Where do I start today? Have I told you about Phoebe yet? I don’t think I have.
When I wrote to you back in June I mentioned at the end of my letter that I have come to appreciate the family life I have found myself within, and its many quirks and all of our differences. I grew up with cats around, so I was always a cat person.
During my sharehouse life, I shared with two consecutive Staffies… first Brutus and then Effie. They were the most loveable puppers and so very similar. Completely misunderstood by people in general as I have come to learn many Dogs are by humans. Even as a child I was afraid of Dogs. That fear is long gone now thankfully.
So it would have been around April or May, right about the same time that we found ourselves moving back into the house with the parents that the parents found, somehow, Phoebe. Phoebe is a young, gorgeous, energetic and charismatic Dingo x Kelpie x Ridgeback … we think. There are traits of all of those breeds present in her, but the most apparent in both her look and mannerisms is that of the dingo. When we first took one look at her, we thought “Dingo!”
She appeared in our lives like a shooting star in the night. We did not know exactly where she had come from or the full story, and when we met her she was on her way to live somewhere else. Everyone under our roof had fallen in love with her in that short time though, so it was almost no surprise when we arrived to find her there once again shortly after.
Something had fallen through with her new living arrangement and it looked like she was back with us for good. Despite being the folk’s Dog, living in close quarters with us has brought a unique kind of sentient conduit between our slightly separate lives. We live in the house a little like an awkward pair of couples that have completely opposing diets, interests, values…
We come together over a couple of things. Jigsaw puzzles and Phoebe. Oh, and chips on Sunday. When I first arrived in the picture, I had anticipated that some kind of merging of our lives would be possible… and who knows, maybe it still is. At first, I didn’t believe it wasn’t, so I began to offer some of our soup and salads. No matter how good I made it sound or how similar it was to the version of the exact same meal they might make, the answer was always a polite and consistent ‘No thanks.’
This has led me to understand that the generational change we naturally do, and arguably must undergo as a species and society is… going to be gradual. Yet at the same time, “top-down forces” are at work upheaving the very fabric of our society. So, we will see. Maybe change happens when there is no other alternative. But, back to Phoebe.
As I mentioned, she is like a pollinator of love within the household. A big dog-sized bee spreading cuteness and sloppy kisses. She is the only one in the house who will go wherever she pleases and go right up to anyone and show affection. For the rest of us, there’s the awkward hug now and then, and admittedly that took a while with regards to me; I think for my co-pilot and his Mum it’s a little different, but the dynamic for me and both of the folks is more of the adopted child.
There was a warm fuzzy day they (the folks) acknowledged me in that way. It has been two years now since I last left my home where we spent the winter and I got my fair share of Mum-hugs. I finally let it catch up with me on a video call with her the other day. I had been holding onto the idea of getting home by the end of the year but the reality of whether or not this was going to be possible for a while started to sink in. As I wiped away the tears that fell I defended my emotional position to her saying “I am allowed to miss my Mum” and with that probably healed years of being the “oversensitive” child. My sensitivity is something I am learning to value and stand up for.
Anyway, back to Phoebe again. It occurred to me the other day just how much this four-legged, two-eared tail-wagging tongue-out creature has come to mean to me, and all of us. She brings so much joy to the in-between moments of what has been a slower pace of life for all of us. Slow living is not underappreciated in the region where we live either. I’m going to write an ode to this town one of these days because I have really learned so much from observing the people that live here and how many of them live with an appreciation for the Earth.
We came to learn just how much this love for Phoebe had grown for all of us in the few months that we have all shared this family life together this morning. Being a young and energetic pup, big and strong but young, she has a lot of energy so walks have been a challenge. She is still developing her road sense, but her nose and enthusiasm lead her to pull anyone along with her who holds the lead and she has the muscles to take you for a ride!
