Soup & Fiddlesticks: A Simple Evening with Friends & Happy Dogs


We decided to keep the evening simple.

After all, the six of us hadn’t had much time to catch up and spend quality time together since….well, no one could remember when, which meant it was definitely time to settle and talk and listen.

Instead of venturing out, where the bustle of downtown Missoula would present the distractions of menus, servers, and tip figuring, we spent the evening around our table at home enjoying a simple dinner of hearty soup and cornbread. Everyone at the table was either an artist or scientist and all of us were dog lovers.

I was happy that Rocky and young Tilly, two of our friends’ Aussies had come along to entertain us with their tricks and silliness. They were so polite during dinner, tending to their important duties of keeping our toes warm and the kitchen floor clean of dripped soup and cornbread crumbs.

With full bellies that needed to rest before dessert, three of us and both dogs moved to the living room to stretch out and continue our conversation.

Tilly the Aussie Shepherd breaks kindling down to size.

That’s when Tilly found the firewood box.

And a STICK! A real live stick, and it was indoors of all places! With all the snow Missoula has had, it’s been simply ages since Tilly got to chew on a stick.

She carefully extracted the piece of kindling from the bundle and settled down to get to the business of splintering it. Tilly’s Mom apologized for the mess she was making and offered to take the stick away. But, I stopped her. Stick bits are no problem to clean up. Let her enjoy this innocent indulgence.

Snap. Snap. Snap. The twig was swiftly reduced to pieces as short as Tilly’s jaw is wide. As soon as one twig was no more, she quickly went to the box to retrieve another and another until all the kindling was properly downsized.

At one point, she took a large caliber stick behind the couch and crunched it loudly within earshot of her Dad, who was still visiting at the dinner table.

He jumped up to whisk away what he assumed was a treasure in need of rescue. I assured him that it was only kindling and would be just as effective in its miniaturized state. Not to worry. Tilly was having a simply splendid time.

You gotta admit, breaking twigs into little bits is fun. Exert pressure, sense the give, feel the snap, repeat. It’s the dog equivalent to popping bubble wrap. And who doesn’t love that?

As our guests readied to leave, one of them commented on the array of musical instruments in our living room. I knew he could play the fiddle and one was leaning in the corner.

Pam Voth's trusty fiddle.

Fiddle music brings me so much joy, but I’m such a beginner I end up making a complete mess of the songs I attempt. Approximated, tentative almost-notes and splintered shreds of tunes screech forth from the instrument when I play.

I asked him for a parting tune. He obliged and played a little jig. A beautifully complicated, gravelly, hopping sound came forth from that fiddle that I had never heard before.

“Bravo!” I said.

“But, it’s such a simple tune,” he said.

Tilly had never heard a fiddle before. The throaty music it made was exciting. She ran a lap around the living room, came to a stop at the fiddler’s feet and looked up.

It was as if her icy blue Aussie pup eyes said, “That funny looking stick is way too long.” Her parents quickly changed her focus and scooted her and Rocky out the door.

The next morning, the chunks of Tilly-ized sticks I found scattered through the house brought back sweet memories of a simple evening shared with good friends and happy dogs.


The remnants of Tilly's stick-chewing on Pam Voth's rug.


Visit the Dogtown Missoula archive for more four-legged tales.


It has been said, “There are dog people, and then there are people like photographer Pam Voth.” While Voth has a knack for creating unique images of any subject, her distinct rapport with Dog is expressed through direct and personal portraits that capture the authentic nature of canine and human interaction—or in her own words, “pure dog-ness.” Pam Voth has developed an artful style for photographing dogs so intimately that you can almost smell the biscuits on their breath.