It's three in the morning in the Springs, on the night of March 20, when the moon's at the perigee of its orbit, as close to the earth as it gets. Ned -- who is now nearly eleven months old -- woke me up a little while ago with a paw on my shoulder. I got out of bed and walked to the door to let him out in the garden, and a clutch of perceptions happened all at once. First, the moonlight was wonderfully bright, a foggish glow like theatrical lighting. Second, something was happening just outside the gate, where I'd piled a big stack of euonymous branches from a tall spindly shrub I'd just put out of its misery. Deer think this plant is beyond delicious, something I'd understood better when i cut the branches that had been stripped to the heighta doe could reach. I kept noticing a sweet, lightly spicy scent, like a much watered-down odor of carnations.
Just as I registered that a deer I could hear but not see was just a few feet away, grazing on the leaves, Ned did too, and the deer noticed us; it must have leapt and turned -- I heard the strike of hooves on gravel once and then the faintest sound of hurry, gone almost before it was there. Ned has been in the vicinity of any number of deer and never really paid attention. Until recently he's been absorbed in his puppyish ways, playing with a stick or chasing a leaf while a doe ambled twenty feet away on the path. Not long ago we slowed down in the car, and together watched a mule-ish looking younger one walk across the asphalt. Ned observed but did not comment.
But that changed tonight; he went flying at the gate, barking, and I told him he'd have to stay in -- he has ways of besting the fence, when he really wants to -- and he went wandering off into the garden.
A week ago I bought a bronze bell which is probably about the size of my own heart at the Rubin Museum of Himalayan Art in Chelsea. Well, probably not bronze, but some cheaper amalgam of metals cooked up in Tibet, where it was cast or hammered into its pleasingly rough shape. It has a wooden tongue, and makes a startlingly clear tone when it's struck. Wake up, it seems to say, every time it's rung just once. I'd planned to hang it on the doorknob so Ned could use it to tell me when he needs to go out; Arden had a string of bells from Pier One, back in the day, and he'd jingle them with his nose when necessary.
When I brought the bell back to the apartment, Ned was clearly enchanted. He heard that tone, raised his head and drew up his spine in that way dogs have of physically demonstrating their complete attention. Then he came bounding to the bell: he wanted it. So I wasn't sure my plan would work. it would work. But the afternoon I went to hang the bell on the door, Ned was already outside. a dozen feet away. I rang the bell accidentally, as I was trying to figure out how to suspend it, and Ned turned and came trotting in.
So now the bell, instead of meaning go out, signals that it's time to come in, and to my astonishment it has worked every single time. He can be off in the far reaches of the garden, but when that cool metallic chime vibrates through the air (and it has a way of cutting through all other sound, of which there's not much out here anyway) he's right there at the door.
I didn't think this could possibly work with a doe in the driveway and serious moonlight drenching the garden, and the spring peepers going like engines across the road. But sure enough, after a few minutes, I rang the bell once and Ned came trotting into the house.
I wanted to write this tonight, just as it's happened, because I was struck by this sudden moment so full of things taking place,
all at once, and how the the moonlight and the deer and the dog trotting happily into the house all seemed to fuse with the sound of that bell. But look, it's taken me eight paragraphs to clumsily narrate something so effortless and brief It wants to be a poem, maybe, the moonlight ringing through the garden and the happy dog attending. Or it already was.