The idea of a dog on a lead is still one that I’m grappling with at all, but in a paradigm of footpaths, roads and domestication we are a little way off life without them. Phoebe is grappling with it too. With the four of us having limited muscular capacity at the moment, Phoebe is the one with the strength to be taking anyone for a walk. So that’s how it goes mostly. We are rebuilding muscle through it too, in the same way a resistance band works. We’ve found some places where we can take her off the lead.
There is one off-leash dog park, a couple of ovals and plenty of bush. Yesterday we took her on a big day out to a new bit of bush that our friend and his dog are well acquainted with. Time in the bush with another dog was just what Phoebe needed and the day disappeared all too quickly as we ascended a gradual incline. A landscape that once saw the “Gold Rush” decimate what was previously untouched “Australian bush” or “country,” as you might prefer to call it.
As we traversed the gravel and clay, all sorts of native ground covers from the grassy to the prickly could be seen as well as the wild variety of wattle and plenty of Eucalypts, many with lots of stories to tell. A couple of places known to our friends became rest stops and as we reached the peak of the incline the sun was not far off sunset. I saw two butterflies at this point, after not seeing any throughout the entire walk on the way up. There was something magical about arriving at the peak. We sat on a rocky ridge and listened to my nearly complete mixes of Fire and then Sun as the Sun was setting.
As we started to lose light we made our way through the bush and as happens at that time of day which you may know if you spend a bit of time in the bush, the light begins to change and a sense of urgency can creep in. The moon had already started rising before we lost the daylight so it would have been no problem if we didn’t make it back by nightfall so there was really no need to be traversing the bush at the pace we did. Yet something sort of came over us in the gradual loss of the light and at that lowest light before nightfall. It’s when things can start to get a little sketchy as your usual field of vision diminishes and the colour and definition of everything becomes less vivid.
“Wheres Phoebe” I asked casually as we raced through the trees and scrub. I answered my own question, gathering she was up ahead with Chloe (her canine pal. But as we stopped by the watering hole not too far from the chorus of frogs that had begun in the moonlight, Chloe returned without Phoebe.
We began calling. “Phoebe!” and whistling. As we stopped and listened, no one could be heard coming through the bush. It began to become clear that we had lost sight of her. We made the decision to walk up in the direction the dogs were last seen heading. It was dark by now. The torchlight made a long line beam through the dark bushy night. Not in any direction could a pair of glowing eyes be seen though.
“Phoebe! PHOEBE!” the calls and whistles were getting louder and more consistent as we navigated our way through the landscape intending to give her something audible to latch on to, hoping that between that and our scent she would be reunited with us in no time. As we moved further up in the direction the dogs had last been seen and away from the path we had been on it was clear that we could not see her or any evidence of her there.
Rationalising that she may be more likely to be trying to find us by backtracking the path we were on, we headed back down to the main path we had taken all day and out towards the side of town we had entered the bushland on. A new theory had emerged that she may have gotten the scent of a roo and followed them down to the first house on the edge of the bush where an evening offering is left nightly for the roo clan. This neighbour informed us that the usual roo clan was a little thin tonight with only one old roo turning up. But, there was no Phoebe.
We took a moment to make an online community post and call the folks up to let them know what was happening. We decided to make our way back to the first rest stop we had all taken together where the two dogs had spent a fair bit of time playing and sniffing around and doing what dogs do in the bush.
From here we chose to stay and even light a little fire which had the benefit of both warmth and sending out smoke that we thought she just might pick up on. If she was still in the bush. We split with one of us on foot, with a torch doing a roving search. I sat by the fire whistling and calling and at one point a dog could be heard barking close to the houses. I replied to the barking, yelling “Phoebe is that you?”
Phoebe is someone who barks a lot at home. She will bark if a dog goes past, if something happens across the road, or if someone gets home. Sometimes even when nothing visible happens at all. From all her barking, I thought I knew her bark and this particular bark was the closest to her bark that I had heard. Around nightfall, quite a few dogs from town had started barking. I thought this one sounded a little louder and even could have been moving. Then it no longer sounded apparent.
