Archive for the ‘Dog Letters’ Category

You Want to talk to my dawg?!?

Finally happened.  Phone rang.  Caller asked to speak to Lila.

“You want to speak to Lila?  Who is this?”

“Lila may be eligible…”

“I suspect she’s quite ineligible for most offerings that come in by telephone.”

“Excuse me.  Is this Lila Bea’s residence?”

“Yes.  Yes, it is.”

“Then, may I speak to her, please?”

“Well, you can speak to her, but I’m afraid she’ll understand very little of what you might say to her.”

“Sir, I speak several languages.”

“Good.  Do you speak Dawg?

“What?”

“Dawg.  Lila Bea is a dawg.  She’ll understand a few simple commands: sit, lie down, shake hands, and responds rather well when asked if she’d care for a biscuit, or an ice cube.  But if…”

(…CLICK…)

I looked around.  Lila Bea was grooming herself, completely unaware how close she came to getting a discounted Caribbean cruise; a lower interest rate on her credit card balance, or being allowed to express her opinion of all the members of her breed that are currently seeking to hold public office.  As the day progressed, Sir Benson Zipper Dee Doo Dah received not a single email, text, or telephone call.  By the way he ignores me while running wildly up the street whenever he gets loose, I suspect he’s on the “no call” list.

 

Hunting in Sherwood Forest

“There are many indications that the Thug often hunted men for the mere sport of it; that the fright and pain of the quarry were no more to him than are the fright and pain of the rabbit or the stag to us; and that he was no more ashamed of beguiling his game with deceits and abusing its trust than are we when we have imitated a wild animal’s call and shot it when it honored us with its confidence and came to see what we wanted.”
 ~ Mark Twain, from ‘Following the Equator’

*****

Part One: A Reverse Polarity

As a result of other business, I was invited to go hunting with some folks, most of whom I’d never met.  In fact, the only one I’d met was the man who invited me.  The purpose of the hunt was to enjoy it, though some offer it is a needed practice to thin over-populated herds.  My reasoning is not so magnanimous; I do it for the meat.  Even so, if there was a Thug in the group, it was me.  But be assured my quarry is not other human beings, though I must admit and be aware I’m not above such depravity.

But if the truth be known, the popularity of automobiles almost makes it unnecessary to thin the herds.  Every year, far more deer are killed by cars and trucks than by hunters.  It’s almost as if the deer have lost their direction, leaving the protective cover of the forest and stepping out onto busy highways.  Perhaps their internal compasses have become misaligned with the magnetic field for some reason.  Could be blamed on sun spots, I reckon.  But for whatever reason, as hard as it is to locate them in full view in their natural habitat, seeing one lying in the median of the interstate near downtown Atlanta befuddles me.

The excursion was to take place within the confines of some private land, so the specific location will not be mentioned here.  For the sake of giving it some name, we’ll call it The “Sherwood Forest.”  That would be appropriate, as the man who arranged for me to take part will be referred to here-out as “Robin Hood,” which serves as a credit to his archery, and nothing else in particular.

Since he is so named, the other people in the story will have connecting titles, just for the pure fun of it more than any need of secrecy.  In the meantime, should any of them wish to claim their place in the story, they can certainly do so.  I’ll leave that decision up to them.

Robin and the rest of us wore traditional green, which seemed to fit in with the surroundings, as well as the lore.  In the older stories, there was some mention of “Lincoln” green, but all I saw was Ford pickup trucks.  Robin used a special bow he’d named affectionately, and any credit for success was given to her.  When he got a deer, he spoke of it entirely as if the bow had done it, and that she should feel proud of herself.  Of all the kills made during my experience with these men, the most talented placement of any shot was done with that bow.

Due to my inability to calculate distances properly, I arrived at the hunting camp quite early.  I was quite fine with that and used the time to get a little rest.  While waiting for my host to arrive, I received a couple of phone calls from folks I’d meet up with later.  They wanted to make sure I was okay, and asked if I needed anything.  That turned out to be more than just a social politeness, as it was to set the tone for the entire time I had the good fortune to spend with them.

Other than me, the first to arrive was also a guest.  We’ll call this agent “Will Scarlet” for no reason in particular.  Will brought his dawg, William Shakespeare, an educated animal with a college degree.  Shakespeare had additional credentials as well, that made my documentation and certificates, hardly more’n a mere valid driver’s license, look pathetic.

Before long, “Little John” came into camp along with his dawg.  He was no little man, which was also true of the one in a much older story.  Perhaps it’s a bit of tongue-in-cheek to call such a sportsman “little”, for he was a tall, strong man, and very multi-skilled and talented.  I think he could build anything he could visualize from just about any material you can imagine.  It is fitting to call his dawg “Jackie”.  The reasoning for it is that Jack is the English diminutive of John, so the puppy carried the title of “Jackie”, that being diminutive of Little John.

Jackie was also an educated dawg of notoriety and fame, but both he and Shakespeare would wag their tails and be sociable with me in spite of my station.  They also got along with each other, and I soon found out that Jackie and William Shakespeare were long-time friends going back to their old college days together.

The dawgs were not used in the chase, but only put to the work of tracking down an animal once it was shot.  Not only were they good at it, but also loved to get the scent of it all over themselves.  A thing like that gets you noticed, and they all seemed to want the recognition.

Another of the principal hunters we’ll call Geronimo.  That name seems out of place in Sherwood Forest, but the spirit of the man deserves some singularity here.  I can imagine him leading a charge on a steed bareback with his hair blowing in the wind behind him.  Other justification for the name was his masterful ability to camouflage his face with war paint.  Additionally, he could mimic wildlife animal and bird speak.  Once I thought a barred owl had taken up residence in the kitchen.

Geronimo also was somewhat of a master of music appreciation.  He could sing along with almost any song and do it well, knowing not only the tunes but the lyrics.  I soon found out all of the members of that camp had a taste for feel-good music, which didn’t bother me at all.

They also had a taste for good food, and were experienced at it.  These men were avid about outdoor activity and athletics.  You could tell they were accustomed to a proper training table.  But when Little John and Geronimo eat, everybody eats.  Their commitment to the exercise includes the participation of all guests present with a noticeable dividend of generosity.  During the course of several meals, I was able to get all the wrinkles out of my shirt without having to iron it.

Geronimo’s dawg, Widespread Panic, was a friendly sort, and would offer to wash your socks in his mouth, but not dry them.  He sported a red coat, and though schooled beyond the level of the average college professor, Houser (Panic’s nickname) showed great enthusiasm for playful games with the other dawgs, and a respectful attitude around people I wish most people could learn.  But that would be difficult, because people are generally not as smart as dawgs when it comes to understanding how to behave.

Robin Hood and I didn’t bring dawgs, but we were allowed to pet and enjoy those belonging to the other fellows.  And if need be, there were some free range chickens living next door that were sociable enough should there be any shortage of companionship, but there wasn’t.

Robin Hood had introduced me to the other hunters without announcing my real name, but with only a reference to my interest in Mark Twain.  So, they called me “Huckleberry”.  But I felt more like Friar Tuck in some ways, perhaps that I had a recipe for ale and had some handy.  Due to the discipline of restraints shown by some members present, I found it necessary to drink several of ’em myself.

In matters of sustenance, a regular attitude of gratitude was always expressed, and not just for hands seen busy in the preparation of it.  With no shortage of festive mood, there was still a prevailing sense of humility to even include things we could not see that could be greater than ourselves.  All hands present showed an appreciation of the nature of things, and it was apparent that the crew took pleasure in enjoying nature immensely, with full knowledge that they themselves could take no personal credit for its existence.

It was time to head out into the forest.  Before venturing beyond camp, a geography lesson was given, and as with most lessons, it went over my head with ease.  Some discussion took place about tools needed for the project.  Everybody else carried a bow, but my rod and my staff was a thirty-aught-six.  Our party enjoyed the privilege of having no run-ins with strangers in the woods, which was a sign that folks in those parts were neighborly and not subject to indiscriminate trespass.  Not only did we see no poachers, but The Sheriff of Nottingham must have been busy elsewhere as we had no run-ins with him either.

First afternoon, I was greeted by three deer, that had anyone else in the camp seen them, they would’ve met their demise.  Each one was scoped long enough for my mind to say: “Ka-Powee-Yow,” but I never pulled the trigger due to some sense of uncertainty about what was acceptable to the other members of the club.  Doesn’t matter why I didn’t, but I learned later that my opinion they deserved to walk was in error.  The next couple of days offered nothing in sight better’n those I saw right away, and I was reminded about all those things we’ve all been told about what to do when opportunity knocks.

During the course of events, I saw other critters.  The fox squirrels were plentiful and fun to watch, although compared to the regular common grey squirrels I’ve seen back home, these rascals were highly trained circus clowns.  I harvested none of these li’l monkeys, as the bullets I carried would have left a hole in ’em bigger’n they were to start with.  There were quite a few and had apparently been lured by some attractant that would also be appealing to other critters.

