in their stilt houses on the beach overlooking the storm barreling inland.  I believe that in spite of reassurances, their greater fear was being swallowed up in a shelter at the mercy of agencies and strangers, terrified their pets would be taken from them, so sadly they threw their lot in with the Gulf and let her decide their fate.  Twelve hours later we would hear that those that stayed behind were simply gone, their homes nothing but beams and posts sticking out of the sand.  Just gone.

027I’ve walked her beaches as a child, braved the waves as a teen, honeymooned at the Flagship Hotel, and held the hands of my two little boys and now my grandchildren at the edge of her brown-tinted waters.  I have dug countless pennies and bottle-caps from the warm sand while treasure-hunting the beaches with my father. When I’m there, I feel the history of that city that sits on her shores, the beginnings and endings and the starting over, time and again.  Beneath my feet, I am aware that far down below lies the original elevation of the island, as it was before the Great Storm, before the city was raised and the sea wall was built. The stately houses and century-old buildings along the Strand have not bowed, though great losses are evidenced in the high water marks documented on small brass plaques far above my head.  I know from history passed down that some of those houses hide scars as well, under the fancy rugs and carpets, are the marks of axes where the floors were opened in the hope the rising water would anchor the house down and they might be saved in the rooms above, only to be washed away through attic windows when the angry Gulf waters reached the roof.

The cries of those lost in those terrible years, 1900, 1983, 2008, stillmemorial carry on the wind there, blowing in a mist off the water, winding through the streets and alleyways, whipping the sails of boats and beach umbrellas, and then back to the water, always back to the water.  She is a constant, that vast unknowable body of water, both wonderful and terrible in turn, but always there, past the fence, over the tree line, across the bay, as the crow flies.

©2014-2015 itsa5doglife/Rhonda Alford Owens All Rights Reserved

From My Hands

I watched them as I worked outside among my flowers, as I walked to the mailbox, or as I drove out of the driveway, thin red rose and dobermannhollow bodies lying in the warm dirt or on the porches of the broken and bereft trailer homes across the street. At times a car would pull up and I would see the tableau play out again, the dogs jump up and run over, tails wagging, begging, careful to stay out of the way of the person climbing the rotting stairs to the porch. A door slams, they stare at the door in anticipation, sure that it will open again for them and this time they will be seen and acknowledged, maybe even fed, but the wagging slows and the head falls and they return to the dirt, to the warmth of the sun. They are ghosts in that place.

The old Tupperware bowl full dog food was empty each morning, at first licked clean and then over the weeks, a few kibbles carelessly left here and there, evidence of expectation, a trust that the bowl would be full again. I was sure that there were three of them, two females who obviously had puppies, probably hidden away under a trailer or the dilapidated wooden shed on the back of the property, if alive at all, and a red male dog. The females had think patchy hair and I could see the fleas racing across the inflamed skin of their backs and bellies. Around each of their necks was a collar, loose and now faded, implying ownership, but only in the most literal sense of the word.

At first they ate their food and left at night, but slowly I would find one or two still hanging2013-07-09 21.20.53 out under the carport of my house, usually the large momma dog or the young male. Momma dog, whom we called Ava, was friendly, but her eyes were tired and empty and swollen with infection and although she allowed me to touch her, she didn’t wag her tail or raise her head, but if I stopped she would butt her head against my chest as I kneeled down next to her. The male was healthier than the females and other than a slight thinness, he looked good, his coat was thick and his eyes were clear. Over the next few weeks as I watched them go back and forth across the street, I came to believe that although allowed to run loose, the male was cared for by someone in one of the trailers. I think he sensed the hunger and greater need of the other two, as more than once I’d seen him walk with the two females to the food bowls and then silently move aside for them and stand guard as they ate their fill.

The other momma dog was much smaller, she had a longer black and white coat and her ears were covered in spots, like a 2013-08-12 15.52.34dalmation’s coat. I would see her out by the gate or in the field next door when Ava and the male were here, but she couldn’t bring herself to us, maybe she feared pain or mistreatment at our hands, but I could see her struggle, her need to believe we would be kind, but yet willing us to go inside so she could approach and eat. One night my husband called me to come outside and see something and it was the little black and white momma, she had surrendered and rolled over on her back, softly crying in relief, submitting, as my husband rubbed her small belly.

