Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas thoughts,the turkey march and great dogs and cats

Christmas 2009 is now in the history books. This year’s Christmas was one where Michelle and I kicked back and did very, very little. It was fine. We exchanged a few simple gifts between us and my in-laws and after that we relaxed and let the snow fall. That part has been kind of interesting because in the space of only a couple of days we’ve had well up to two feet of snow. We also had to deal with the sustained winds over 20 mph (closer to 30 I guess) which makes this storm the Blizzard of Christmas 09. Or, as the Grand Forks Herald calls this storm in the Sunday Morning edition—Blizzard Alvin, named after the coincidental release of the new Alvin and the Chipmunks movie. Okay, I can buy that.

One thing about this storm is that it has put the lid on my hunting season. I think Cookie is equally convinced hunting season is now over. This evening, after a very short stint outside, she decided the best place to be was in front of my woodstove. With more than two feet of snow on the ground pheasant hunting would be a huge challenge for both of us and the birds certainly don’t need the pressure. (The picture is of Cookie soaking up the heat of the wood stove.)

The snowstorm has brought some guests to town—a flock of wild turkeys! This area has never been known for a huntable population of wild turkeys and when Michelle and I first moved here in the fall of 2000 we contacted the state DOW about stocking wild turkeys on her family’s farm, only to be told the birds couldn’t survive. Guess what? They were wrong and Michelle’s intuition about the birds was right. Nowadays it is not at all uncommon for us to see wild turkeys in the region. I think the birds are adapting quite well to North Dakota and just to prove it, when the weather gets tough, the birds come to town. They’ve been feasting on the crabapples in my in-laws’ yard as well in other yards. Yesterday morning Michelle and I were treated to the Wild Turkey March (sort of like the Elephant Walk) as the birds, in single file, walked down the street in front of our house, turned west at the corner and walked down that street and headed for the grain elevators where they could feed on the spilled grain. Unfortunately I keep my camera in my office, which is 50 feet from the house so I didn’t get a picture but I’ll carry it into the house with me for a few days and try to get a photo.

Something this Christmas that got me to thinking was a little gift that Michelle gave her mother. It is a framed card and on it is written a nice expression about favorite dogs in heaven. I’ve always wondered if, when I die, I will have the pleasure of being rejoined with the great dogs of my life. You know, the dogs that were part of our life from the time they were a puppy until they left us, sometimes old, sometimes before they became old--always too soon. I’ve often thought about Toby, my first dog. She was really the family dog and everyone claimed her but she’s still imprinted on my memory as “my” dog. There came a succession of other dogs but none of them made an imprint until after Vietnam, when my first wife and I were living in San Diego. We had a string of dogs, ending with one called Rocky. Of these dogs only Scruffy seemed to have really imprinted himself on that dog part of my being. We gave him to a farmer because he was too big for military housing.

I didn’t have another dog until I acquired Grettel, my Springer spaniel. Her full name was Crestone Grettel, named after the peaks that towered over the kennel where she was born. The first and last photographs of Grettel adorn my office bookshelf and every time I look up I see Grettel as a puppy with pushed up nose and no flecking on her legs and she's looking at me from behind a tree. Right above that picture is one of me holding a shotgun and reaching down to pet her. We’re standing in the swampy waters of a wetland near Florence, Colorado where we had been hunting my favorite shorebird—Wilson Snipe. She is now buried under the evergreen tree at a friend’s house. She died in my arms after being hit by an inattentive, speeding driver. My next dog, also a Springer, was Jenny, her registered name was Lord Nelson’s Jennifer-Diane. She died here in North Dakota and her ashes are on another book shelf. I’ve never had the heart to part with them although I’ve always said I would bury her ashes next to Grettel. Michelle says she’ll mix Jenny’s ashes, and the ashes of any of my other dogs, or cats, with mine and either scatter them together or have them buried together.

I remember when I buried Grettel; a half-dozen friends went with me to Al’s house and stood around while I buried her, my hunting coat lining her grave, with an unfired 12-gauge shell in a coat pocket. When she slept in my makeshift office while I worked she used my hunting coat for a bed. It was only right that she sleep on it for eternity. My friends were there as much for themselves as to provide comfort to me. First thing every morning, when I opened the door, Grettel made the rounds to visit her friends. Whenever we came home from hunting or fishing she made her rounds again, as if to check that everything was okay in the world. I always worried she’d get hit by a car near our home. I lost her the morning of July 7, 1987, when I took her to the park for a morning walk.

I buried two other pets under that same tree. They were both pets that had been part of our family. There was Hans, a mutt dog that had belonged to Gail, my second wife, before we even met and he become a major fixture in our home and after I brought Grettel home he became her best friend. He died in October, 1990. There was also Lucas the Cat. I adopted him before Gail and I were married. Hans didn’t mind Lucas sharing our bed and when I acquired Grettel neither she nor Hans seemed to mind sharing bed space with Lucas, although the bed sometimes got a little crowded with Gail, me, two dogs and the cat.

Lucas was the last of the three to die, in August, 1995.

Hans, I’ve always believed, was poisoned by a mean-spirited old man who lived behind us. I truly detested the old bastard and one day, when he was across the fence between our yards and cussing Gail’s new dog’s barking (Sarah didn’t bark) he said, “I got rid of one dog, I can rid of another.” I decked him. It didn’t matter that he was probably in his late 60’s or early 70’s. Even if he hadn’t poisoned Hans he evidently killed someone’s dog and deserved a fist in the face. A few months later he died of a heart attack and when another neighbor asked me if I wanted to contribute to flowers for the family I declined, then added that he was a pet killer and the world was a better place without him.

Lucas the Cat was the only one of the three that lived a full life. The end of a great relationship came when was just over 17 years old and he suffering from feline diabetes. Lucas was urinating almost pure blood and his weight had dropped so much that he was no more than bones encased in fur. When I took him to the vet to be put to sleep they had trouble finding a vein but a minute or so after they did his eyes, which had been mostly closed for days, opened wide and he looked at me. Not with terror, fear or anything terrible, but the same look of love that he had held in those eyes for the fifteen years he was part of my life. Then he closed his eyes and I watched him sigh and stop breathing. I took him out to my friend’s house and asked for permission to bury Lucas beside his friends. Al told me I could and offered to help. I told him I wanted to do it alone, feeling that I was burying something else as well. When I was finished, I put a rose on the marker Al had made for Grettel, another one on Hans’ grave and one on the fresh dirt that covered Lucas. I know my eyes were so full of tears that the hardest thing for me to do was see anything clearly but I swear that through the misty haze of my eyes I saw Lucas walk up to Grettel, rub her chin and then go between Hans and Grettel where he sat for a second, as if waiting, and then the dogs turned and trotted away, with Lucas running between them. All three now reunited. Once, they looked back at me then disappeared into the mist of my eyes.

That card about our pets waiting for us in heaven. Well, I think it has to be true—don’t you?


Chas S. Clifton said...

Of course I remember those dogs, even you trying to turn Hans into a rabbit dog.

Word verification: antedual. Back in the days before you could buy a pickup truck with dualies.

John said...

I personally hope all the animals you shot will be waiting for you in heaven as well, but to be honest I don't think that's where you're going.

Galen Geer said...

Chas, Well, you gotta admit, Hans did like to chase bunnies. glg

Galen Geer said...

I am going to guess that you are opposed to hunting, or do you have some insight to my checkered past that marks me for hell? glg