Another peculiar gnome that wandered up was similar in size and behavior of the O’possum, but was hairless, and wore some kind of protective vest.  After a careful description of this varmit, my friends told me it was an “Army Dildo”.  They seemed adapted to the ground, and didn’t fly or venture off to creeks and puddles, so I understood they weren’t presumed to be a part of the Air Force, or Navy.

Back at camp, we were told the “roughing it” procedure was to head down the road to a fine dining establishment under the management of King Arthur and Guinevere.  They were a delightful couple, and King Arthur was a most excellent chef.  He drew Excalibur, and carved up some tenderloin and quail prepared in such a manner that I drooled all over my shirt.   I was treated that evening well beyond my station.  When offering to assist with the tariff, Little John said no, and established the law:  “This is how we roll.”

Next morning, someone was making coffee, which is a thing worthy of a place in Heaven, and another person turned on the stereo and cranked up “Tied To The Whipping Post” by the Allman Brothers, as if no other breakfast was necessary, and they were right.  Casual “g’mornin’s” were exchanged civilly, and a variety of camo appeared for adornment amongst the crew.  Then, it was time for everyone to declare:  “Where you gonna hunt?”

Not being certain, which is a thing others notice about me easily whenever geography is the study, I offered they place me in some corner where I’d be of little distraction to the serious hunters.  Such an attempt to be humble was ignored, and they took me to prime locations where thunderous herds of deer were sure to cross well within range of the exotic tree stands erected with no shortage of luxury.  One such stand was not much less comfortable than the house I was raised in, and with a view that rivaled what you might expect from a helicopter.

Conversations at camp were interesting and fun.  There was a harmlessness in their mischief, but I suspect those present could join together to become a formidable force should the need arise. They shared tales of adventure, performance, music, business, and friends.  Stories were told of a man they called Buck Billfish.  I asked if he was coming, and Robin Hood said:

“I sure wished he was.  His interaction with these other guys, and his enthusiasm for everything outdoors is a thing to witness.  They’ve named this hunting club after him.”

But I was not going to get to meet Buck on this leg of the trip.  Maybe some other time.

A serious scientific discussion took place one evening about observations of behaviors of deer in conjunction with relative physics.  Particularly, a lot was said about the speed of light, the speed of sound, and the speed of reaction.  It was noted that arrows were not super-sonic like bullets from a high powered rifle of any calibre.

Point was made that the deer can hear the “whoosh” prior to impact, whereas a bullet would already be on target before the report of a gun could be detected.  And the theory was strongly presented that upon hearing the arrow taking flight would cause the deer to duck, same as you might flinch if you were expecting to be clobbered.

The point of such comments was to support the practice of aiming low, on the suspicion that the posture of the deer would immediately be lowered by the ducking.  Wanting to be a part of this intelligent dialogue, I said: “Duck hunting,” as if such an outburst be thought of as clever.  It was generally ignored, but a slight glance let me know I’d added nothing of benefit to the dissertation.  The only thing germane was that it is important for the trajectory to arrive where the target will be rather than to presume it will remain where you saw it before the release of the arrow, or the pull of the trigger.

Personally, I seldom attempt moving targets, and prefer they not only be standing still, but contemplating deep meditative thoughts.  In other words, I generally wait until the target has chosen to be, not so much a challenge to me, but clearly locked in a predicament that will hold it steady enough for me to draw a casual bead on it, and at close range.  In other words, I wait patiently for the appearance of stupid things, preferably muddle-headed ones behaving outside their normal nocturnal feeding habits.

The position of the deer and its anticipated moves are important.  And of course that includes any inclination to duck or veer off into a thicket.  But just as important is the position of the hunter for matters including, but not limited to, geometry.  Consideration has to be given to a number of circumstances; the angle of view in light of being left or right-handed, the effectiveness of disguise, as well as direction and intensity of the wind.

The proper positioning for a clever hunter is to be upwind of the quarry.  If a breeze comes by to carry scents of any lingering Old Spice or pipe tobacco to the acute senses found in noses of the white tail, they will become skittish and prone to hesitate stepping into a clearing in plain view.  Robin Hood told me he’d be skittish, too, if he thought there might be some critter around that intended to rip off his skin and eat his flesh.

This added reinforcement to the “duck hunting” theory.  In fact, I thought about it so much that I went home with a crick in my neck.  For days after arriving back home, it was regular for me to become wide awake by four in the morning, and hearing Lynyrd Skynyrd or The Allman Brothers without even having to turn on the stereo.

Robin Hood was a man of many talents.  He could operate gadgets that others would find cumbersome, and could climb a tree as if he had three hands, all of them nimble.  I noticed several stands were situated facing due north or due south so the rising and setting sun would never be directly in the eyes of the hunter, and always facing some smorgasbord the deer might find delightful.

My friend carried a compass for this very reason in case he decided to move to a new location, or stop short of a destination upon discovering a tree that appealed to his sense of accommodation.  On one occasion, while facing south, he detected a breeze coming out of the north that might carry his scent in an undesirable direction.  So, he performed a bit of magic: Holding his compass in view, he saw it change polarity.

Instead of it pointing in towards him, it pointed out and away.  In other words, the needle pointed south instead of north.  Well, such a thing as that has universal consequence–all of a sudden, the wind direction changed proportionately, so any deer that might step out would have no olfactory forewarning whatsoever.  It may have had something to do with being on the virtual doorstep of power lines nearby, I don’t know.  But it’s more fun to think of it as pure wizardry.

Another thing this sorcerer did prior to the hunt was to wave his arms and hands over the places he wanted the deer to appear later.  And, it worked.  Some might be convinced by this charm, but it may have had something to do with what he held in is hands that might cause the deer to waive some of their shyness.  Either way, some waiver must be coaxed out of any animal feeling pursued and hard pressed during the season.  The results seemed almost phenomenal, but once the science of it is understood, I felt comfortable believing Robin Hood is not likely to go hungry any time soon.

I managed no harvest during the first few days, so Robin Hood loaded my cooler with venison taken with his fine bow, and sent me home to see what I might do with it.  Maybe he thought if I couldn’t shoot, at least I might be able to work in the kitchen.  I would return later with some of my experiments from such, and hope it good enough to allow me another chance in the field to see if I could keep my bearings straight.

End of Part one

*****

Part Two: Three of a Kind

Being invited to return to The Sherwood Forest boosted my spirits.  For several years now, what hunting I’ve done was in the company of a good friend and former professor of mine.  I believe I’d referred to him in an earlier letter as an educated man who had more degrees than a thermometer.  For years, he had often invited me to hunt with him in the “Enchanted Forest” where the deer and the cantaloupe play.  He was a man of honor and good will, who like Little John, could build or re-build practically anything.

Circumstances took him from us this past year, so now the only time I get to see him is in my memories, all of which fill me with a pleasant sense of gratitude.  I’ll never again go back to the Enchanted Forest where all the deer were magicians and could disappear right before your eyes, and I’ll never again get to hunt with my old teacher, who was a friend beyond question to all that found a proper place in his fellowship.  But for as long as I live, I will remember him, not just during the hunting season, but in almost everything that happens with family, friends, and adventures.  For he was all about those things.

I came back into camp about the way I did the first time, running earlier than necessary, which might help balance in some small way my habitual tardiness in all other endeavors.  Trust me, it was purely accidental, as I travelled generally with the flow of traffic.  From time to time, traffic flowed like white water rapids on the Colorado river, but I managed to keep up.

Soon Robin Hood joined me.  We were initially the only two there.  So after moving our gear around and setting up camp, we prepared to go out into the wild for the purpose of trying to fool a white tail into standing still where we could see it long enough to take a shot.  But I knew even if I did not see a deer, it would be good to just be out in the cathedral of pine trees and other nature.

Again acting as my guide, Robin placed me in the way of where things would cross, as he had a lifetime of experience with it.  His assessment was correct, and my gun barked at a mark just shy of a football field’s length away, and with prosperity.  The deer fell right where it stood, taking not so much as a step in any direction.  Often a deer will bolt and run when shot making it necessary to hunt them twice, but this’n stayed put.

I notified Robin Hood by way of a text messaging device, and he appeared as if out of nowhere to help me load it and carry it to the abattoir, stopping off at the gittin’ place to git some bags of ice.  Once we got to the cleaning station, I got out my cutting tools, but was told they wouldn’t be needed.  Robin Hood said he’d skin the deer and quarter it, and had his own knife.  Told me my job was to shoot.

He then went about business with a well honed blade that was so deliberative and focused that barely a morsel remained on the carcass that would accommodate the stray cat that had taken up residence nearby.  In fact, I’d imagine we’d hear buzzards blaspheming throughout the next day, as little was left for them to relish.

