The Far Edge of the World

Story by L.B. Benton

Photography by Trevor Reichman

Rusty was a digger of holes . . . and an optimist. From the beginning, as a young pup, he traced that back-and-forth pattern all pointers know, mystic in its rhythmic choreography, hypnotic, mesmerizing, deliberate, keeping his nose to the ground in search of birds or buried treasure. In our backyard, he always obeyed this instinctive blueprint, always running, sniffing, testing every possible location, then stopping and pawing the hard clay furiously with both front feet for some hidden object lying untouched beneath the surface. Sometimes he’d find something: car keys, an old screwdriver, or maybe even a bone. Usually, there was nothing; he’d just make a little shallow place in the yard. Still, Rusty knew there’d be another hole.

He was happy, optimistic, always moving. We loved him, my brothers and I. We’d sit on the back steps, and he’d bring us something he’d dug up or lead us to one of his treasures. It was his avocation, one of his prime reasons for being, a second career, of sorts, after bird hunting. He performed his dance, an awkward, hound-dog-like shuffle, in wide arcs across the yard, a joyful commotion, a determined adventure—one that compensated him with glorious expectations, if not loot. But he didn’t care because he was sure the next hole would pay off. He just knew it.

We lived “out a ways,” as they say, with a nice securely fenced backyard for Rusty to search over. The place still had the smell of wildness, having only recently been wrested from the prairie and converted into city dirt; wild grapes grew along the back fence, mesquite and scrub oaks just beyond. When we moved onto the place, the ground was hard and dry, and Rusty fell in love with it. It smelled of strange and exotic things—wild animals had recently scurried over it, strange plants still grew there, and Rusty reveled in it, he hunted them all.

So, on that morning many years ago when my younger brother and I rounded the corner of the house carrying shovels and picks and buckets, Rusty’s head popped up from his hangout under the Camellia bush, and he immediately came alive. We were coming, not just to pet or to feed; no, we were coming with digging tools. Something was up, and Rusty knew it. This was gonna be big, and Rusty wanted to be part of it. He danced in circles, almost tripping over himself, dancing the dance of joy, sniffing the air, sniffing the shovels as if their smell would reveal their purpose. He ran ahead of us, loping this way and that, stopping to look back now and then just to make sure we were still coming.

Somewhere, my brother and I had heard that if you dug a hole deep enough, you could tunnel all the way to China, and we had set our minds to doing just that. We dropped the tools by an old tree, and Rusty lay down and watched our plan unfold. He lay there patient and eager. We started in, pick against the rock-hard ground, and soon discovered digging to China was going to take some time. Not that we minded; we had all afternoon, so we went at it.

A couple of grape sodas we’d brought with us were calling for a break time, so when the hole was about an inch deep, we decided to rest. Rusty didn’t mind that we had quit. He sniffed the hole and looked at us again with a sort of quizzical expression, then lay down between us, within easy petting distance. It was the way he was. He was an expert in digging holes, and even though ours clearly had a distinctly amateur quality, he was sure we would find whatever it was we were looking for. Holes in the earth are always dug for a purpose, of this Rusty was sure.

We finally gave up digging to China and just sat under the tree drinking our grape sodas, pondering whether people on the other side of the world ever came loose from hanging there and tumbled into space. Rusty was between us, and we all dreamed of exploring the wild exotic places, and, especially, the vast prairie that lay just beyond our property. My brother and I closed our eyes, sipped our sodas, and slowly scratched Rusty’s ears. He’d forgive us our failure. The day was warm and still, and Rusty closed his eyes, too, and laid his head on his front paws. We all sat there, half sleeping and listening to the wild things. Life was great.

Our house was located on the cusp of civilization, squeezed in tight between the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex and a massive cattle ranch we called the Edwards Ranch. Looking east from our front porch were houses and civilization and the crystal city of Dallas. Looking west from our back porch were miles and miles of open plains, a vast space with nothing but scrub oaks and creosote brush between us and the far edge of the world. Progress had pushed as far west as possible, and we had bumped right up against the rock hard, eternal, and unmoving ranch.

I don’t know if it really was the Edwards Ranch, but to my brothers and me and Rusty it didn’t matter. To us it was the jungle Tarzan swung through, the purple-sage prairie Roy rode over, and John Wayne’s Fort Apache. Somewhere out there King Solomon’s mines beckoned.