After quite a while we decided to end our on-foot searches in the bush and put out the fire so that we could return to the car and begin some on-road searches. There had been a bark on the way back to the car but it belonged to a dog that was in one of the neighbouring yards. By now it had been a few hours since we lost each other. There were only a number of roads surrounding the area because most of it was bush. Still, we formulated a plan to check the roads surrounding the bush and began driving with the hope that Phoebe would suddenly appear in the headlights. We were aware of the probability of this happening being slim. After depleting our water and having had no food since we had set out earlier in the day, our fruitless on-foot efforts had been disheartening and driving around in search of her felt like the best thing we could still do.
As we turned up a street we spotted a couple of people with a dog and with zero hesitation pulled over to see if it was Phoebe. Of course, they might have wondered why we were doing that but barely a thought was given in the moment as the hope of it being Phoebe overcame us. We described her and they suggested the Dingo park up the road. We hadn’t even thought of it. As we travelled up the gravel road in the hatchback at night almost all thoughts of the night of the gravel road accident had gone and were replaced with a strong pull to find Phoebe.
As we approached the Dingo park which was not open it seemed unlikely that she was anywhere to be seen. We had convinced ourselves that she must be there and imagined her up against the fence chatting to her fellow kind. But the reality when we arrived did not look like this and it was unclear where any animal was with the park undergoing renovations. Plus the park was further than we thought. Surely she hadn’t gone this far?
As we drove up we called home to report that we still had not found her and to our surprise found that now, now we were not only looking for a missing Phoebe, but a man as well! Upon hearing about Phoebe, her owner (the one who decided “she’s staying with us and she’s my dog”) had left on foot in search of her three hours ago. He didn’t know where we had lost her, only the general neighbourhood so we headed out to the main street now searching with our eyes for both a young dingo and an elderly gentleman on foot. It was a full moon and tensions were high. It was almost unbelievable the way that things had taken a turn.
We were relieved to get a call not too long after searching the general neighbourhood to find out that he had returned safely. He had made it as far as the oval and back. Longer than he had walked in a long time. He had hurt his leg, apparently, but was doing okay.
We drove a little further down the only other road in the area before heading back and deciding to take the other road which was over near the prison. There was a whole block of bush that was not accessible due to its proximity to the prison so we drove along the edge and down the road that passes the prison and over the surrounding parts of town. A family of roos and plenty of bunnies could be seen hopping all over the place as we made our way down another dirt cul-de-sac.
The night was getting on and we were growing tired and weary. I had let some emotions bubble up and found myself half-crying about her which was the moment I realised just how much this dog had come to mean to me in such a short time. Then, on the advice of my Mum who I had texted about the situation asking for prayers, singing to her. We drove back up to one of the main gravel intersections of the whole bushland area, and I walked up into the bush singing into the land and imagining her appearing.
After feeling like we had tried everything and giving in to our human needs, we decided to call it a night and head back out first thing in the morning. That would give us several hours of sleep and the visibility at dawn would be much better. Before crawling into bed I managed to piece together some semblance of a toasted sandwich made of mustard greens from a friends yard, tomatoes, onion and carrot dip. As I put the vegetables back in the outdoor fridge, there was a distinct absence. Every time we open the back door in the middle of the night, without fail, Phoebe appears and her bark can be heard. Tonight it was silent and her absence could be felt.
The next morning we were up with zero hesitation arising from slumber, and after a black tea and a green tea, we were back at it. Before we had been back in the bush for too long we got a call from our friend who was still at home near where we had parked the day before. He had awoken to the sound of a howl and after leaving dog food out the front, came out to see a dog scampering away and leaping over the back fence in the direction of where we first set out on the adventure.