On the way to the proper mortuary for such remains, the right front wheel of his pickup truck announced itself to be in dire need of reformation.  The tire held air just fine, but a noise indicated some maintenance would be in order the next morning.  So after coffee, we decided the first order was to get our bearings, and a tub of grease to pack ’em in.  It would not be our only trip to gittin’ places.

During the procedure, I jabbered on about various and sundry nonsense in a way Robin Hood was not accustomed to hearing while trying to work.  The result was that the bearings were put into place in such a manner that they could not work properly, so we called out all of our collective tools in order to bear down hard and pry them back apart so he could do it all over again in an orthodox manner.  Mostly, my part in all of this was to observe the bearing of bearings and watch out for bears, while Robin Hood got his bare knuckles lubricated almost as much as the parts he was working on.

Once the wheel was returned to the axle, it was soon discovered that the brakes were now in a bind, so the wheel came back off for further adjustment.  A man who goes down the road wants to be able to stop when necessary, and Robin Hood couldn’t bear the thought of that becoming an unaffordable luxury.  You don’t want the brakes to break.

He got back on the ground to do the breakdance with the brakes, and I was allowed to observe and offer critical commentary.  I think he brought out his compass, and let the wizardry of the needle direct his movements.  Other’n the compass he did the job with a pocket knife, a rubber hammer, the blunt end of a tire tool, a pair of tweezers, a plastic spoon, the traveler from a trailer hitch, and a wad of paper towels big enough to choke an elephant.

With the aid of my distractions, he commented that the time spent on this minor repair job was similar to what it would take to overhaul the entire engine.  But the engine was fine, so we didn’t.  Not sure we even had the right tools for such a task any way.  With bearings brought to bear, our bear hunting was successful; but bear in mind, it was too chilly to go bare hunting, not that we ever intended to.

After a well deserved rest with me talking ninety miles an hour all the time, Robin Hood decided we should return to The Sherwood Forest and resume the hunt.  By then, Little John, Jackie, and another dawg named Huckleberry Finn were back at camp.  Finn, it seemed, had thought about going to school like the other scholarly dawgs, but apparently had only given it brief consideration to date.

While Little John said Finn had lots of things to learn, I noticed eating was not one of them.  In fact, he was quite good at it.  What he didn’t eat he would shred so others would have an easier time if they wanted a chew.  Saw where he’d done that to a roll of toilet paper, and I immediately went to make sure there was still enough on hand to take care of business.  And like all other necessities at that camp, there was.

Maybe it was the knack for mischief that attracted me, but in short order that dawg and I hit it off well.  Perhaps it was partially due to our shared understanding about pedigree, rank and status.  Also the “Finn” part connected us as well since the other guys called me Huckleberry.  But in fairness to the other dawgs in the camp, all of them would be welcome at my house whether they liked to read Mark Twain or not.

Little John spoke of a banquet later as if some reward for any success we might have.  Additionally, not wanting to be selfish, he headed out to the woods to make sure all the critters we hoped to see would have something to eat as well.  The point of it was not just to feed them, but have them come by and show their enthusiasm for it.

My guide took me to the place where I’d first seen deer and didn’t shoot, in order to give me the chance to redeem myself in that spot.  Before the week was out, I’d need to again go to confession and plead for redemption, but not that afternoon.  As the sun began to position itself on the horizon, the deer I’d let walk before came back as if to mock me, but their presuppositions about my shyness and intentions were significantly misunderstood.

The gun barked loudly, but instead of the quarry dropping in its tracks, it spun around and ran off into the thicket in such a way as you expect from a healthy athlete.  It ran quite a ways, and it took some doing for me to track it as light was getting scarce.  My eyes are not young as they once were.

In spite of my aging and weaker vision, I had made the kill some one hundred-fifty yards out, so not all was not lost.  Dragging that rascal out of the woods and over logs and through underbrush, uphill all the way, was not the most fun part but doable.  By the time I was back to the clearing, I felt I’d run a marathon.

The report of my rifle brought in the guide to take charge, and off again we were to the cleaning area.  In my mind, I heard Dollie Parton singing:  “Two does down, they’re laughing and drinking and having a party.”  Maybe that’s not exactly what she sang, but that’s what I heard, and pretty much what was going on.  Once again, Robin Hood made work of it so the buzzards would have to apply elsewhere, as little remained for them unless they intended to make leather or soap.

Again, my job was to watch, and pay attention to the biology lessons being offered.  Also on occasion I’d have to make a run up to the gittin’ place to git more ice.  I soon proved that geography was not my only weakness, as simple math involving weights and measures also left a lot to be desired.  It wasn’t that the ice was too expensive, but rather my mistaken opinion that three gallons would would be sufficient to fill a sixty quart box, and a borrowed box at that.

Next day, I’d have to go to the gittin’ place to git more boxes, even though Robin Hood graciously offered to let me use his.  Everybody knows if you intend to pick cotton or beans, you have to take sump’m to put it in.  The same is true with venison.

That evening we were visited by a nobleman from a neighboring shire, and were coaxed to investigate an eating establishment hidden down in a valley, but named for the top of a tree.  Go figure.  More than enough was brought to the table including a couple of bowls of Army Dildo eggs that tasted a lot like stuffed Halloween peppers.

Soon, it was late enough to pretend we were sleeping so to be ready for the next morning’s hunt.  During the course of the evening, Jackie and Finn would come around to check to see if any toes were poking out of the cover enough to need licking.  As it approached coffee time, the puppies increased their due diligence to make sure we didn’t oversleep.  Their efficiency paid off, and we all got up in time to smell the coffee and even drink a cup.

Word was that Buck Billfish was coming, and from all they told me about him, I was eager to meet him.  News was he would come in the next day.  In the meantime, we had some hunting to do.  Without further delay, I got in my truck and did the best I could to keep up with Little John, who could find short cuts in a straight line, and didn’t lolly-gag around when it comes to getting somewhere.

This time Little John had taken over the task of being my guide, and took me to a spot where the sought-after quarry was sure to come out.  The guide was correct, but evidently, my cockiness resulting from the successes of the last two days got the better of me.  The morning fog cleared, but I “mist” just the same, attempting a shot that would only be for very close range.  The deer took off running and bouncing showing no sign of having been anything but scared.  Examination of the area convinced me I’d missed it entirely: no blood, no hair, not even a sign of a stumble.  I walked deep into the woods following nothing other than a hunch it had gone in that direction.  Nothing.  Obviously, I hadn’t even scratched it.

Robin Hood came over to help me check the surrounding few acres to add some certainty to it being a legitimate miss, and not just have some wounded beast roaming around.  All indications were that either the deer was quite lucky, or else some error was to be blamed on me, or the gun.  Shortly, we set up a target range, and the rifle was given acquittal.

I paid the fine for my act of clumsy negligence.   I might as well have attempted a trick shot from behind my back expecting the bullet to just drop in its ear for all the good my shot did.  All I did was make a racket and spend a bullet.  I thought about “duck hunting” for a minute.  Maybe the deer ducked, I don’t know for sure.

I bowed my head and promised to do better if allowed pardon.  The parole was conditional on driving my truck to get coolers, and Robin Hood went with me to not only navigate, but to provide adult supervision.

First place we looked had a nice cooler, but the proprietor wanted a year’s salary for it so we decided to check elsewhere.  The second place had exactly what was needed, and would spare me from having to file bankruptcy.  The parking lot outside the store was immense, and at first I wasn’t sure where we’d parked.  So, being humble and not overtaken with pride, I asked a couple of folks coming in as we were going out if they remembered where I’d parked my truck.  They laughed; said they didn’t, but pointing in the general direction of the lot, offered it was probably “out there somewhere.”

It is not an unusual strategy for me to expect assistance, as when it comes to direction. I’m seldom sure about anything other than I’m standing where I’m standing, and don’t ask me to tell you where it is or how I got there.  If it were not for that basic flaw, destinations might have become almost as much a part of my life as has been the journey.  So yes, I’ve often asked total strangers if they knew where I’d parked my truck.  On one occasion, a younger lady, sensing the role I was playing of a senile old man was convincing enough, replied to me:

“Sir, I don’t know where you parked, but if you like, I’ll be glad to help you find it.”

I’ve lead a charmed life, and meet up with kind and helpful people often.  Thoughts along those lines fill me with some sense of gratitude for meeting up with the folks who were sharing their hunting camp with me.  Those men are sump’m else, and withheld no charity whatsoever.  Further, there wasn’t a thing they expected in return. The lesson from that, at least for me, is there is a wholesomeness in living in such a way to cooperate and be helpful for no reason other than it is the right thing to do.

Afternoon came, and it was time again to try my hand at hunting.  With Robin as my guide, I went back to the same place I’d gotten the the second deer.  The wait seemed forever, and I felt my eyelids getting heavier than a double load of wet laundry.  Somehow, I managed to remain awake enough to see what I came to see.  Just before dark, deer came out again, but this time at the farthest end of my field of view.

