Two-part, Curdled Harmony
Last night I was checking my email before bedtime, hunched over the keyboard, oblivious to anything but the letters and images captured on the 15-inch screen in front of my nose. In the distance, but not consciously, I heard the wail of sirens. I thought automatically, "I hope it's not serious ... " and kept on clicking the keys.
From the floor beside me came a quiet little "Oooo-oooo" and Bob Dog began to pull himself up off the carpet where he had been doing his best impression of a throw rug. He moved closer to the window, sat on his haunches and assumed the coyote/wolf position, nose in the air, mouth pursed for a full-on howl.
Did I angrily shush him and keep pounding the keyboard? I most certainly did not. I did what seems to me the far more rational thing: I turned, put my hands on my knees, found my pitch and started "Oooo-oooo-ing" right along. Bob looked over at me, gave a brief, doggy nod -- we've done this enough times that it's become a routine now -- situated himself even more solidly and wailed. I started out on the same pitch, then moved a couple of tones higher. We howled until we ran out of breath, broke off with a lift on the last tone, filled our lungs and went again.
The first sirens were joined by others (I have to check the paper this morning and see what calamity befell us in the night) and soon I could hear other dogs in the distance, singing their ancient, eerie harmony. We wailed and wailed until the siren sound began to taper off. Bob finally stood, sighed, shook his tags and came over to bump my leg with his nose, which is Bob for "Good job. I'll make a coyote of you yet ..."
I developed this habit of singing with Bob a few years back when we lived out in the country and the wailing actually was coyotes. We would hear them starting to yip out in the orchard, the yips would become more and more fevered and would turn into howling, then suddenly, everything went silent. I was amazed by the coordination -- I've sung in ensembles all my life, and to get that many voices to stop at precisely the same moment takes some pretty intense work on the director's part. But they all just ... stop. On some psychic cue -- or maybe just when they catch the rabbit -- it's over.
And last night, with Bob, it was over. He stopped, shook and bumped and was ready to go back to the throw-rug thing. I tried to milk it a little. I could still hear the sirens in the distance. I matched my pitch to them and howled a little. Bob looked at me with exactly the same look I used to give my kids when they had missed a social cue. "That's enough," the look said. "Knock off."
Although Bob is small and cute, he is also all dog, all the time. I don't kid myself about this. I have never subscribed to the Master/Slave relationship with my animal companions. I try half-heartedly to teach them tricks, but they never buy it. They know I'm the boss, enough for all our safety and for sufficient social control to keep my home fit for human habitation ("Do NOT bring that stinky thing in this house," and so forth), but mostly, I just appreciate the company.
After the ruckus died down last night, I noticed that a bird was singing just outside my window. A train whistled in the distance. The breeze coming in the window was caressing and clear. It felt like the high notes Bob and I had just sung.
I had come to my senses, thanks to Bob, ancient instinct and some curdled, two-part harmony.