James Lileks
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If you go to the “Found Pets” section of the Humane Society, there is a picture of a pigeon. It does not have a name, yet. Can’t remember if it has a gender; don’t know how you’d tell. You imagine someone going to the shelter, hopes high, looking in the cage at the bird, and sagging with disappointment. Nope. Not my pigeon.

Do they put the pigeon up for adoption after a while, or just let it go? If there’s one animal the shelter could say, “G’wan, get outta here” and shove out the door, it’s a pigeon. If your kid asks, “Where’s Penny?” you don’t have to lie and say, “She’s on a farm now, having fun.” You’d say, “Penny’s with the other bird rats decorating public art.” It’d be true.

Let’s say you went to “Found Pets” because your dog is gone. He was at the off-leash dog park by the river, caught a scent — a deer would be good, a dead deer even more awesome in his mind — and in a second he melted into the twilight and never returned.

Let’s say you went down into the woods at 10 p.m. to look for him. Again. The summer sun has been sneaking out of work early the last few weeks, and it’s dead dark at the end of the path that leads to the river. You have a flashlight, a leash, treats and a cold lump where your heart was.

You meet a dog coming up the path.

Not yours. It’s Lucy, you learn from the woman who’s trailing along. She saw you searching before. “No luck?” she says. “Let’s go have another look. We’ll go down by the point. Maybe he’ll be looking for you.”

You get down to the Mississippi by some rickety old stairs; she knows the way. You clamber down some roots and stones; she knows the best path. You rake the banks with your light, but there’s no dog there.

There is the vast expanse of the woods and the water, a presence that’s ancient and indifferent. “Let’s head up this way,” she says. “Lucy! Find Scout.” Your light picks out the path — dull stone, then glinting water. You ford a stream. You’re only 10 minutes from home, but it feels like the depths of the Boundary Waters. If your light went dead, you’d be utterly lost.

Except your guide knows these woods and finds a path back to that comforting proof of human presence, pavement. After an hour in the dark realm you’re in the parking lot, talking about dogs. How they go. How they come back. How they always break your heart in the end but it’s worth it, every day you’re together. Every ordinary now they remind you to enjoy.

She gives you a hug, and you part. You didn’t find your dog, but you found an angel. Sometimes up here in the North you’re reminded they’re as plentiful as pigeons, if only you stop and look around.