Remembering my earlier miss, I took great care, even down to monitoring my breathing.  The shot rang out, and a bullet flew about two hundred, twenty-five yards.  It found its mark.  As did the first one two days earlier, this one laid down on the spot, and I didn’t have to trail or chase it more than two or three inches.

The guide once again popped up, or I’d still be out there wondering what to do next.  Back to base camp we went, stopping only for some bags of ice.  I got the recommended number this time.  A wench hauled the game up in the air, and Robin Hood drew his sword and went right to work on my number three. Three of ’em in so many days.  I’ve never done that before.

The other two kills were also mature does, one having enough fat to make it through two winters on a diet.  The third one had some serious fat, too.  She was, I think, even more mature than the first ones, definitely a senior, and noticeably the largest.  Her head was disproportionately large for the size of her body.  Little John said her head looked like an old buck’s, which was true.

When I say she was a senior, I mean she was probably within three or four months of being able to draw Social Security.   Only had about two teeth left, and they were ground down due to lots of time spent eating acorns, field corn, dirt, tree bark, and rocks.  Looked like her tongue had calluses on it.

About that time, Geronimo came up.  He greeted everyone with honest enthusiasm, and showed signs of pleasure that I’d had a good hunt.  Everybody seemed glad to see everybody else.   A prominent jovial feeling was in the air, and everyone present could sense it.

Once inside our lodge, the other hunters showed some appreciation for the venison pastrami I’d brought back with me.  The fact that I had it at all implies there was enough time between the first hunt and the return to cure and smoke some roasts.  Processing meat, like any other kind of work, can be exhilarating if it is something you enjoy doing.  Many folks spend their entire lives never knowing how to view work in that light.  My friend, Vinny Verelli has often said:

“If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong.”

After some work and some celebration, plans were made to again visit King Arthur and Guinevere at the round table for a sumptuous meal and fine fellowship.  The night was long, allowing little time to sleep, but all parties rose early the next day anyway and to the sound of some pitter-patter on the roof.  The rain stopped momentarily, so we headed back into the forest.

The cloud cover didn’t look as if it would blow away so the poncho was added to my backpack.  When it comes to having rain gear when it’s raining, I am a slave to fashion.  And as the weather front progressed, it turned out to be a wise decision.

With all the stealth and silence of a firetruck on an emergency call, I crept through the woods in the dark to my stand.  I was yet barely awake and not sure of my bearings altogether.  First time I bumped into a tree, I think I apologized to it out loud, which is not a good thing when you’re supposed to keep quiet.

Finally in the stand, I awaited sunrise.  It came, and in about an hour, so did the rain.  But the deer scheduled to work my area didn’t even clock in.  Maybe their compasses had reversed polarity.  I waited an hour after their appearance should have occurred, according to my schedule and comfort zone, then came down to see if I could find where I’d parked my truck, and without anybody to ask.

As I rounded a curve in the path, I could see a clearing ahead that gave me hope.  I knew my truck wouldn’t be too far from that point.  In addition to the clearing, I noticed Robin Hood was heading in my direction.  Besides his magic compass, he must be clairvoyant to know I’d sensed it was time to head back to camp.  Then, maybe he was tired of sitting in a tree getting rained on, I don’t know.

Even though neither of us shot a deer that morning, I think he was a bit relieved to not have to clean one.  Back at base, a second cup of coffee was brewed by Robin Hood himself.  It was a pleasant brew, and we didn’t have to chew it like the pot I’d made earlier.

I had stopped at the gittin’ place to git some more ice on the way back in.  It would be needed to top off all the coolers.  This time, against the educated advise of my guide, I made the estimate myself, not wanting to come up short again and have to make a second trip.  So naturally I got twice as much as was needed, but it was on sale, so no real harm done.

Robin Hood took charge of re-packing the meat, and I was able to return the borrowed cooler, even though he would have let me take it with me.  Latest report was that Buck Billfish wouldn’t be coming in until later, and I had a bit of a drive yet ahead of me.  I was going to miss meeting him this time, but maybe I’ll get another chance.  I’ve been lucky about getting second chances.

Geronimo and Little John, most cordial and kind, wished me safe journey, as did Robin.  I said goodbyes to them and to their fine dawgs and headed home, without need of a compass, not that I know how to read one any way.  On the drive home, I thought about the events, and thought I might write about it.  Some things were left out unintentionally, and some things remain unsaid on purpose, but nothing that should worry anybody.  I fell in behind some travelers who seemed to be in a hurry, so I made fairly good time getting home.

Once back, my wife seemed glad to see me, which is a good thing.  To ever be otherwise would be something of unimaginable difficulty for me.  I was glad to see her, too, but I always am.  We exchanged reports of the last few days, then I let the puppies in the house to see if they remembered me.  They did, and acted happy about it.

As is expected from dawgs when new smells come into nose range, they quickly turned to the business of inspecting.  Since I’d been in contact with people and dawgs they’d never met, and handling venison while re-packing coolers, every inch of me was a bonus for their nostrils to enjoy.  And they went at it with a passion for quite a while.  I could hear Lila Bea’s scent glands clicking like a Geiger counter, and I thought Sir Benson Zipper Dee Doo Dah was going to lick all the camouflage off my hunting boots.

My hands, my clothes, and especially my footwear were given serious attention from both of those curious puppies.  I understand it is the way dawgs read the newspaper, and they read every section of it, including the funnies.  A fantastic fun time was had while I was out on an adventure, but ain’t it just flat-out wunnerful to get back home?  Without any doubt in my mind at all, I know you know it is!

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Crabs and The Buzzard Hunters

The dock behind the rental house only stood over water at high tide.  At low tide, it stood over mud.  We checked the time of the tides constantly all week while we were there, as we were going to have a good time even if it killed us.  So with that in mind, one or the other of us would ask periodically:

“What time is the next high tide?”

As luck would have it, high tide would come the first night before three O’clock in the morning.  So I woke by instinct to walk out to the dock and set the crab traps.  I think I took a flashlight with me, because I didn’t fall off the dock into the water.  I remember hearing them go “sploosh”, then I walked back to the house and crawled into the bed thinking I would jump back up in a couple of hours to check the results.  But the sandman had me, and the ocean didn’t wait around for me to wake up.

As the sun peeked over the horizon, high tide had slipped back out to sea leaving the crab trap and dip nets resting on the muddy marsh bottom.  Besides covered with some reeds, a few were courting nearby oyster beds to make retrieval a bit of a chore.  One small straggler remained in the trap even though the rest of his company had joined ranks with other crabs at the edges of deep water piers further down the Beaufort River.  In spite of what some folks think, if a crab can get into the basket, he can also get out, except for the few who have not been regular about doing their crabanomics homework.

The smell of the ocean and the brackish water of the marsh bordering the river bank caused me to take a deep breath.  I was happy to be enjoying such aromas which brought back memories of recent years as well as many all the way back to childhood.  I loosened the top of the trap to let the lone crab who was not quite legal from point to point be allowed to return to the water.  He hissed and spit showing no proper gratitude, and motioned with his pinchers that he’d gladly take me on if I’d risk to reach a hand towards him.  I did not.

Not yet having had coffee, I made quick work of pulling all the crab-catching equipment up on the dock.  There’d be time to deal with it later, as I intended to lower them all back into the water with the next high tide.  It was a private dock behind the house we were staying in, so I figured the stuff would be safe enough for a while.  However, when they were disturbed a little later, it was not human hands making mischief.

From the window of an air conditioned den, I saw the buzzard.  At first I didn’t realize he’d already taken care of the chicken backs and necks in the dip nets.  What I saw was this large raptor tugging at the big trap, and had pulled it about three feet if not four further down the dock than where I’d left it.  Seems the column of bait in the center of the trap can’t be accessed from the top, so the buzzard was trying to find a way to somehow turn the cage over to improve his reach.  With all of his full and devoted attention given to the crab trap, the buzzard could not manage to turn it over, but turned it around several times, never improving access to the coveted delicacies packed in the bait column.

As he tried to pick up the cage, his wings were employed in the process almost as if they had fingers.  I say “almost”, for if they did, the crab trap’s position would have been no obstacle to the bird.  He was using every engineering tool in his head, but without fingers and thumbs the best strategic maneuvers still resulted in no tactical satisfaction at all.  I think I saw him shrug his shoulders a couple of times and appeared to be mumbling something that would be congruent to his frustration.  I’d imagine by then the buzzard’s muttered utterances would’ve challenged even his breath for a horrendous lack of social propriety.

It was time to continue Lila Bea’s and Sir Benson Zipper Dee Doo Dah’s education, as neither one had ever seen a buzzard up close, so I called them to come take a walk with me.  At first they took no notice of what was going on out on the dock.  There were things to smell and pee on, which is the whole point of a walk as far as a dawg is concerned.