From that day forward the momma dogs spent most of their time with us, but the male came and went and one day I saw a family move out and we never saw him again. Neither momma appeared to have milk left so I wasn’t sure if there were puppies, but for short periods of time each day they would disappear. I didn’t know if they were still being drawn to the only home they had ever known or if possibly they were leaving to feed puppies, so we began the waiting game.
IMG_0554We didn’t have to wait long, soon the little momma, now called Sissy, brought her puppies to us, four little balls of happiness, bellies swollen with worms, but otherwise healthy. She was a good momma and she knew it and she also let me know that she was done with them and she never left our house again. Vetted and vaccinated, the puppies were soon adopted out with the help of Pup Squad, a wonderful rescue that focuses on rescued puppies. Ava, however, was still leaving at times, but I didn’t know her reason.

Late one night Ava came back and she brought her reasons with her, two large swollen hairless pups. As I walked out the door, Ava was waiting and wanted me to see her puppies. She would run to them and then back to me and if one would try IMG_0591to run out of the garage, she would IMG_0586nudge them back in again towards me so I did as she asked and picked them up and held their smelly little bodies to me and I told her I would take care of them. She seemed to be at ease after that and, like Sissy, never left us again.

2013-09-10 18.42.33Vetted, spayed and completely healthy, Sissy and Ava are still with us, along with our 9 other dogs. Their hair is soft beneath my hands and their eyes are bright. It’s hard to find an adoptive home for two bonded dogs, 2013-10-14 23.04.04and I would never separate them, so we accept that they may be with us forever, but they are older, easy and perfectly content.
Both of Ava’s puppies had two types of severe mange and lost all of their hair – twice. They looked like two small piglets running around and require2013-09-06 17.41.09d much medical care and little Wilma developed benign growths on her body, which were easily removed, but delayed her attendance at adoption events. Beautiful unique Betty with her black and orange fur and calm demeanor was adopted quickly by a loving family and it took Wilma some time to adjust to her absence, as Betty was her touchstone, the one who ran things and she was at a loss as to how to act now that she was alone.

Wilma, now 7 months old and 45 pounds with a shiny tan and black coat, was healthy and ready to be adopted. We went to adoption events together, but it was difficult for her, in the past she took her cues from Betty so she didn’t know how to react to the noise, all the other dogs and people and at times I was afraid her fear made her seem unfriendly. I would sit with her on the floor, rubbing her head, talking to her and a few people would read her profile and say hello, but pens of little soft puppies are so cute and attractive, so often she was passed by without even a glance. Now Wilma is 9 months old, she won’t be a puppy much longer.

2014-01-25 17.17.52I wish an adopter could see what I see. I wish they could see her excitement as she licks my chin with her whole body wiggling in joy; I wish they could see her try to sit in my lap like she is a tiny puppy or watch her chase a ball and bring it right back to me. All these little things that make her so wonderful, the ways she rolls in the fresh-cut grass, how she always has a toy in her mouth and wants you take it from her so she can take it back again. Most of all, I wish they could see how much she needs a family of her own who can focus on her, bond with her, and make her their own and watch her grow from this energy filled older puppy to a wonderful adult dog. In my mind I can see her laying on a rug in someone’s living room as they watch TV or running in circles when the reach for the leash to go for a walk and far later in time, I see the same kind hands that she’s known for so many years rub her faded white head as she naps on the couch.

So I will keep trying because this is what I want for Wilma. Her forever family must be out there waiting to find her and when I know it’s them, the ones who will love her and see her as I do, with sadness and joy, I will cradle her sweet face in my hands one last time. As she licks my chin I will tell her that I love her and that it’s time, her family is waiting, and then I will let her go, not from my heart, but from my hands.

Rhonda Alford Owens
©2014-2015 itsa5doglife All Rights Reserved


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