Hack­les

They were brought to this farm to pro­tect the cat­tle and the hu­mans, to do a job

The Walrus - - FEATURES - By Jay Hosk­ing il­lus­tra­tions by lisa vanin

My me­mories of that sum­mer re­volve around Jamie Crow­ell’s dogs, Mort and Julie. Mort was some sort of mas­tiff-rot­tweiler cross, enor­mous black head, jowls and slob­ber and sag­ging skin, each paw big­ger than my two skinny fists bunched to­gether. Julie was a Ger­man shep­herd, low-hang­ing hips and pricked ears and eyes that watched you with that true an­i­mal in­dif­fer­ence, as min­i­mally re­moved from a wolf as a dog can be. Dogs al­ways seemed to me like some hu­man-an­i­mal hy­brid, not a syn­the­sis but a chimera, ca­pa­ble of be­ing both deeply hu­manly ex­pres­sive in their af­fec­tion and then driven to­ward im­per­sonal, ab­so­lute vi­o­lence. In that re­spect, Mort and Julie were archetypes.

I moved to En­niskillen when I was fif­teen years old. It was a ham­let with a lit­tle clus­ter of ag­ing houses sur­rounded by farm­land, mostly corn and ap­ples, but a few richer men kept cat­tle or horses out of some ves­ti­gial pride for their an­ces­try. There was no profit in the an­i­mals, in keep­ing a cow out in the grass when fac­tory con­di­tions were the stan­dard, when an­i­mals could be penned and sur­gi­cally at­tached to ma­chines and given the barest min­i­mum. But Jamie Crow­ell’s fa­ther was a proud English­man who had done well since he im­mi­grated to North Amer­ica and so he kept a swath of his prop­erty ded­i­cated to the live­stock.

In those first weeks af­ter we moved, an early dewy spring­time, a few ex­tra months off school to bribe me, I would ra­di­ate out from the sub­di­vi­sion and into those farm­lands. There ru­ral life re­vealed it­self to me in­cre­men­tally, lyri­cally, the clam­our of frogs in the still-wa­ter ditches next to the road, the dry fuzzy nos­trils of a horse that would push through the long grass and launch its head over the wire fence, in­sects of ev­ery shape and size flit­ting through the air or dan­gling off the branches of an old wil­low tree. Forcibly, my fa­ther had re­placed the cold con­crete reg­u­lar­ity of the city with, what seemed to me, an an­ar­chic wilder­ness. I had wanted no part of these prim­i­tive hu­man con­di­tions but then, upon be­ing sur­rounded by it, my ears sat­u­rated by buzzing and croak­ing and chirp­ing, my eyes blinded by golden light fil­tered through so much green, I felt like a bi­ol­o­gist ex­plor­ing an alien land­scape.

And noth­ing was so for­eign, so fas­ci­nat­ing, as Mort and Julie. They wan­dered a cor­ner plot of cat­tle at the junc­tion of two un­used coun­try roads, and they slavered for my blood when­ever I passed on foot. Mort’s eye­lids drooped so se­verely that I imag­ined the two dogs as a com­pos­ite, he the teeth and Julie the eyes, an ef­fi­cient mech­a­nism of death should I be fool­ish enough to cross the prop­erty line. They stood in the open drive­way, ten feet from me, and bayed for my blood, Julie’s bark sharp and high like I’d heard in a doc­u­men­tary about hye­nas, Mort’s deeper than my fa­ther’s voice at his an­gri­est. I kept my eyes on their glis­ten­ing white teeth and stepped back­ward and fell into the ditch.

What amazed me, what kept bring­ing me back to see them, was their self-re­straint. They never put one paw onto

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