A buzzard’s business is no less intense or purposeful.  This particular buzzard was so well absorbed in his occupation that the dawgs and I were able to walk more than halfway out onto the dock before having our presence acknowledged.  The acknowledgement came on the heels of our announcement, a courtesy handled by the dawgs so that I’d have no need to ring a bell or say a word.

Zipper, though large for the Boston Terrier breed, is a small dawg.  Yet he cranked up a deep baritone growl that sounded like a V-twin motorcycle engine idling sans mufflers.  Lila, almost twice the size of Zipper, responded in a higher Soprano pitch she often uses when excited.  Lila Bea seemed to recognize the bird.  To my surprise, she began calling his name loudly:

“Hey, Ralph!  Ralph!  Ralph, Ralph!  Ralph, Ralph, Ralph!  Hey, hey, hey, hey!  Ralph!”

That must’ve been his name, because he turned around sharply to look at us directly.  From the glare in Ralph’s wide open left eye, it’s possible that he was not expecting company, and up ’til that moment, had been completely unaware of our approach.  He turned to give us a gander with the other eye, and also to step back a bit from the two approaching dawgs, when one of his feet got tangled in a dip net that moments before he’d been using as a place mat or salad bowl.  While graceful in the air, buzzards on land are seldom asked to choreograph a ballet.  And when tethered and tangled, they can take clumsy to a whole new clownish level.  I’ve never seen a dance quite like it, or at least not a sober one.

Ralph’s beak was fully cocked as he quickly lifted his wings in the manner you’d expect from spinnakers of sailing vessels in a strong downwind.  He lifted his untangled talon assuming momentarily the position of a martial arts expert, which I’m sure he was.  This visualization caused both dawgs to put on the brakes just long enough to give ol’ Ralph the precious time needed to free his other foot from the strings of the netting, and took to the air with such ease and gracefulness that it would seem anybody could do it.

Zipper was so impressed with the apparent simplicity of flight that I had to give a firm tug on the leash to keep him from flying off the end of the dock in pursuit of Ralph.  Lila was pulling hard too, but was trying to mount the side rails of the dock hoping to grab the bird by the tail as he went by.  She had him in her gaze, and followed his movements as he circled around to take a safe perch in one of the live oak trees behind us.

Ralph peeked through the curtains of Spanish moss, thus giving away his position.  Lila made a bee-line to the base of the tree to announce his presence.  The barking must’ve been sufficient to warrant Ralph leaving his perch and again take flight.  He swooped down onto the top of a dock running out from the adjacent property.  But there was no stealth in the maneuver, as both dawgs spotted him right away.

Lila went on perfect point due to ancestral traits, and Zipper used her as a guide to determine which way to dash off in hot pursuit.  He wanted that bird as much as he’d want a tennis ball thrown anywhere, which is to be expected of the breed.  Ralph saw us all coming towards him, but by the time we reached the other dock, he’d glided back over to ours.  Both dawgs shifted gears and took off after him again, sending Ralph back up into the live oaks.  The camouflage kept me from spotting him right away, but Lila knew exactly which tree limb he was on, and did her best to try to climb up after him.  Zipper was temporarily distracted by a squirrel, but I’m sure the buzzard could still hear his motor running.

The ping-pong tournament between the two properties continued for a while.  I took to hiding behind the house with the dawgs until he got close, then let them go running out onto the dock to flush him airborne again.  Finally, Ralph decided to go somewhere else, perhaps to get a rest.  I went out to look at my crabbing gear.  The dip nets were stripped of any sign of bait other than a couple of chicken bones polished so cleanly you’d think they were put to a buffing wheel.  The bait in the big trap was intact, but something else caught my eye.

The old cage trap used to belong to my father when he lived just across the river from where I was now staying.  I stood there staring at the weathered old trap and thought about the many seasons it has sat in my back yard seeing water only when it rained.  The chicken wire construction is coated with a black rubbery  skin to protect it from the salt water.  It’s bent up in a few places, and near one corner the black coating shows a bit of red paint, faded now over the years, but still noticeable.

Just as I now store it outside, so did my father when he didn’t have it in use.  It’s usual place to rest in his back yard was under a live oak tree right behind his workshop.  One autumn, a good many acorns had accumulated all around and under the trap, and a squirrel managed to get himself turned around in it and couldn’t figure out how to get out again.

Dad had been doing long term battle with the squirrels over matters concerning bird feeders, so this fella was a prisoner of war.  And as a prisoner, he had to be marked in some way.  Having just finished putting a coat of bright red paint on a toolbox he had repaired for a neighbor, Dad decided–since he still had the can of spray paint in his hand…well the squirrel was soon sporting a bright red high gloss glow-in-the-dark bushy tail.

As soon as Dad was sure the paint was dry he released him, and for the next several weeks enjoyed hearing the neighbors give report of seeing a most unusual squirrel with a red tail.  He took pleasure in leading them to believe he doubted their tail tale, and suggested it was just an angle of the light, or that they must be hallucinating.

The buzzard incident taught me not to leave baited crab nets on the dock, so from then on at low tide I’d carry them up to the house and hide them in the trash can.  You can imagine the smell, so I’ll not describe it to you.  With them secure, I’d be able to rest between tides and even sleep some at night.

That very evening in the middle of the night we heard what sounded like a herd of deer galloping across the roof, and knew it was way too early in the year for Santa Claus.  But other than that seasonal oddity, deer don’t generally run on the roofs of houses, and additionally they don’t go about knocking over trash cans to get to rotting chicken parts, either.  It is just not their custom.  But raccoons will do both.

Thank goodness the dawgs were kenneled safely inside the house, otherwise I’m sure we would’ve made the six O’clock news.  Later in the week we took Lila and Zipper to the beach to see how they would like surfing.  The Yellow Lab was cautious.  She managed the breakers timidly, but the Boston Terrier thought I was trying to drown him, and said so.

All in all it was a good week, and in spite of a few crazy moments, it was one of the more restful periods I’ve had in quite a while.  As is normal, you hate for a vacation to end, but it’s always good to get back home.  The next morning, hoping to coax me to get out of bed early and make a pot of coffee as I’d been doing on vacation, Brenda asked in a calm voice:

“What time is high tide?”

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Compelling Guilt: Zipper Diverts His Eyes

Seeing a flower pot laying on its side with dirt spilled out onto the carpet, Brenda asked, and in a tone of voice that would have shamed the Devil:

“Who did this?”

Both puppies froze in their tracks.  Lila Bea wagged her tail, and just looked at Brenda showing no signs of having understood the question.  Not Zipper.  He turned his head looking off into the next room.  He would not make eye contact.  Not only did he understand the question, he knew the answer to it.

Does a dawg have a conscience?  Is it likely that they can have scruples?  Can a dawg know shame?  I think they can, but their reasons for it don’t always correspond to what would make any sense.  For example, the puppies will chew on furniture pulling stuffing from upholstery and quilting with you looking at them.  It doesn’t matter how much displeasure you’ve shown in the past for this behavior.  If you say anything while they are doing it, they’ll look at you as if to say: “What?”

The same is true for tearing up shrubbery, or dragging a pile of sticks up onto the patio.  No note of guilt will resonate in their little brains.  Somehow, those actions don’t seem wrong to a dawg, and it makes no difference to them who might witness it.

An allowance here has to be made about food: a dawg cannot be expected to ever feel bad about taking any morsel that is within their reach.  To them, taking it is required, in fact mandated by the very laws of nature.  If a platter of meat is on a tray at the edge of the counter, a dawg will jump to the conclusion that your very intention was to make it available to them.  And, as all of you know from experience, it may as well have been.

There is something to think about if a dawg shows discretion.  Lila Bea is cautious of anything that makes a loud noise, as if it has an association with discomfort.  This is not unusual, as canines have a keen sense of hearing, and most puppies instinctively react to noise without need of any caution light or other visual sign.  You and I know that a gunshot could be associated with a bullet, and lightning with thunder, but dawgs cannot make that connection.

Lila is also particularly interested in aromas whether you can detect them or not.  Additionally, she must have motion sensors built into her head, because the slightest movement attracts her even if she is asleep.  Although sound by itself is a caution to her, should it be hooked up with something that stinks and moves, she is on it.  There is no other reason why she would want to chase after a noisy garbage truck, is there?

Sir Benson Zipper Dee Doo Dah seldom sees anything as an obstacle, and can crash headlong into almost anything except an upright container.  He can have a pileup with furniture, doorjams, shrubbery, and people.  If we let him run loose up the street, he might knock over a lamp pole or street sign, but never a trashcan.

I’ve seen puppies turn their food dish upside down and eat off the floor or ground, but not Zipper.  You could place a glass of water on the kitchen floor, and he would not knock it over.  And this is not because he wouldn’t want to spill it, that’s not it at all!  I’ve seen him dig in his water dish outside with his front paws until almost all the water has been splashed out of it, but he will not turn it over.  I’ve even arranged for this to be observed by clergy in case there could be an indication of some need of exorcism.  In both cases, clergy just laughed.  The reaction was the same, and it made no difference how much or how little the clergy had been drinking at the time.