Throughout those enchanted days, to Rusty, and to us, there was permanence in the air; the eternal and unchanging land that God had provided stretched out before us. You could sense that prairie’s connection with all things everlasting by just looking out over it. We felt it, and I’m sure Rusty did as well. He searched the yard, dug holes, sat with us on the back steps, put his head in our laps and managed to get it cocked just right, so his ears were scratched in all the best places. My brothers and I would sit there quietly, looking across the vast empty lands, watching the sun go down. We longed to run as fast as we could out over that land, through the mesquite, dodging the cactus, around the ocotillo bushes, running with all our might, just to get to the edge of the world, just to be able to stop and look over, just to see what was there. Maybe the earth really was flat.

All of us, including Rusty, felt the pull. We’d sit on our back porch and watch him as he’d stand up on a little rise in our backyard or jump up on the roof of the old doghouse we’d built. He’d stand there and just look out over the vastness, stare at the places that needed exploring, carefully observe the horizon out at the far edge. There were mysterious things there that whispered to us all, “Come, and I will tell you my secrets.” It was where he wanted to go, all the way to where the sun disappeared into the shimmering tall prairie grass and dusty green mesquites. You could see it in his eyes. You could just tell.

The urge to explore was powerful. It had its hold on all of us. Rusty would run along our back fence, sniffing the ground, stopping and looking out over the land, then run the other way, always sniffing, looking, seeking out weak spots, a place he could dig a hole under the thing separating him from adventures. He knew he’d find the adventure—he was sure of it, he was confident, and he never gave up. And so, one day, find it he did.

He discovered a spot, a little washed-out spot, a weak link in our defenses, a place where a true professional, a real digger of holes could take advantage, and he dug and burrowed until he had the hole big enough to squeeze under. It was his ticket to freedom, his chance at discovery. And, when Rusty managed to wiggle under our back fence, there was nothing between him and the delicious, far edge of the world, nothing to slow him down or arrest his getaway. Now, he was more than just a digger of holes or seeker of quail; now, he had become an explorer.

I didn’t actually see his escape, but I’m sure at that moment he was one of the happiest dogs on earth. I have always felt that as soon as he was safely under our fence, he stopped for a moment, danced a few joyful steps, a unique awkward shuffle carried in his ancestral genes, and sang a song of freedom—something, perhaps, from Michael Nesmith’s Rio,

“My feet have come loose from their moorings,

I’m feeling quite wonderfully free.” *


These escapes (Rusty managed several) did not elevate our father’s mood. His face would darken, and my brothers and I would steer clear. Eventually, someone miles away would call, using the phone number on Rusty’s collar, and we’d pile in the old station wagon and drive out to pick him up. Rusty was all too conscious of his diminished and tarnished status and so stayed uncharacteristically still in the back, head bent over, culpable, the perfect picture of “dognified” guilt, chin resting on his front paws, peering up now and then from under alternate eyebrows with his sad cow eyes, pleading, as if to say, “I’m really sorry about all this.”

These breakouts were not frequent, but they were how Rusty learned the language of the oil fields. Our dad worked for one of the majors in the “patch,” crowded together with the roughnecks and roustabouts, the drillers, landmen, tool pushers, company men, investors, and geologists. Their language was blunt, descriptive, rough, crude: brilliant in its color and eloquent in its manifestations. When he was safely back in the yard and under the careful tutelage of our dad, Rusty was subjected to a series of threats and expressions selected from that language’s most luminous and vivid hues. It was the mother tongue of the oil fields, the hardscrabble patois that grew among the rocks and brown dirt of West Texas, and it was the only time I ever heard our dad talk like that. Our dad was the kindest, most gentle soul I ever knew. He never raised his voice to our mother or to us, but on those rare occasions, when Rusty’s well-being had been in question, he grew tense and irritable. He loved Rusty as much as any of us, and when the prodigal dog finally returned, I think our dad’s relief just came tumbling out in the form of a unique, sharp-edged, oil-field discourse.

