Empty nest

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(HOST) Commentator Willem Lange has been temporarily abandoned and left in the company of a deeply depressed dog.

(LANGE) Animals are sensitive to stimuli undetectable by human beings. They’re also reputed to sense nuances of human emotion and often anticipate our intentions.

So you’d think that a sensitive dog would also be able to express its feelings with delicacy. But I’ve just spent a week with the most obviously unhappy little sheep dog imaginable; and with several days still to go before relief arrives, I’ve quit trying to brighten her up.

She knows when Mother’s about to leave when the suitcase comes out of the closet. To the flat ears and rolling eyes she adds hyper- ventilation. “Hey, knock it off!” I cry. “I’m not going anywhere.” A conspicuously ineffective assurance.

Trouble is, she has to go to work with me, and she hates sawdust in her fur, loud noises and falling objects. She lies in the truck all day. I rouse her at lunchtime, when she scavenges among the feet of the crew. But pick up a hammer or a screw gun – she’s out of there.

Mother’s away, baby-sitting granddaughters in Texas. I’m delighted she has the chance to be there, but it’s affected me as much as it has the dog. I forget names; I forgot my computer password; I put on my church shoes instead of my work shoes and didn’t realize it till too late. The dog and I are both wrecks.

Meanwhile, we’re getting daily reports from Texas: lots of cookie- baking and beanbag chair-making. Sounds like a marathon Girl Scout meeting down there. She also had a session with a Texas plumber who had a problem with a pushy Yankee woman who, not only couldn’t wait till next week, but knew what a P-trap was and suggested he bring one with him to save time.

It was those activities reports that got me thinking. There she was, blissfully back in Mother mode and being creative with her grand- daughters. And here I was, only enduring the responsibility of dog-sitting and letting the dog’s mood affect me. Time for some imagination.

So I asked the dog to bring the newspaper back up the hill for me and help put out the corn for the deer and the ducks. Her eagerness was almost pathetic. I did my Quasimodo routine, chasing her in delighted circles around the lawn. I let her do her favorite thing: carry the deposit envelope into the bank and jump up onto the chair to give it to the teller. She knows there’s a treat for her inside the purse. (We had to train the tellers, too.)

Later we sat together by the glass doors in Mother’s office. As the last light left the woods, the deer appeared as if from nowhere. We watch- ed them for a while. “What do you say?” I asked her. “Can you stand the old man’s cooking one more time?”

This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire, and I gotta get back to work.

Willem Lange is a contractor, writer and storyteller who lives in Etna, New Hampshire. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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