Lila, on the other hand, could knock over a dumpster and think nothing of it.  Since both dawgs have been raised together since puppyhood, and treated generally about the same all of their lives, I cannot think of a single reason for this selective difference, except that it is obviously intentional on Zipper’s part.

If one of Zipper’s chew toys is playfully tossed down the hall, he will retrieve it always unless it bounces into the wastepaper basket in my office.  That has happened a few times.  When it does, Zipper just stands by the basket and waits for one of us to get it out.  But if a rubber ball rolls under the couch, he will eat the couch if necessary to get to it.  What in the world has caused him to not want to even bump into a trashcan, but would readily and willingly eat a couch if it got between him and a toy?!?

The other day, I’d gone outside to make a phone call.  I can usually do that in the house, but not with a lit cigar.  We have rules.  The dawgs could see me through the sliding glass door, and evidently, it made them nervous for me to be so alone and unprotected.  So, they paced back and forth by the glass door the whole time I was outside.  Brenda said Lila whined a good bit.  Somehow, during their trepidations, a houseplant and the large pot of dirt it was in fell over spilling potting soil onto the living room carpet.

I heard Brenda ask the question, then I heard Brenda laughing.  I walked in to see what was going on.  Again, and this time in my presence, she pointed to the dirt and asked:

“Who did this?”

Lila Bea gave no indication that she was aware that a question had even been asked.  She ignores most questions unless they have the words: “food”, “biscuit”, “supper”, or “ice cube” in them.  But Zipper clearly heard the question, and for the second time in mere minutes, again understood what it meant.

He stood without moving except to slightly turn his head away.  I looked right at him, and he diverted his eyes.  I saw this, as would most of you, as an admission of guilt.  Remember that if you are ever accused of anything, and have to go to trial.  This kind of behavior in a courtroom could cause jurors to jump to conclusions, which might not prove to be in your best interest.

This sort of thing has happened before, and I’ve wondered about it.  Recently, I was talking with my friend Andy who has years of post-graduate studies in all kinds of behavior except his own.  I’d asked if he’d ever caught glimpses of what a dawg might be thinking.  I was particularly curious about what you could learn from certain expressions as you might see in a dawg.  He looked down at the profoundly expressionless face of one of his dawgs and said:

“Mine don’t spend a whole lot of time studying about anything.  If he looks guilty, it’s because he just naturally looks that way, and not because he’s thinking anything.”

I looked at Beau, bless his heart, and had to agree with Andy.  Then he continued:

“You never get the impression that Beau knows something that nobody elses knows.  I don’t reckon he’s ever had a secret that he was aware of.  I’ve had Beau a long time, and at no time has he ever had an original thought.”

I looked down at Beau, and decided Andy was being generous to use the word “original”.  Beau is a very pleasant animal.  You wouldn’t mind him in your lap, but I suspect you wouldn’t want to partner with him in trivial pursuit.

I don’t know why Zipper has a conscience about knocking over a flower pot, but considering the number of them we have around the house, that isn’t altogether a bad thing.  What might compel a dawg to feel guilty?  I don’t know.  It might happen when we are not looking, but I doubt it.  If that were true, the implication would be that dawgs are capable of a higher moral sense than man himself.  Come to think of it, and especially with this being an election year, that ain’t saying so very much at all.

*****

“Man is the only animal that blushes, or needs to.”  -Mark Twain

The Bone Bandit

Fences are supposed to be barriers.  They are intended to keep some things in, and some things out.  A fence around a garden has little to do with foiling the escape plans of a cabbage, but hopefully will provide a safe haven for it to ripen until you’re ready to harvest.  But at best, a fence has its limitations.  Rabbits, and even deer can spoil the best intentions of a poorly constructed enclosure, and a fence is no obstacle at all to squirrels and birds.  The average backyard fence is not designed for cat management.

Some dawgs will stay inside their fence, but many figure out the weak spots, and use them to open up adventures.  We once had a dawg (Ashley Cooper) that could dig under or climb over with the same ease that I might have with just opening the gate.  Our current pups in residence are not so inclined.  Based on the abandon and joy they show when they do get out suggests that they are not smart enough to outwit the fence on their own.  There is some comfort in that.

This is not true of every canine in the hood, as we recently had a visitor.  I heard the playful barking, as I often do, and assumed they were just playing a game of “chase the stick”, or some other popular dawg diversion.  The barking continued, and seemed to be getting intense, so I decided to have a look.  I saw that my puppies were engrossed in a high energy game of three-way tag.  Three way?  I only have two dogs!

I had never seen the third dawg before.  He seemed pleasant enough, and was only mildly curious of my presence. I was curious of his as well, but perhaps more than mildly.  How did he get in?  While all three followed me around the yard, I checked to make sure all gates were secure, and looked for weak spots along the fence line where a critter might crawl under or through.  Nothing seemed obvious.  I asked the guest to explain, but all he did was wag his tail.  Reason or explanation is something you should never expect from a dawg.

Now many of you would assume the logical thing to do would be to simply put the little vagabond outside the fence, and be done with it.  But being a married man, I’ve learned that I should seek advice and council from a higher authority before attempting decisions on my own.  Besides, Brenda might recognize the stranger, and know who it belonged to.

“There are three dawgs in the back yard.”

“Are you asking me, or telling me?  We only have two.”

“Well, right now, there are three.”

Then began the normal inquiry: “where did it come from; how did it get in, who’s dawg is it, what kind is it, have you seen it before, how old is it, is it a girl or a boy, do you think it will bite you if you try to pick it up…” the answer to to all of which was “I don’t know.”  About all I knew was that it was a medium to small brown dawg wearing a red collar, and it was inside the fence in our backyard.

She looked at me as if I was stupid, and finally said:

“Well don’t just stand there, go put it outside the fence.  We cannot let it stay here.”

I smiled at her to let her know I thought her conclusion was brilliant, and how happy I was to know what I should do next.  I went to the back door and called our dawgs.  All three came running, but the new one stopped short.  I let our two inside with me leaving the visitor alone in the yard.

Once inside, both of my pets wanted to let me know how excited they were.  I thought Lia Bea was going to beat me to death with her wagging tail.  Zipper went back to the door as if he thought it rude to leave the guest unattended.  Lila ran up the stairs to tell Brenda the news about company, and in a loud voice, said:

“Hey!  Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey!

Then, she ran back down to tell me the same thing.  She continued as I picked up a leash.  Her enthusiasm became greatly amplified.  Seeing the leash in my hand got her all flustered thinking I was going to take her for a walk.  Zipper thought the same thing, but was preoccupied with scratching at the door.  Something outside was on his mind, and he was being bulldog tenacious about getting back out there.  It took just a minute or two to get them into another room so they would not follow me when I went out to deal with the intruder.  Putting a couple of biscuits in my pocket for insurance, I went out into the yard.

I didn’t see the other pup right away.  I looked all around, called and whistled, but detected no movement at first.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a most entertaining picture.  Folks who have dawgs understand that they enjoy having a bone to play with.  They love chewing on them, and moving them around to places where you are likely to stumble on them, or hit them with a lawnmower.  A nice big femur bone is considered valuable to a dawg, and they can be quite possessive when they find one.  We had recently brought home a couple of large beef bones for our hounds’ entertainment.  One of those dinosaur legs had been found.  The finder laid claim to it.

The visiting canine was not curled up chewing on it, but carrying it between his teeth.  The thighbone was half as big as the little dawg, and no doubt fairly heavy.  He was halfway up the fence, but struggling with the weight of his new found prize, and couldn’t quite make it to the top.  Now I knew.  The rascal had climbed the fence to get in, and was attempting to leave by the same method, but weighted down by the booty he’d collected.

Not wanting to let go, he was no longer in a position to out maneuver me, so I managed to get a leash on him.  With some cleverness, and the aid of a biscuit, I was able to distract him from the bone long enough to kick it (the bone, not the puppy) out of reach.  He offered no resistance to the leash, and playfully jumped about wagging his tail.   This behavior let me know he had an owner somewhere, and was probably accustomed to being treated fairly well.  We went outside the gate together, and up the street for a block or so.

I stopped and gave him a pat on the head, and a biscuit.  Then, I gave him some instruction:

“I’m going to let you off the leash.  If you go home, perhaps some child won’t have to go to bed tonight crying, and worrying about you.  You can go wherever you want, but I strongly recommend that you go home.  If you climb inside other peoples fences, you run the risk of having them make a call to animal control.  And that will get you a free ride to the pound.  A smart dog would avoid that if possible, and I’m hoping a word to the wise will be sufficient.”

I’ve never had a dawg pay much attention to my spoken words, but somehow I felt he understood some of it.  I’m pretty sure he understood me releasing him from the leash, and knew he was free to go, and he did.

