Sunsets Gone By
I don’t know the hound personally, but we hear him now and again, his deep, authoritative bay rumbling through the woods and swamps.
The sun was just behind the tips of the pines the other afternoon when I heard him. A change in plans left me at wit’s end. Although there were a passel of things I needed and wanted to do, none were fittin’ for a Sunday, and besides, I was feeling lazy. I realized the battery on my phone was almost dead, so I counted my blessings, zipped it into a pocket and forgot about the crises I might possibly miss if – even for just a little while – I wasn’t constantly accessible via four or five different methods. The world might fall apart, but I would blissfully know nothing about it.
Way off in the pine plantation, the hound bayed again, striking a hot trail on something.
Happy Jack heard the hound, but aside from a brief lift of his head, he couldn’t have cared less. Running with strangers gets one in trouble, as he knows all too well, and it was better to stay home, anyway. He had just the right spot on the old steel glider, and he was finally out of range of the baby goats as well as the tumbling, bumbling, biting Catahoula-blue tick puppies that Jack dotes on like a loving parent.
Those puppies, Gloria and Lauren, decided to go after easier game, and began chasing one of the ever-patient cats. Ricky finally decided that he’d had enough and shinnied up the crabapple tree, where he began furiously grooming himself of puppy-drool. Lauren stood against the tree and gave a high-pitched attempt at a treeing call, just to let me know she was trying. Gloria, however, spied Ricky’s sister Lucy and immediately gave chase.
Poor old Toni just growled and barked randomly at anything that went past her, as she zealously guarded my feet, a veritable Cerebrus, albeit with arthritis and cataracts.
The morning’s rain, such as it was, had left the woodpile and the firepit unworthy of the price of a match, although the clouds were rolling out and the sun had tried to steam away some of the badly-needed water. The temperature was nearly perfect, though – not too hot, with just a hint of cool bolstered by a fast-moving sou’west wind – but the drying process was taking too long to even consider scratching up some dry pine straw and fetching a chunk of lightwood.
So I just sat there in my chair to enjoy the last few hours of Sunday daylight.
The sky was brilliant behind the fleeing clouds, as it always is in November, and building up to a brilliant sunset. I was reminded of a similar Sunday twilight tracking down a coyote who pulled a trap and escaped. I tracked him down just about at the end of day and the beginning of dusk-dark, and the sky had that same crisp blue that hints of a night made for bundling up and counting meteors as the Geminids shed their excess pebbles in millisecond-long lines of light across the atmosphere.
I had forced myself to walk off a particular bad series of cramps earlier, and Lauren accompanied me the whole way, exploring and discovering in the way only seen in an eight-week-old puppy with a nose genetically-predisposed to hunt. She found where a coon had climbed a tree, where the rabbits dance in mating season, then an old bird’s nest and an older bone. A cat had been here, another dog there.
The world was her oyster as she rattled through the fallen branches, blew through natural piles oak, hickory and tulip poplar leaves, snuffled a fallen rotten log, and generally enjoyed life in a way that made me both tired and jealous.
Her sister, however, was content to head back to the house and snore happily in a sunspot until we returned to find our own happy places just before the pines began shadowing the sunshine.
Melanie and Taliana hung their heads hopefully over the fence, wondering if by turning great soulful eyes in my direction they might possibly get supper a little sooner than scheduled. I tried to ignore them, as I ignored the goats who automatically assume that humans only exit the house to feed them and take care of their personal needs.
The sunset reminded me of when we still had the big farm in Kelly; the sunsets there were always incredible, for some reason, maybe because it was the highest point around. It was my policy to stop and breathe for a few minutes after feeding our own remuda, then feeding, medicating and examining whatever rescue ponies were visiting at the time. If the horses were between you and the sun, you could see the miniscule changes that pointed to progress, a pound or two at a time. On some, the bones stood out in bas relief, while others were sleek and fat on coastal Bermuda, hay, good feed and beet pulp, along with a lot of grooming and reassurance that not all humans were bad.
As the sun slowly dropped into the Cape Fear River a half-mile across the fields and the lowlands, the coyotes would tune up, and Dulcinea the crazy Spanish-Arabian mule would scream her war cry. That made Gracie whicker nervously and Leon plant his feet four-square and get ready to defend his mare’s honor. Red would just sigh and grumble like any tired old man, Melanie would ignore the drama, and June would cozen up to me for another treat, since supper alone was just for peasants, and she was the Queen of the Palominos, thus deserving of something extra.
That farm was largely ruined during Hurricane Florence, since the ground was poisoned when the river overflowed, but the sunsets in our hollow are beautiful, too. When the sun reaches a certain height, the day’s last rays shoot down the railroad bed, beams making impossibly straight lines between the pines, lines you simply cannot see when the sun is high or when day is done.
I sat there fluffing both puppies’ ears and wondered exactly how different this place looked when the trains roared through, carrying people and commerce from east to west, when the rails were vital and pavement non-existent. The trees surely didn’t grow in the railbed then – even had they been permitted, the traffic would never have allowed a single cypress, oak, pine or gum to make it an inch above the ground.
But the rails are long gone, ripped and carried away for scrap. You can still find half-rotten ties here and there, along with spikes and occasional plates. Antique liquor and soda bottles sometimes turn up in what was once the ditch beside the railbed, but is now just a long, narrow compost pile of rotting leaves, beloved by salamanders. My front yard is significantly quieter than it was a half-century before our house was built, but I bet the sunsets were at least similar back then.
Melanie drew back her head and gave that long, lonesome, forlorn moan, and I checked my watch. The sun had slipped on down behind the trees, and it was time to feed up and get ready for the next day.
I grabbed my stick and just as I opened the gate, I heard the mystery hound welcoming the sunset, chasing the day into the night in the Sunday evening twilight.
I just wished I could have had a few more minutes listening to his song, and thinking about sunsets gone by.