Question, regret replaced by lively joy


Life is filled with questions, sometimes with answers, sometimes with just a tinge of regret for what might have been.
Each misty morning of late, I have enjoyed watching our young English Shepherd female winding around in the wide open alfalfa field, her tail straight up, her joy obvious.
The enchanting Miss Channing has been a great dog, but there is always, always the memory of our late great Miss Murphy standing in her shadow. I miss her to this day.
We moved to this farm after her death, and each of us, in turn, have commented on how much Murphy would have loved it here. The pond would have drawn her like a magnet, the open fields and pastures would have captivated her for hours on end, and the breeding crop of groundhogs would have been thinned in no time flat.
Present. Murphy was not only part of our family, she was so present in our lives that she had become a part of each one of us. She had been my Mother’s Day gift when Caroline was just a baby, and Murphy knew instinctively that both Cort and Caroline were her sacred projects.
She herded them well, and she took great pride in doing so. I still remember how Murphy would sleep upstairs in the hallway, central to any one of us who might need her during the night. She did this every single night, except for the stretches of time when Doug was traveling on business.
On those nights, she refused to come upstairs, but would lie at the bottom of the open stairway, leaning against the bottom step, on guard.
Channing, on the other hand, is strictly an outdoor dog and she loves her job in our world. She will hunt with wild abandon until it is chore time, and then she is always on hand for barn duty.
She follows along without being a nuisance, watching every chore as though she might be called upon to complete it tomorrow. She understands that hay must be thrown down from the upper barn loft to the main floor below, and has devised her own shortcut in order to be on hand in both places in no time flat, always without getting in the way.
Taking it in. Her big brown eyes seem to be taking it all in, and her ears perk as if to say, “What can I do to help?”
She is present in more than just her presence. She is smart as a whip, and will recall the order of a chore after watching it completed just a time or two. When the chores are done and field hunting has lost its thrill, when all the chipmunks have been chased to high limbs in the trees near the house, Channing will turn to the barn cats for her entertainment.
Everyone who has ever had a friendly dog knows that part of the thrill is in the chase when it comes to cats. All of our barn cats have figured this out, too, and most of them just lie down when they see Channing coming toward them 90 miles per hour.
So, she has invented her own game, pouncing on the cats, trying to get them to wrestle and play, moving them about with her paws, then carefully sitting on top of them.
Her crazy maneuvering has prompted more than one visitor to our farm to say, “Oh, my gosh! I’ve never seen such a thing!”
That is the gift of living on a farm with an English Shepherd. There is nothing quite like it, and we count ourselves among the lucky ones.


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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.