Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Boys, Men, Nature, and a Dog

Walking around Stony Pond early in the morning, surprising game is not unusual. This can be trying with a husky mix. In the past, I’ve usually just let my dogs run in the woods, since their chances of actually catching what they chase were slim anyway. I can’t do that with Shanti, as she’s strong, fast as a bullet, keen nose, avid hunter, and her chances of catching her prey have proven, I’m afraid, excellent. So, I keep her on a 26’ retractable leash and a “no-pull” harness. She can still run around, and when she takes off abruptly after a pheasant, the “no-pull” harness keeps her from taking my arm with her--or at least lessens the shock.

Saturday morning, we were walking early to avoid the rush of weekenders, and we came across a pair of geese with a gosling. Geese commonly breed here, but seeing them on the foot path is a bit unusual. Shanti, of course, flew after them, pulling my arm out and me after it, until I could lean back and use my weight against her enthusiastic force. The geese, unfortunately, chose to continue waddling quickly down the path (a gosling can’t yet fly, so one parent leads while the other watches the rear), so our little adventure continued quite a while before the panicked parents finally dogged into the woods toward the pond (even goslings are excellent swimmers). Crisis averted, this time.

Not all creatures would fare so well. The next morning, as Shanti and I rounded the curve out of the forest to the meadow by the pond, where near the camp ground two boys were walking slowly along the shore, exploring nature. “Oh! Look!” said one, pointing to some creature on the ground. The other one calmly picked up a rock, dashed it to the ground, and picked up his dead prize by the tail—a rodent of some kind. They walked on.

A little further, we came across another group, standing closely together. “Guys, check it out,” said the man of the group, a strong, calm, man pointing at the ground. The boys looked. “No—leave it alone,” he said. One of the boys spoke softly. “He killed it?” asked the man. We walked on, while I thought about the challenge of one man handling a dozen boys on a camping trip.

The next day, a weekday, brought another group, a regular one here—Camp Georgetown. Inmates from this low security facility help keep the grass cut, remove fallen trees from the trails, and pick up trash around the campground. The weather isn’t always conducive to these activities, so on some days, they mill about the van parked on the beach, just enjoying nature—a reward for guys with good behavior, I’m guessing. They certainly aren’t considered any risk, as the guard, while armed, is relaxed, barely attentive, and clearly doesn’t expect any trouble.

This morning they certainly weren’t in a hurry. The van was ahead of me when I turned down the dirt road to the trails. They stopped a few times while an inmate got out to pick up trash. I was in no hurry. When Shanti and I had hiked around the pond, the van was parked right dead in the campground road. This was unusual, as several other options are available. The guys were standing around, spread out around the van, a few of them sitting inside, the guard standing with his back to the group in front of the van, talking to the forest ranger in his pickup truck on this daily rounds.

One of the guys was standing off by the edge of the forest, looking into the brush. Later, I pieced together that he was looking after the turtle he had rescued. Turtles here sometimes cross the roads—probably the reason the van was stopped where it was. “Is that a wolf?” one of them asked me, sitting on the back ledge of the van. A lot of people ask me that, and yes, Shanti does look like an Arctic wolf. I pulled the leash in—lots of people are afraid of “big” dogs (although at 48 lbs., I consider her a medium size dog). This guy, though, was clearly interested, and since Shanti loves all people, we moved in closer. Man and dog loved each other, and the guys and I chatted while Shanti soaked up the attention—in a cloud of white fur (shedding season big time). “You live around here?” “Does she run loose on the trails?” Stuff like that.

“Give her some bread,” said one of the guys in the van. “Just a little,” I cautioned, “she probably won’t eat it.” They pulled off a tennis ball size piece of hot dog roll. She didn’t eat it, but man and dog loved playing with it for a bit. “Want some water?” he asked—and offered her a palmful of water from a cooler on the back of the van. “Get her a cup, Ghost” said one of the guys. Man reached behind and produced a grey cup, filled it with water, and set it on the ground. To my surprise, Shanti drank it all. “That’s YOUR cup, Ghost!” the guys warned, good naturedly. Ghost held the cup while Shanti licked out every corner. She placed her front paws on the back of the van and poked her nose inside. “Shanti,” I called quietly. “No, girl—you don’t want to go in there,” warned Ghost. “That’s too much like a kennel.”

I hated to leave—Ghost was clearly enjoying this, and Shanti certainly didn’t mind. Things to do.

I’m reminded of a guy I met once, an accident victim. After years of sobriety, he had several beers at a Fourth of July party and hit a telephone pole on the way home. He was in the hospital for weeks, and had no memory of the event—just going by what friends told him later. He still had memory lapses. He lost his wife, his construction business, his house, everything.

A calm, gentle, nice guy. We asked him what he missed most. He thought for a few moments.

“My dog,” he said. “I just miss my dog.”


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