The Bone Yard

When I was a kid, I played in the dirt—a lot. Like many kids, I enjoyed drawing figures in the dirt, making mud pies, and constructing and demolishing mounds of earth. There was a certain Pig-Pen quality to me and that only got worse when I discovered my love of catching.

So you can imagine my joy when Harley let me help him bury a bone today. During the past two years, he’s developed a habit of hiding his bones even before he’s had a chance to chew on them. He takes the bone, looks around to see if anyone else is interested in his bone, checks for other bones he can return and claim later, and by this time, the rivulet of slobber has started running onto the floor.

I invite (read: usher) him to the front door so he can start the selection process for the bone’s short-term residence. He checks the corner by the orange trumpet vine. No good. He’s already dug a body-sized hole there for cooling off during the long Arizona summers. Besides, too obvious. How about over by the bougainvillea? No good. Too pokey. Those thorns are more than an inch long and they reach out and grab you if you even look at them. Maybe under the half-dead jasmine? Nah. He pees over there. And so does Helen. Girl pee. No thanks. No good options out front.

So today, I thought he might like to chew in peace, so we went out back into the Arizona room. (For you Midwestern folks, it’s like a screened-in porch but without the stairs and with tile and some soil and plants.) I opened the slider and let him step out on the saltillo tile. He took a few steps then turned and looked at me. “You didn’t think I was going to chew this thing, did you?” Silly me. Of course not. I followed him out into the Arizona room to watch the selection process.

He is decisive today, going right for a place along the slump block wall in the corner by the door. Harley’s digging skills have never been in question. He uses his spade-shaped paws deftly to rearrange the large cedar chunks we use as ground cover. It’s his covering skills that seem to be lacking, or at least not playing to his strengths.

This part has always fascinated me. He digs with his paws but covers with his nose. That’s not such a bad plan unless you have a nose with cracks and fissures that won’t heal. The last thing he should be doing is what every dog loves to do: stick his nose in holes and dirt.

He’s got the start of a nicely shaped but shallow hole. And, as always, he drops the bone in the small hole and starts to cover. He’s never mastered the idea of digging the hole wide enough and deep enough to accommodate the bone. Like his mother, his math and spatial skills are suspect.

Nose to the cedar chips, he starts to move them up and over the bone. It’s painful to watch, knowing he has such a tender nose. I approach him and put my hand on his shoulders. “Want some help, bud?” He stops the bulldozing and turns to look at me. “Uh, sure.”

I lift the bone from its shallow well and lay it beside me. He’s not too sure about that. “Don’t worry, Bud, I’m not going to take it or give it to Helen. Let’s make this a little deeper, eh?” I dig through the four-inch layer of cedar chips, down to solid dirt, making the hole deep enough and wide enough to accommodate his bone. I pick up the bone and let him smell it again, then drop it in the hole. “That’s better, right?” He steps forward to inspect my work, looks at me with an approving smile, then begins to shovel chips over the bone. I join in the effort and we cover the bone in just a few seconds. He lifts his head and assesses our work. Surveying the site, he sees an area to the right that isn’t quite up to spec. He steps over to the area and begins to sniff. He turns and looks at me, then back to what I now see is a thin spot in our coverage. I rearrange some chips, pile on a few more, then move aside so he can reassess. He approaches again and gives an approving snort. We’re finished here.

This was the best 10 minutes of my day. I love watching him think. I love watching him realize that I’m cooperating with him. The ease of our partnership is comfortable. It always fits, loose and forgiving. Although we won’t be going into the construction business any time soon, I think we’ve built a pretty amazing relationship. Nice work, Bud.



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