We followed the lead, driving back over to the area we had parked the day before and headed up the back of the fence line. We climbed up onto some rocky mounds which we had done with Phoebe when we first set out a day earlier. This gave us a good overview of the land. We couldn’t see her from up there, so we made our way down and then decided to backtrack the initial part of our journey with the hope that this would lead to her. As we headed down through the scrub and towards the train line I was surprised to see a reunion was happening as I looked over.
“Phoebe” I heard my co-pilot say with a mixture of emotion, disbelief, relief, an invitation to return home to us and an acknowledgement that she had made it back to us and it was all going to be okay.
There she was approaching him all sodden and without a bark. It had been raining and she may not have found much if any shelter all night. As we reunited she began crying and all of the same emotions I imagine any parent feels came flooding in. He pulled out a bowl and put some water in it for her which she lapped up, but her crying and the intensity of her eyes was now the main event. The trauma was evident, and we know trauma. She was slow on her feet too, having worn through her paws on the hard gravel and clay surface.
Had she been a Dingo like her ancestors, and the land been undisturbed like it had been before the Gold-Rush, it might have been a different story. But domestication and colonisation have resulted in where we are today. A part dingo follows its instincts but finds itself in a harsh land that is still only just recovering from the destruction and without the evolutionary advantages it might have had, had domesticated breeds never been bred with a wild dog.
This story feels like it’s one that I can relate to as a human. It feels as though there’s a wild nature that has been bred out of us. We’ve been conditioned to fit within confined spaces just as we expect a creature of wild origins to conform to attaching itself to a lead, and in turn to us. What I realised is that as long as we hold the lead we are tethered as much as the animal is.
I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, I love each and every sentient being, domesticated or not. I question the domestication, though, and the continuation of that domestication on a planet that is domesticating its way toward ecocide.
I do feel there is a way back to the wilderness for all of us if we only answer the call of the wild. We might have to lead each other there together. Phoebe led us into the wild of the night. I feel that I became just a little more at home in the wilderness at night with this experience, even though I’ve had many a night in the wild. The contrast between life in lockdown and the reality of the bush throughout the day and night is part of the wisdom that can be carried from this. Dadirri means deep listening in the original language of the original culture here, and there is so much to be heard from the land if you only answer the initial call. The one that is calling you to her, calling you home.
I think Phoebe was answering the call. She has always had a deep expression in her eyes. Like there is so much she has to say. We both want to be able to know exactly her story and what she went through, but until we get better at that connection we will make do with piecing together information, empathy and guessing what it must have been like.
Already since her return to the house, we have noticed the huge difference in what she is able to do now compared to before her ordeal. Previously she would have been running around, jumping up on us and barking. Now, she’s slow on her feet and can’t move as fast. Just like the rest of us. She got her bark back once during the day. But she hasn’t been too vocal at all since then. Earlier tonight we found ourselves all in the lounge room which is a rare occasion but her wellbeing seems to have brought us all together.
One thing is clear. Phoebe is very loved. It breaks my heart still that we couldn’t find her the night before and that she spent the night that way. Somehow, though, I know her experience will make her stronger and wiser like our experiences have done for us. Through this experience I learned a lot about love, and through her I know I will continue to learn a lot about love still. I don’t think Pet is ever the right word for companion animals. They become family. We share our lives together and just by being there day after day, we get to know and fall in love with things about each other that we don’t always realise until suddenly they are gone and you have the experience of contrast.
So every day is a reminder to live with gratitude for the love that surrounds you, and in times when you only have a few connections in your life the gratitude for that love shall become all the greater.
That is the story of Phoebe, I’m sure there will be plenty to come but for now this one sure is a story and a longer one than I thought I’d write to you.
Until next time,
S.E. (Solarpunk Edgedweller)
Support our work
If you’re in a position to support my work financially you can do so using Buy Me a Coffee by clicking the button below:
Alternatively, you can contribute any amount to my Paypal:
Another way you can support my work is by donating HOT (Holo) tokens to the below address: