Late one icy winter night as I was sitting by the stove reading, I heard a sound at the door. I got up, turned on the porch light, and saw a large black dog sitting on my doormat. It was no night for a dog to be out, so I let him in. He was soaking wet, limping. At a word, he sat down by the stove, obviously a well-trained dog. He had a dog tag from a nearby town but no name tag, so I would have to wait until morning to find his owner. I dried him with my biggest bath towel and pulled off several clusters of burs tangled in his thick, long fur. I put him to bed in the garage on an old rug with some of Josephine's dog food and a bowl of water.
The next morning, I let him into the house. He was a changed dog, all smiles, tail wagging, a real charmer, no limp. He was tall, the kind of dog you don't have to reach down to pat. He had a white nose, white chest, brown spots over soulful brown eyes: a presence.
With the help of our town clerk, I located his owners, Amy and Peter. In no time, Pete was at my door, relieved to find his dog. The reunion of dog and master was deeply felt. Pete is well over six feet tall. By way of a special greeting, the dog stood up on his hind legs, with his paws touching Peter's shoulders. Almost face to face, the two stood silently for several moments, looking into each other's eyes. They clearly understood each other.
Pete told me that the dog's name is Drift. He looks after Pete's sheep, but when his sheep work is done for the day, Drift gets bored and sometimes manages to break loose and disappear. At a word from Pete, Drift jumped into the back of Pete's truck, and off they went. Not the end of this story.
One summer day, I was in the kitchen, with the doors wide open. All at once, without a sound, there was Drift, tail wagging, big happy smile, pink tongue hanging out, eyes shining. My dog Josey came in, pleased. Drift slurped up Josey's water, and I gave them both a dog biscuit, an impromptu dog party. They ran out and romped around in the garden like three-year-olds at a birthday party.
"This won't do, I must take him home," I thought, so I opened the back of the station wagon, called the dogs - who immediately jumped in - and off we went. As I looked at the two dogs in the rearview mirror, they were a sight that sticks in my mind, a cherished memory, probably my only worthwhile rearview-mirror memory. The two dogs were sitting up straight, still, and proper, like two of my church people taken out for a ride, happy, enjoying.
We drove across the bridge over the Mettawee, down the road to the highway, down the highway to Pete and Amy's bridge, back across the Mettawee, and up their hill, past the sheep to their house, a total of two miles. Neither dog moved a muscle the whole way. I left Drift in the front hall as both owners were at work.
I never knew when Drift would come back again, but it was always a great surprise and a delight. One day as I was sitting at the computer, all of a sudden, without a sound, there he was, right at my shoulder, big smile and all. Another time, he scared the daylights out of a friend who was staying at my house while I was away. She was sleeping on the living-room sofa, and suddenly there was this big black dog.... Whenever he came, it was dog biscuits all around, water slurped, game of tag in the garden, and that very proper ride home. Our friendship lasted for years, outlived Josephine, and continued with Al, my corgi, a funny combination.
Never was a dog more aptly named than Drift. With his long legs and strength, he could cover ground with incredible speed. He could make it to my house in less than five minutes. He also had a long-distance gait. I saw him trotting along the edge of a road one day. There was something about the way he put down his paws, the flow of his gait - like a wolf's - such primitive competence, effortless, designed to cover several counties. He was on his way with some definite goal in mind. I didn't stop him.
I am aware that he was a con man par excellence. But I am sure I was not his only friend, so I do not feel guilty about encouraging his roaming by giving him a dog biscuit once in a while.
Drift lives on in my memory. When I go down that road, I can still see Drift on his way, a free spirit.
Sometimes, like now, when I am typing, his big head is right at my left shoulder, his tongue hanging out, eyes shining. "How about a dog biscuit?"