The men that created this language were also diggers of holes—holes Rusty could never imagine, holes miles deep, holes that fought back, that refused to yield any benefits, holes that resisted any intrusion, holes that bored through rocks possessing the pent-up energy of geologic ages, rocks that would seize a mile of steel pipe, twist it off and never give it back. It was the struggles and failures, the setbacks and back-breaking hours that gave rise to the language. It was the coarseness, the broken-down pickups, the fistfights, the do-it-yourself tattoos, and raw country music that birthed a vernacular peculiar to the vocation and the region. And Rusty received verbal instruction in it all; it was his punishment for snatching a day or two of gloriously wild freedom, of trying to reach the edge we all longed for. And Rusty took his penalty with the heroic stoicism of Epictetus. He had tasted freedom, and the linguistic punishment was worth it.

When this one-way verbal staccato ended, Rusty would slink back to the Camellia bush near the back porch and rest forlornly. I’d sit on the porch and tell him it was all right; I really did understand. After all, I could see the far edge of the world just as plainly as he could. We were all trying to get there. He’d look up at me with those eyes, sad, contrite, sorrowful, but never broken, ever. It was because he was an optimist—he didn’t know how to be anything else—and so he was sure better things were coming. And through all of this, he showed us better ways to live.

Many years later, I returned from a job interview at Georgia Tech, making that magical drive from Atlanta to Fort Worth through one of the prettiest parts of America I know. The kudzu is cursed by most, but to me, it is simply the rich, green gossamer drapery God has provided to welcome you as you pass quietly through those ethereal forests that so characterize the South. Pulling up to our house on that particular day, it was quiet; no one came busting out the door to meet me, no welcome poster scrawled in markers hung on the windows, and there was no Rusty. There was an uneasiness in the air.

Inside, the family was quiet and restrained, guarded. I sensed that there had been a shift in the earth’s axis, a notch in time that gave us a “before this” to an “after that,” a crease that marked a point in events we would never forget, no matter where we went or what we did. Rusty was gone. He had passed away two days earlier, lying under his favorite Camellia shrub in its cool shade. They hadn’t wanted to call me during interviews, better to wait ’till I was home, and so forth.

There was an emptiness in the room, a quiet hollow space, a hole, where something was missing. We all felt it. And there were tears. The companion that kept up his spirits and ours, that dug his holes just knowing he’d find some treasure, then not finding anything, and, undeterred, moving on to the next spot. Ever optimistic Rusty. Seeing the bright side in everything, even under the occasional deluge of oil field language. Always, for Rusty, the next hole would be the payoff hole.

We went out back where dad had dug Rusty’s final hole. We stood around, quietly, just for a few moments. The tears were soft ones, falling onto the hard Texas clay. And, in the quiet, I heard Michael Nesbit’s Rio and saw Rusty running, running for the far edge of the world. Running for all he was worth, stopping only for a second to do that awkward shuffle. It was Rusty’s way, optimistic, joyful—he was going to make it this time, looking back at us happy and singing,

“My feet have come loose from their moorings,

I’m feeling quite wonderfully free.” *

* Song Credits:

Writer – Michael Nesmith

Label: Pacific Arts

Producer: Michael Nesmith

Album: From a Radio Engine to a Photon Wing

Youtube Link

L.B. Benton is a writer from Katy, TX, whose former career was in engineering consulting. Now retired and caring for his wife, L.B. has been published in numerous publications, including 365 Tomorrows, Bewildering Stories, Nebula Rift Science Fiction Magazine, The Journal of Industrial and Systems Engineering, and The Houston Courant. He also claims a 2018 honorable mention in the Lorian Hemmingway Annual Short Story Contest. L.B. attended Georgia Tech and The University of Texas. Though diverse in his writing abilities, L.B. prefers writing fiction over nonfiction. L.B. has spent time backpacking and camping in the mountains north and northwest of Sierra Blanca in the Trans-Pecos region, resulting in several written pieces. He states that "There is something about the desolation of the mountains out there that create their own kinds of beauty, then it pulls you in."

Trevor Reichman is a folk musician and craftsman born in Johannesburg and raised in Houston, Texas. Trevor built a dome house in Terlingua, Texas, where he now resides with his dog, Dobe. Trevor’s artistic abilities reflect his love for community, aspiration for a lower footprint, finding and sharing kindness, and delivering the craft of song. Trevor records his travels and adventures with photography, often including his dog in his works. Find out more about Trevor at