It’s been awhile now, and he has not returned, or at least I haven’t caught him at it.  I’ve looked often when going up the street to see any sign of him.  I figured I might see him in some neighbor’s yard happily playing with children, but have not had so much as a glimpse of him since the day he came calling.  I guess it is just as well, but I do miss him.  He was, after all,  one of the nicest burglars I’ve met in this entire subdivision.

Harmonicas, Snakes, and Other Ways to Irritate a Dawg

Ol’ Topper used to like rock ‘n roll.  I miss that dawg.  He’d lay right down beside the drums and wag his tail to the beat.  He didn’t even seem to mind the heavy metal effects for guitars as long as we didn’t make him wear the headphones.  The current batch of dawgs are not as sophisticated as those older ones when it comes to music.  But I still give ’em a dose of it as often as I can hoping some proper culture will eventually take hold.

Oh, they’ll be patient with a little radio, and can even sleep with the TV on.  But they show no sign of discretion whether it is a music video or somebody cutting down a tree with a chainsaw.  Admittedly, I cannot always tell the difference either, unless I’m looking at the screen.  Even then there can be a problem, because some of the video footage these days doesn’t seem to have a lot to do with the instruments being played.  Sometimes I think they are playing the chain saw.

I recently took up the harmonica again at the request of some friends who thought it would be a nice touch to add to a few songs they were playing, but was not aware at first that those talents would be required.   Actually, I had been asked to fill in some rhythm guitar licks with a band for a couple of their upcoming gigs.  Two of the band members were old friends of mine, and I’d played with them in bands before.  So, I figured I generally knew what kinds of music they liked.  It sounded simple enough, so I agreed.

But on the night of first rehearsal, I was introduced as the guy who would do all the harmonica parts on their song list, and fill in with some rhythm guitar.  Their songlist did not include: “Oh Susannah”; “Old MacDonald Had a Farm”, “Chinese Breakdown”, or “Dixie”.  The learning curve was going to have some pretty sharp turns in it, and would have to be taken at high speeds.  I was going to need to find a harmonica teacher that could get me up to speed in a few short weeks, and had no idea where to locate one.

I’ve heard a lot of songs in my life, and have played a few of them, so I expected to fall into some familiar patterns with ease.  But these other musicians were resourceful and clever.  They came up with a list that not only consisted of songs I did not know how to play, but had not even heard before.  Practice, memorization and rehearsal took over my life, and at a time when I was already busy enough to make a good night’s sleep a luxury.  For weeks on end, mealtime became a quick pass through a drive-in fast food establishment so I could drip ketchup on my shirt while heading down the road to rehearsals.

I finally found a harmonica teacher located about as far away as possible from any other place I might have need to be, or want to go.  I had the teacher take a look at the songlist that was challenging me.  Then he got to hear me honk on the reeds a few times to let him know how good I was.  He said it would take me about ten years to accomplish what I said I had to be able to do in just three short weeks.

He kindly helped me realize that I also needed to buy a few new harmonicas, and have my old ones completely overhauled.  As luck would have it, he just happened to be in a position to make those services available to me, and at prices well below the price of buying a new car.

Practice became a constant state of affairs ’til my lips began to blister.  Jumping from “Old MacDonald” to cross harp blues was a bit of a stretch.  Picking out a “Howlin’ Wolf” riff for some reed bending exercise, I went to work.  Lila Bea and Sir Benson Zipper Dee Doo Dah were in the den with me, and Im sure they were thinking it was about time for a dawg biscuit.  When I started hitting the high notes, Lila joined in note perfect, and Zipper ran upstairs to see if the buzzer had gone off on the stove.  I kept playing and Lila kept singing along sounding more like “Howlin’ Wolf” than I did.

Zipper came back downstairs and joined in the song.  He can’t carry a tune in a bucket, and soon had thrown Lila off key as well.  Their song began to stray, and the blues took on more harsh tones of just plain old barking.  It was no complement to my masterful playing at all, but was a criticism.  I stopped long enough to put them both outside for which they seemed grateful.  After that, I had no further need of their audience.  I would save my performance for those more properly authorized to offer harsh criticism, and would have no trouble finding them at all.

Once outside, the dawgs started looking about for a game to play.  One of their favorites is to find a stick laying on the ground, and bark at it.  Then, one of ’em will pick up the stick and run with it while the other chases along trying to take it away from them.  It is particularly amusing to them if the stick decides to move on its own, and evidently one of them did.

Copperheads move about this time of year looking for a few last meals before holing up for the winter.  A copperhead is not known for its sense of humor, and shows little patience with being made the object of a tug-of-war.  Luckily for Lila, a copperhead only has one biting end, and Zipper was doing business with it at the time.  All this was unbeknownst to me, for I was inside involved in philharmonic bliss.

Taking a break to grab a beer, and eat some ‘tater chips so I could go back down later and blow soggy bits of ’em into my harmonica, I let the puppies back into the house.  They both went upstairs as far away from the music room as they could get, and found a place to lay down.  It was sometime later that I noticed Zipper was lethargic, and drooling like a Saint Bernard.  I wiped his mouth with a dirty dish rag, and put both hounds back outside before they threw up on the carpet.  I was thinking there was no telling what kind of nastiness they’d been eating, but at the time, I didn’t know it had been a snake.

Brenda came home.  That was a clear indication that honkin’ practice needed to stop for awhile, so I let the puppies back in.  Lila Bea ran around in her usual zany way, but Zipper was moving slowly, so I figured he must really be sick.  That’s when we noticed the swelling under his chin.  It looked like he’d swallowed a baseball, and it had stuck in his gullet.

We arrived at the vet less than an hour before they closed, and it was a good thing.  Zip might not have made it through the night without medical attention.  He was diagnosed as most likely having some kind of allergic reaction to a toxic venom, and was given a shot to counteract it.  They also gave us a bottle of pills to shove down his throat twice a day for the next couple of weeks.  Giving pills to Boston Terriers is not much different from trying to give them to a cat.  You would think that this ordeal would have made an impression on Zipper, but I don’t think it did.

I asked the vet if this might be a learning experience for Zipper, and if there were any chance he might be more cautious of snakes in the future.  The vet smiled at me in that way that you do when about to point out the obvious, and said:

“No, they’re dawgs.  They don’t learn–not about cars, and not about snakes.”

The vet was kind enough to remind us of a few things to buy while we were there, as he had bills to pay.  Lucky for us that he did, because we were very distracted at the time thinking only about our poor dawg.

It’s true what the vet said about dawgs not learning.  Looking back at all the things I’ve tried to teach them, I realize I’ve been running a most pathetic school for dawgs.  They don’t even want to learn stuff normal dawgs do, much less the systematic behavior patterns human beings wish to impose on them.  Besides the dismal failure of music lessons, they aren’t too good at helping out with the chores around here, either.  They don’t seem to catch on to machinery, and seem irritated whenever we crank up coffee grinders, vacuum cleaners, or lawn mowers.

Maybe I’m judging too quickly, and being too harsh.  A mere glance at my own history shows no massive accumulation of wisdom acquired by learning from my mistakes, either.  We once had a cat named Penny Lane who was perhaps better at it.  As far as I know, she never challenged a garbage truck for the right-of-way but once.

“The cat, having sat upon a hot stove lid, will not sit upon a hot stove lid again. But he won’t sit upon a cold stove lid, either.” ~ Mark Twain

In the matter of learning from their mistakes, cats are superior to humans and dogs. But even dogs don’t learn about cars and snakes. Yet few dogs ever experience more than one hangover in a lifetime.  Perhaps I should study on these things.

I’ve given up on getting my hounds to ride the motorcycle with me.  They can’t reach the foot pegs, and seem to not want to lean properly into curves.  Every time I come to a stop sign, Lila Bea gets off to chase a squirrel or sump’n.  Sir Benson Zipper Dee Doo Dah is too nervous to ride very far, and won’t keep his goggles on, much less wear a helmet.  I should have known they had no affection for it by the fact that they always go to the far end of the yard when I crank it up.  It is a curiosity that they’ve learned what the sound of a motorcycle is, but still think it’s okay to chase a wiggling stick.

Mushroom Hounds!

There are a few spots around the property where the poison ivy hasn’t taken over, and the moisture in the shady areas host a number of interesting life forms.  Stacked up towards the back of the lot is a pile of split wood.  It consists of the remains of an old hickory tree we took down some years back.  We took it down because we didn’t want to wait for it to come down by itself since our house would have most assuredly cushioned a natural fall.

The woodpile provides as a nice high rise condominium, hotel, mall, and dining facility for an array of termites, ants, wasps, spiders, toads, lizards, fungi, and snakes.  Chipmunks also play there, as do cottonmouths and copperheads–often to the disappointment of the chipmunks.

