Sweet Shade

by Roger Real Drouin

For Sandy Hound (2000 – 2015)

I remember the sweet shade.

Sandy hound scoops the bit of bark and tosses it, catching it in her paws as she did as a pup. Except now, the dirt’s on the blaze of her muzzle that’s showing more white than fawn. She gnaws the bark, cabbage palm worn smooth and the size of a small sea shell, then cradles it in her paws.

The breeze comes across. It’s warm, draped in humidity already, but it feels good. I put my pack down beside the cabbage palm and get out the Dukjug with the small glacier of ice clinking inside and Sandy hound’s bowl, and I rest my hat atop the pack. My eyes adjust to the shade.

I remember the sounds.

Out on the other side of the preserve’s half-rusted chain link, a trash truck makes its way along one of the residential streets. The banging and clanging grows more faint, though, and Sandy hound listens, with one ear straight up, to a much-closer, yet softer sound. She listens and stretches her front paws amid the fallen fronds and the finer-grained, gray soil.

The tiny warbler, perched just above, sings sweet and clear.

Swee Swee Swee Chiip. 

The cabbage palm looks half dead, but it’s just shedding. Its tattered shade isn’t like the heavy shade of the thick-branched gumbo limbo on the edge of the preserve, but here, amid the mostly-open rosemary scrub, it’s a respite. And we’re on the sweet side of its shade.

The warbler calls softly from her frond blade.

Sandy hound laps up some water from the bowl—a good amount more than she usually does. She’s laying like a pharaoh hound now, sniffing the breeze.

We watch the funny flight of the warbler, an American redstart. He’s hunting the tiny insects gathered in the shade.

I take a long sip of the coffee from the thermos. I may be delinquent on my taxes; I don’t know how I’ll finish grading essays by Friday. And what I have gotten accomplished has seemed rushed lately, including my writing.

But I got this right. El Vergel from a local roaster, brewed French press strong, dumped over ice.

Out to the east, the power line transformers of old Dixie highway are glinting in the sun—to the southwest it pours over the silkgrass and patches of staggerbush and wild rosemary, over this patch of sand scrub. But here we’re in our little castle of shade.

We’re good, girl.

Sandy hound grins.

We stay here, watching the warbler. The redstart’s songless now, and it’s quiet. He sure likes it here.

After a little time, Sandy begins to close her eyes. Well, they’re almost closed, before she starts back awake—watching the warbler for a second—shutters closing again, drifting closer to sleep, then eyes half open, closing again—breeze coming through, again. She drifts off, but I’ve got my last few sips of coffee.

The redstart—according to my birding book, Florida’s Birds, a slim guide that travels with us in the pack—is a migrant in Florida in the fall and spring. The warblers make a habit of fanning their tails, the males showing their bright orange patches, and they “actively hawk” for flying insects, catching their prey on the wing.

Nickname: “flamebird.”

Most of these warblers winter in Mexico, Central America, parts of South America, and the Caribbean. This guy, heading back home to deep northern woodlands, has found his early spring respite here at Leon Weekes Environmental Preserve, a slice of scrub and sand pine amid the burbs.

It was only early April, early in the morning still, but the sun was intense. I remember it hit us.

There are no clouds in the blue sky, except the low patches like fog on the horizon.

Sandy hound’s tongue is lolling just slightly, as she tip paw trots beside me. The sun’s strong on my neck and arms, shining bright on the white and fawn of her scruff. The breeze comes across, again, warmer, and tinged in humidity.

That’s alright though girl, I say. After all, we’re just two Florida hounds—well you are, and I’m becoming one. 

Sandy looks over, tail wagging now, before she resumes her tip paw trot.

I pull my hat low. We head onto the second trail loop, silkgrass and coontie lime green in the bright light, trekking past a scrub lizard, long-stripped and long-footed, bobbing his head at us.

Clink clink clink, the Dukjug with the smaller, remnant glacier of ice clinks in my pack.

We meander on.

Roger Real Drouin is a writer. His essays have appeared or are forthcoming in the journals Border Crossing, Whole Terrain: Journal of Reflective Environmental PracticeEntropy, and the Concho River Review. His short stories have appeared in the Potomac ReviewThe Doctor T.J. Eckleburg ReviewGrey Sparrow Journal, Pif Magazine, Pindelyboz, and elsewhere. He was named the 2018 John Ringling Towers literary arts grant fellow. He is also the founder and executive editor of Little Curlew Press. You can find him at rogerdrouin.com and rogersoutdoorblog.com.