The Secret Garden of the Dogs
It was yet another sizzling day. The walk to the palace had been hard, uphill all the way with little shade and a relentless sun scorching the earth and all those foolish enough to walk upon it. For all of that I decided to walk back to the town. It was still hot but I had plenty of water and the descent would surely be easier than the ascent. Looking down from the palace walls I could see the walled garden. I had spotted a cheap sign to the place on my way up and had passed by thinking it to be one of those tourist sideshows that often attach themselves to major attractions. Now, seen from above, it looked interesting, extensive, cool. Interesting also were the remains of the Urartian township immediately below me, a ruinous contrast to the palace's crisp air of renovation and imaginative renewal. I decided to shun the road that I had taken to get here and return across country. I felt strong, fit, glad to be alive. Wandering around Turkey enlivened me. I was looking for adventure.
As I picked my way through the low stone walls that defined the neglected settlement, I mused that the Urartians must surely have been a healthy lot. No need for them to jog in the mornings. Their houses, storerooms and communal halls had been built on gradients that would challenge a modern builder. I supposed that they had chosen this spot for the same reason that motivated the architects of the palace; it commanded a fine view of the great plain to the North, yet in the South the sharp walled valley was easily sealed with just a few guard emplacements.
Leaving the ruins behind me I soon found another reason for their location: water,
the liquid of life. The hillside here was lush with long grass and occasionally awash
with spring water. Though I disliked the idea of placing my feet where I could not
see them -
The garden kept its tantalising distance; I looked at it often and began to give
it a rather unimaginative, but wholly fitting, mental label -
I descended into a stony streambed that led down towards the garden. The going was
not easy but progress was fairly rapid and I had soon reached the track; I headed
up it and to the right. Soon I passed the footpath that led to the town, and then
came alongside the walls of the secret garden itself. The walls were surprisingly
Walking quickly now I soon reached the gateway. It was set nicely into the wall with
brick piers on either side blending into a flattened arch. Unfortunately the effect
was ruined by the doors, rusting dented and distorted things upon which the word
"welcome" was sloppily painted in various languages. The entrance fee was also announced
Thinking that the owner might be working somewhere within and that I could pay when
we met I walked through the rusty doors and into the secret garden. It was shady
and green, just as I had anticipated. Water could be heard trickling along stone
beds in front of me and the sun speckled everything with its leaf-
Surprisingly I saw it before it saw me. It was a very large beast, wolf-
Standing outside the entrance my fear of the dog was quickly replaced by anger. I
wanted to see this garden, the desire had grown steadily as I made my descent from
the palace. Now, having tasted its delights, I was keener than ever to explore its
green interior. I began to shout in the hope of attracting the attention of the owner
I took a similar route, trying to recapture the magic of the place, but finding that fearful thoughts of the dog now infused my whole consciousness. Then, suddenly, I saw it again! It was standing in roughly the same place. This time it was facing me, and this time it had seen me first. It did not move. It simply watched me, staring in a malignant yet curious way. Again I retreated, walking backwards, keeping my eyes on the dog just as its eyes followed my every move. As I reached the entrance it turned, this time loping down the slope and away into the dense knot of trees below.
On my first expedition into the garden I had reasoned that the dog might just be passing through, now I was sure that it guarded the place in some way. I was certainly not going to risk a third confrontation. I was alone and unprotected. I was dressed for walking, my bare legs and bare arms seemed particularly vulnerable as I thought of the dog's huge head and jaws. I decided that the only course open to me was discretion, I began to return along the track beside the wall in order to pick up the path into town. I soon spotted the path and felt a surge of relief. But my relief was transient. I walked a little further then saw, on a bank sandwiched between the track and the path, something that brought me to an immediate halt. It was the dog!
I was not sure whether the brute had seen me. It was sniffing the ground and occasionally scratching at it. I scrambled up a gradient to my left from where I was able to look down onto the bank and its surroundings, here I could better decide what to do. It was immediately clear that I could not go on without confronting the dog, I also believed that if I returned to the secret garden the dog would somehow be there. My only option seemed to be up, up towards the Urartian remains and the palace from whence I had come. This was something I certainly didn't relish, it would be a cowardly retreat and an exhausting walk with no rewards.
As I watched the dog completed whatever business it was about. It seemed to look at me for a split second, then loped away down into the valley. It stopped at the stream for a drink before ascending the slope on the other side at an incredible pace, there it vanished amongst a group of outbuildings surrounding a solitary house. I assumed that this house belonged to the owner of the garden, it was placed near the road and near to the sign that I had seen advertising the place on my ascent. Besides, it was the only place around.
Relieved that the dog had departed I reflected that I could now enter the garden.
But I did not. I was spooked by the three interactions with the dog and knew that
I would not enjoy the visit, haunted by the thought that the creature might reappear
at any instant. I regained the track and soon turned off onto the footpath that led
into the town. I glanced at the wall as I turned the corner. However had the beast
surmounted it? Surely it could not jump that high? I continued walking at a lively
pace, glancing regularly and nervously at the house now some five hundred metres
away on the opposite side of the valley. Here the valley was steep sided, I could
no longer see the stream that flowed through it, the stream from which the dog had
refreshed itself. Thankfully there was no sign of the creature and I began to relax
a little. I wondered whether I had over-
The garden was now coming to an end. As I walked towards the northernmost corner I noticed that the height of the wall was dropping away. At the very corner it was not much more than a metre and half high. From the path I could not see over it, but the temptation to go closer and have one last look into the place was overwhelming. I stepped off the track and took a few steps towards the wall.
Whether I reached it or not I cannot recall. What I will remember forever is the
chilling howl that arose from the direction of the house across the valley. Whirling
around I saw bounding towards me not one dog, but two. One of them was the dog from
the garden, the other was a large German shepherd -
What could I do? Running made no sense, nor did attempting to climb the wall. There
were no trees around and no rescuers in sight; I had seen no one since I left the
palace. Once again I swung my bag before me for protection, I then picked up a fair-
Though terrified, I was surprised at my ability to reason and even had time to congratulate myself for not panicking. It is said that many people who die in dangerous circumstances do so because they give up. I was not going to give up. This detachment allowed me to keep an eye on the other dog, I knew that I could not repel a double attack. It too had now risen from the valley but, to my relief, tended to hang back, barking and snarling. For all of its aggressive display it seemed to be leaving the attack to the larger animal. I guessed that this German shepherd was the mate of my attacker.
Knowing that the sequence of charging, defensive rock throwing, and evasive veering
could not go on, I decided to take the lead. In the short period that the dog was
using to skid around ready for another assault, I managed to pick up two stones -