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Around the House: Into the Wild 

When we moved here five years ago, our dogs were delighted by all this wildness. Both were Lab mixes from the pound, and after spending their lives in fenced Church Hill back yards, they acted as if they'd been paroled. Max, the older dog who resembled a Doberman with kites for ears, rambled the woods in daytime and refused to return at night. We threw balls down the hill, and Max ran and tumbled after them.

We discovered that other creatures live here too, and die here. I went outside one morning to find the body of a raccoon frozen to the grass. I picked it up with a shovel and dropped it with a clunk into the trash. I realized then that this wasn't Church Hill, where a possum is surprising. I was in a different ecosystem.

One snowy day that winter my son, who was 4, pointed across the creek. On the other side of the hill a small herd of deer stepped silently through the trees. We watched, breathless, as they slipped into the mist and disappeared.

Spring came, and among the wildflowers we discovered a deer skull, with antlers and part of the spinal cord still attached. My son took it to his preschool's show-and-tell. His teacher just shook her head. We were delighted.

Meanwhile, Max searched among the brambles for interesting things. One day he found one. Long after dark, he slunk home and collapsed next to the couch. He smelled awful, like an abused cistern. As I scrubbed him down in the tub, I lectured him about staying out too late.

He didn't listen. The next day he raced outside as soon as I allowed him, then on his return did the same thing — slumping weakly, licking his chops, groaning. He reeked like a sewer. The following day: repeat. I began to worry that he'd developed some disease that only struck at night.

On the fourth day, all was revealed. He wandered into the house, looking dazed yet happy, then started up the stairs. A violent splooshing noise ensued. I raced to him, then reeled back again. He had vomited up what looked like half a deer carcass all over the stairs. Judging from the maggots, it had been dead for some time.

One mystery cleared up.

There are lots more, though. As I get older and watch children and trees grow and change, I am growing aware of the great rotations of the world — day, night; spring, summer, autumn, winter; life, aging, death — each rising into view and then disappearing in turn. Raccoons ravage my garbage at night. Grubs burrow, crawl to the surface, become beetles. Striped chipmunks flee across my lawn pursued by angry blue jays. All creatures want the things they want, live the lives they have and fade away to make way for others.

Max is gone now, passed on like that deer he once loved and lost. Cancer finally got him about a year ago. We buried him by the trees that range the hillside as we told stories of his exploits. He was a good dog, we said. We wept.

Another spring has come and another summer on its heels. My children play among those trees, like always. My older son is 8 now. His younger brother is 4. He throws the ball down the hill, the way Max loved, and it lands among the brambles and fallen leaves, and he runs and picks it up and throws it again. When autumn comes, the leaves will cover the earth, preparing for winter. HS

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