Susanna J. Sturgis   Martha's Vineyard writer and editor
writer editor born-again horse girl

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Where Travvy Led Me

April 19, 2009

My writers' group meets Sunday night at 7 and by the time we got to the barn it was quarter to 5, so I didn't really have enough time for a ride. But the weather was fine, and Trav's been pretty good lately, so after I finished doing Allie's stall, picking the pasture, and filling the water trough (aka "old bathtub"), I saddled Allie, snapped her lead rope to Travvy's collar, and got us all through the gate without letting Zahara come too. So far, so good.

So far continued so good down the Stoney Hill Road as far as the turnoff that leads to the Old Holmes Hole Road (dirt, rocky and rough, and most of it long since closed to motor vehicles). I dismounted and unsnapped Travvy's lead. On we went. Still so far, so good. I went through the "dog park" (not really a park, just a designated network of trails named after the late John Rogers) in order to bypass the deer carcass Travvy found the last time we went this way. We met a dogless man walking in the park; we meet-and-greeted and on we went, turning right up the dirt road that leads, eventually, to George Fisher's field.

Here "so good" came to an end. Instead of following Allie and me up the rocky road, Travvy took off through the woods, heading toward the last house on the part of the Old Holmes Hole Road that is open to traffic. Uh-oh, thought I. What if there were dogs at that house or, worse, free-ranging chickens? Allie and I about-faced and cantered up the bluestone in pursuit of dog.

There were no chickens in sight, but Trav was excited and in pursuit of something. The lawn, such as it was, offered plenty of potential pickings -- junk all over, and even an old freezer filled to the brim with trash. Trav went up on the deck, which was fenced all around except at the top of the stairs. Excellent, I thought; you're trapped, Travvy. I'm coming to get you.

Trav noticed an instant before I did that the front door was open. He was already in the house. Following him up several stairs and across the deck was out of the question with Allie in tow, so I unbuckled Allie's reins and rebuckled them around a fence post. This is a stupid thing to do, and I didn't dress her stirrups -- run them up the leathers so they don't dangle -- which is even stupider, but time was of the essence and my horse (who turned 13 yesterday) is more mature and better trained than my dog.

So far there was no sign of life in the house, despite the minivan parked out front, so I stuck my head in the door and hallooed: "Anybody home?" After a moment a young boy, maybe second- or third-grade age, appeared. He hadn't seen a dog come in but we found Travvy pretty quick rooting through the laundry in the corner of a dark first-floor bedroom. I grabbed his collar and snapped the lead on, apologizing for the intrusion.

The bedroom was barely furnished: a mattress and box spring in the center of the floor, a TV near one wall, lots of laundry and clutter scattered around the floor. The living room wasn't furnished either; most of the floor space was bare, but more clutter -- mostly dirty clothes -- circled the edges and was heaped on the raised hearth at one end of the room. The kitchen was off to one side. The spacious counters looked bare. I didn't see the floor.

Allie hadn't broken her reins and gone tearing into the woods with stirrups banging -- like I said, she's better trained than the dog. She was standing patiently, waiting, but she had pooped where she stood. I had no tools or free hands to remove it. Ordinarily I might have considered it a gift for the garden, but there was no garden in sight here, nor likely to be one behind the house. The house itself was not unlike the other ones further up the road, but both the yard and the interior spoke of a long slide toward depression. When the resident housekeeper (usually the mom or the dad's girlfriend) departs, whether for a break or for good, cleanliness and order often take a dive, but this was worse: where was the furniture? A living room with no chairs, a bedroom with no chest of drawers? That pile of manure near the front steps looked like the last strike before the board of health or social services shows up.

I was furious with Travvy half the way home. He knew I was pissed: he trotted along angelically at Allie's side, leashed, of course. When I stopped being mad at him, I had to think about the house, and the kid in the house, and wonder what adult or adults were in residence, and what their story was. A freezer filled with trash, clothes with no drawers to put them in; no chairs to sit in, no table to eat at. Malvina Reynolds has been playing on my truck's CD player. "Do you think you've hit bottom?" she sings. "Oh no: There's a bottom below." I don't know where I am. I just followed my dog.


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