The varmits see it as a free park, and a convention center.  They have family reunions, and schedule annual; semi-annual, monthly, weekly, and often daily meetings as their various associations find necessary.  Most of them meet in the daytime, but some come around at night, if for no other reason than to make sure my motion sensor lights are working.

Though they should show some discretion, my dawgs are afraid of none of these critters.  Sometimes a squirrel, rabbit or snake shows up for a meeting while the puppies are sniffing about the woodpile, and a little pandemonium gets underfoot.  Usually, squirrels and snakes get away, but the rabbits need to find a better place to meet.  I’m not sure what the agenda for the critter gatherings are all about, but I’ll bet it isn’t trying to help in any way to come up with the property taxes.

We’ve been generous to our canine residents, and have provided them with bones, rubber chew toys, balls, and more sticks than you can shake a stick at.  There is also a roll of barbed wire spread out loosely on the ground behind the woodpile just to entertain the puppies, but they’ve recently discovered newer attractions.  The warm wet climate has been perfect this year for the production of toadstools.  Our local toads find no shortage of places to sit in spite of the tremendous efforts put forth by our canine duo to harvest these dainty little pieces of organic furniture.

Not that there is any shortage of food, as these dawgs have never known a hungry day, but they are eating mushrooms a lot now, and eat them as if they were starving.  I’ve noticed they seem open-minded as to variety, which is not recommended for the novice wild mushroom hunter.  Daily, they bring a pile of ’em to the patio by our back door.  Then, they work out of that pile like it was an open cookie jar in a kindergarten.  At other times they just eat the fire wood, since by now every inch of it is saturated with succulent yummy fungal spores.  To them, it must be something like adding wheat germ to a bowl of cereal.

This new diet has affected their attitude.  If you call them, they will just stand there and look at you as if they are thinking about it.  I kept a watch for other signs of perception disorders, but since they cannot talk, some things are hard to tell.  Losing all track of time is a condition not usually recognized in a dawg until supper is ready, and so far, they’ve passed the test.  There was no notice of any heightened sense of fear, and as a matter of fact, the exact opposite seemed prominent.  Right now, I think they’d try to stare down a freight train.

The concern here is that the same toxins that would kill me or you could also kill the dawgs.  How do they know the difference between the harmless and the deadly ones?  Have they somehow learned to recognize certain kinds that have nutritional or other benefits?  Would they be willing to share that information?  I don’t know.

An old friend from college days would know about this stuff.  He is now a PhD and a scientist.  He does lectures, seminars and workshops on edible fungi.  I thought about contacting him, but if I did, he’d try to teach me something.  Many people who have tried that have drifted into a deep and life long depression.  You have to keep in mind my learning pattern: after about five and a half decades, I can still play little other than “Oh Susannah” on the harmonica, so learning to identify mushrooms by sight could take me awhile.  I think I’ll leave the toadstool doctor alone, as I have nothing against him enough to wish him depressed.

Lila Bea, who is normally made nervous by the slightest change in the weather, took no notice of a passing thunderstorm, which put me on notice.  Zipper rolled over on his back and smiled as if he’d just watched a Laurel and Hardy movie, and didn’t even get up to chase a squirrel that had come up on the patio to inspect a stash of portobellos.  This also put me on notice, but I had other matters of business on my mind at the time.

Company was due to arrive any minute, and I had fired up the grill.  When it comes to a cookout, there is nothing like the glowing embers of a good old charcoal and hickory fire to put the finishing touches to a well marinated platter of steaks.  The heat from the fire pit added nicely to the sultry conditions prevalent in these dawg days of summer, but just to make sure no pleasant breeze would sneak in and ruin everything, I lit a cigar.

Normally, our puppies tend to avoid the grill when it gets hot.  That is natural.  I think most of us would.  Even spiders and other bugs evacuate the premises once the heat starts to build,  but today such a caution was being ignored (by the dawgs–the spiders all left early).  The puppies were beyond mellow.  Between casual strolls to graze crabgrass like cattle; taking resting spells, and playing with their front feet in the water dish, these two crazy dawgs made a discovery: they noticed the old tin can I keep located at the bottom of the smoker pit.

The function of the can is to catch grease and other drippings coming from the drain port centered at the far lower end of the grill.  It is a common practice among those who don’t care to step in smelly, greasy, slippery gooey nastiness that would otherwise splatter all over the patio floor.  BBQ grills all over the country are outfitted with something to catch grease drippings, and I venture you’ve seem an old green bean can employed that way more than once.

The drippings are minimal, so the can rarely gets emptied, or changed out–not nearly as often as we change the oil in the pickup truck.  The drip can has not been attended to now in a year or two, so the contents were sure to be foul and rancid by now.  Does it produce foul odors?  If so, I haven’t noticed, but maybe that’s because of the cigar, I don’t know.

Why the puppies haven’t paid the drip can any attention up to now is a puzzle to me.  But all of a sudden they did find it, and knocked it down, spilling its vile contents all over the deck around my grill.  You wouldn’t care to step in such filth, or even touch it.  But that is not the case with dawgs anymore than a robin is squeamish about putting an earthworm in her mouth.

Right before that happened, I had just stepped back inside the den to check on a vessel I keep inside of a cabinet by the door for my own mood modification, and other medicinal purposes.  That carafe needs to be inspected frequently to make sure it isn’t too full, and if it appears to be, I always pour off any excess into a glass I keep handy for such schemes as I can come up with.  As expected, the carafe needed a little draining, but only a moment was required.

With very little ceremony, I was soon back outside with the grill and the hounds.  While I had been busy with my brief distraction, Zipper and Lila responded to my example by developing a similar opinion of the grease can: they must have decided it was too full.  But, they more than drained it a little.  They drained it a lot: dumping its entire contents onto the deck.  In no time at all, they whipped up a most unusually thick batch of grayish black gravy with the addition of some home grown, extra thick and chunky, cream of wild mushroom soup.  By impulse or design, I don’t know which, they decided to eat a good bit of it, and then wear the rest as if it were sunscreen, or a mosquito repellent.

Have you ever found it necessary to dab the corner of your mouth with a napkin to remove a small unsightly spot of something?  There is not enough linen in the state of Georgia to be sufficient for wiping the mess made by my mutts: what they didn’t immediately eat, they stepped and rolled in.  Lila is a yellow lab, but now she looked like a Dalmatian that had been in a fight with a paint bucket.  Zipper’s brindle and white tuxedo coat took on the look of something rolled in the ashes of a bonfire, and my deck was now ground zero of a disaster area.

Brenda has a special radar that picks up on any situation involving those two puppies.  It is kind of a mothering instinct, and these are her puppies.  Like magic, she appeared at the patio door with a towel to wipe Lila and Zipper’s faces.  You couldn’t tell if it did Zipper any good, but it did help smear the oily black mess to places Lila had missed back around behind her ears.

My business at the grill left no time for fooling with this variety.  I had company in the house, and it was time for them to eat.  You have to keep your priorities straight, especially when one of the guests is your mother.  So, I abandoned the crisis of the toxic oil spill, and took dinner to the dinner table.  During dinner, we kept conversation about the mess downstairs to a polite minimum.

When I came back down later to address the cleanup, both dawgs had added to the situation by throwing up.  My second reaction (the first being disgust, and almost motivated to copy their behavior) was to wonder if it was the rancid grease, or the indiscretions of their mushroom selection that was the problem.  You couldn’t tell from the little puddles of rejected diet, as each contained samples of everything in the yard except me.

Besides keeping an eye on them, I would want to learn the right method to teach a dawg not to eat wild mushrooms, as it is a dangerous habit for anyone that has had no practical education on the matter.  But once something smells good enough to be put in their mouths, it seems almost impossible to convince them to leave it alone.  Experts and friends have suggested one of the most important things to teach a dawg is the command: “Leave It!”, or “Drop It!”

I suppose there is some merit in it, but like with everybody else, it won’t do any good unless you are watching them all the time.  Law enforcement has found reminders are often necessary even for humans.  You can’t depend on  just posting signs, and dawgs cant’t read anyway.

I’m at a loss.  If something smells good to me, it also smells good to the dawgs; if something smells offensive to me, they take a liking to it just the same.  So far, I have found no successful way to discourage them from anything once it tickles their fancy.

Maybe I’m being overly concerned.  Maybe there is a chance that they will poison themselves, but I cannot know what those odds would be.  Considering the overall environment here, they probably face a higher likelihood of being bitten by venomous vipers.   Perhaps even more so, they may well run the risk of me shooting them both one of these days, if they don’t straighten up.

Well now, that is a pretty outrageous idea that I might actually shoot the dawgs.  If I were to ever approach them with such an intent, you can bet that from behind I’d hear some kind of mechanical “click” followed by a loud enraged feminine voice yelling:

“Drop it!”

It would probably work every time.  The thought of it may be some deterrent for me, but I am an educated man.  The dawgs have not been to that school yet, and if they ever do go, they are not likely to pay any more attention than they have with all the other classes they’ve failed.