It has been a hot summer, and in recent weeks the normal routine of life has been disrupted in my home.
I suppose I should explain what constitutes a “normal” routine in my house. I take the beagles afield every morning in the summer, getting to my favorite spot at about 5:00, and let them begin chasing rabbits before dawn. I listen to hound music for a few hours, with the dogs and I ending the chase at 8:30 and arriving home by 9:00 or so.
These hunting dogs then transform into sedate pets, spending the rest of the day napping, sprawling themselves onto the cool linoleum floor of the kitchen, and periodically smelling the breath of any dog that yawns to confirm that the pack mate did not manage to procure a snack.
For the past few weeks, however, the overnight low temperatures have been closer to what a daytime high ought to read. This can be dangerous for the dogs, as overheating is a definite possibility—they are oblivious to the danger while they are chasing. So I gave the dogs a break and we do not go afield in the morning, although I still wake up early and work from my home office.
The beasts figured that if I would not assist them, then perhaps they should enlist the aid of my wife, Renee. Now if I owned a Labrador or a setter then I am sure the obedient canine would do something proper, like carry a tracking collar into the bedroom, sit by the side of the bed, and softly whimper until my wife awoke. Undoubtedly, the dog would be named Winslow or Clive.
Since I own beagles, they all burst onto the bed and start rolling all over my wife, barking all the while and pulling her long hair as they do barrel rolls across her. This is at 4:30 in the morning, several hours before my wife would typically arise.
Renee has a normal routine, too, and it all happens after I would typically leave for the woods. She has to be at work by 9:00, so she sets the alarm for 6:30 and slaps the snooze button every nine minutes until it is 8:00. Then she initiates a frantic rush of showering, hygiene, hair care, and makeup. She leaves by 8:45 and arrives at work somewhere between 9:01 and 9:05 every day.
The alarm clock is actually set to a faster time than it should read, but she is aware of it and is able to go through computations in her sleep. She realizes that she has more time that the clock really says, and this somehow gives her comfort.
When the dogs break into the bedroom during this heat wave, I am in trouble. After the chaos of getting the dogs out of the bedroom, she then falls back asleep—just in time for the first alarm to buzz.
The mutts are as conditioned as anything that Pavlov could have done, and every morning they go through the failed attempt to get to the woods in the hot and humid weather. I make a point to close the bedroom door, but they still, somehow, get into the room.
One bored beagle is more mischief than having both Dennis the Menace and Bart Simpson in your house. But I have a small pack of the scoundrels, so I become, in effect, a warden.
No doubt, if I had a bird dog I would have a manicured lawn that would be the envy of all the world. Instead, I have the inside perimeter of my fence dotted with ready-mix cement. I call my yard “The Yard.” I mean, it basically is a prison yard.
Staying home in the mornings gives the dogs angst—angst that is fueled by well-conditioned bodies that need a way to expend this energy. They try to tunnel under the fence and pursue the town rabbits that they can smell in the adjacent hedgerows. Invariably, they begin this prison break without me being aware. Then a dog comes in the house and rubs a dirt-covered muzzle on me, and I have to run outside to halt the jailbreak.
By now I have filled so many holes that it is almost a moat of concrete that borders the fence, covered by a thin layer of soil and grass. Most of the time the tunneling attempts merely result in keeping their nails tidy as they fail to get through the cement.
Now they look out the window into the front yard, where the squirrels split their time between chasing each other up the maple and dodging traffic. The rodents have learned not to enter the fenced backyard. Some evenings I will be reading or writing and an outburst of pure chaos will erupt as the hounds bay at the tree rats. They normally do this when my wife is in an important meeting with her work colleagues via computer. She typically has these virtual meetings two evenings per week.
Once I was in the same room with her when her computer monitor had four individuals in simulcast, arranged like half the Brady Bunch on the screen. The sheer volume of the dogs caused several of her coworkers to jump in their seats as the pack noise traveled the cyber chute and entered their respective offices.
“Can you get them out of here?” my wife yelled after muting her teleconference. “I don’t want people to think we are the next-door neighbors in that Christmas Story movie! The ones that stole the turkey.”
“Don’t be ridiculous!” I said. “The Bumpus’s had coon dogs. We have beagles.”
Anyway, the weather is about to cool, and that is good news. The dogs need to run a few cottontails before the season opens, and I am tired of working from the basement with my laptop. The dogs and I have to live there whenever my wife is on a computer meeting, since there are no cellar windows that permit the pack to see the squirrels.