Another old CNF experiment. This one was written in the Spring of 2009 and shortly before we did, in fact, give up Buford. Of course, that didn’t last long, and Buford is back home with us – calmer, gentler, and snoring like a sailor.
We have a bloodhound, Buford. He’s just shy of two years old and has been perhaps the most destructive force in my life since the flash flood I was caught in five years ago in West Africa. I was there for a summer studying Francophone literature and culture. In those sweltering days, everyone watched the sky with a mixture of foreboding and desire. The rains were late. People were dying. I imagine some of the villages blamed us: pink-cheeked strangers snapping up their souls with our Nikons every chance we got. We didn’t think to ask permission before whipping out our cameras, focusing and zooming in on the deep lines around their eyes, the crude ink imbedded in glorious patterns on their foreheads. And the lack of rain only meant no respite from the heat – for us. For the people of Burkina Faso, it meant dying crops and cattle, dry wells.
Buford was cute enough when he arrived. His ears fell in a soft line to the ground, his paws so big he could only take a few steps before stumbling or toppling over and bouncing up like a chocolate, fur covered weeble. The fact that he had a stubborn streak and didn’t appear to care one way or the other if he were with us or the neighbor or a chew toy, as long as he was constantly moving, was adorable. He’s a happy dog, we said. He knows his own mind.
The rains did come, they came with a vengeance. A group of us were standing wearily on the red clay street, the sky was clear one moment, an impenetrable downpour of water the next. I swear it only took minutes for the streets to begin filling with red, murky water. By the time we made it back to our van, the water was quickly approaching our waists and there was some doubt as to whether we would be able to get to higher ground in time. The van sputtered and chugged. The wheels spun in the mud. The locals stood on their rooftops and watched, silent.
We should have known something was amiss when Buford started opening doors. There was no room we could keep him out of or in. He went where he wanted to go. He continued to do what he wanted to do. We rationalized, the doors in our home had the kind of handles that one must push down on to open, and the doors always opened out – a paw on the handle and a shove was all it took to free Buford from whatever prison we tried to hold him in. When we moved from Oxford, Mississippi to south central Pennsylvania, we naturally took Buford with us. Somewhere around Virginia we stopped for the night, convinced the hotel clerk that we only had one small dog (Buford was over 100 lbs), got him settled in the room and went out for dinner. We returned to a rather chilling note scotch taped to the door of our hotel room. “Please see the front desk immediately.” Apparently, Buford had learned to open doors that required pulling.
We made it out of the valley. The rains continued to fall for several days and going to class was out of the question. The only thing to do was to sit and watch the rain. You might be surprised at how entertaining such a thing could be. I once saw a goat swimming down the street, looking very much like he had somewhere important to be. But there is something about being locked down tight that forces the mind and body to reckon with its surroundings. It was the rainy season of 2003 that pried my eyes open, eyes that had been shut purposefully and methodically against the clear outline of a cow’s rib cage, the naked and weeping woman throwing dirt over her head as she sat alone on the side of the road, the smiling and bloated children who followed us in packs, constantly touching our clothes, our hair, trying to hold our hands, the desperate look in the eyes of our professor who asked, “is there nothing America can do to save us?” After a brutal uprising in the 60s, the French had left its colony of Upper Volta with virtually no infrastructure. The roads were unpaved, there was a teetering postal system, and sanitation efforts were apparently never started. Upper Volta became Burkina Faso, a nation of over 60 distinct languages and peoples. We were graduate students in literature and foreign languages. Our response was that of jaded and sheltered American citizens: you don’t want America here. Besides, you have nothing to offer, and America only helps those who can help the homeland.
The hotel episode was only the beginning of what has become a long and varied tradition of trouble orchestrated by this bloodhound who is still a pup and is yet responsible for more broken glass, cocked door frames, and torn screens than I can count. No amount of coaxing or prodding, screaming or petting has been able to teach Buford the proper way to behave. He’s still a happy dog. After a great deal of discussion and worry, we have decided to find a new home for Buford. We have decided that it’s time to acknowledge that we don’t have the resources – material or emotional – to handle this stubborn, ridiculously adorable pooch. Bloodhounds are not meant for homes, they need farms, woods, they need to hunt and roam.
I look at the folds of skin that envelope Buford’s face, know that by letting him go I am giving him my greatest gift. I wish I could go back. I would like to ask that professor what I could do, what America could do, that would help them become the kings they were born to be?