Monday, November 22, 2010

To Leap, Perchance to Die

Several times a week, my partner and I walk our four dogs together. The walk is lovely, down a rustic path that skirts a flowing stream on one side and fragrant woods on the other. We let the dogs off lead here. Watching them run at fill-tilt down the path and through the brush is such a joy. It seems at these moments that this is what they were born to do, and they love it.

There are a few problems, however. Three out of four of our pooches are not the best at coming when called. And they have become more and more brazen in their exploration lately. Sammy tends to walk too close to the railroad tracks off in the distance. Charlie likes to run up the hill and inspect a few private backyards while up there. But Percy takes the cake. Somewhere around mid-walk, we come to a big duck pond. Here we see an idyllic scene, complete with waterfowl and small mammals scampering about. Lurking beneath the mirrored surface, however are snapping turtles and piranha (okay, maybe none of the latter). We have had a few close calls with them. On the far side, the pond pours over a ledge in a 20-foot waterfall, down to a shallow pool below, filled with jutting rocks and debris. Percy loves this ledge.

The ledge itself is about 18 inches wide and runs the width of the pond, breaking open only for the waterfall itself. The ledge has a 2-foot step-down at one point. Percy usually just scares us by trotting out halfway or so, and coming back. Last week, she got braver. She went out far. My partner called to her, getting very nervous. Percy hopped down the 2-foot step and walked a little close to the falls. "Percy!, get back here," my partner yelled, some desperation now in her voice. She decided to go out on the ledge herself to rescue her, knowing the silly little dog could not scoot back UP those two feet. Now I was afraid. As I made my way to the edge, I heard my partner scream. "NO!!! She JUMPED!"

I ran down to the bottom of the shallow pool, waded in and scanned the water for what I thought MUST be a limp fur ball. I was ready for a November swim. Fortunately (for me!) Sammy located her on the edge and began barking. I ran to the edge, leaned way over and pulled her out. She looked like a drowned rat. I took off my jacket (just like in the movies!) and we wrapped our shivering daredevil up. My partner was crying. We carried Percy a ways back home, setting her down after a while to make sure she had not been injured. She was fine and said in dog body language, "Hey! That was fun! Let's do it again!". We said no.

We came home, made a fire and sat around eating dinner. The dogs, tired out from their excellent adventure, slept peacefully by the hearth. We re-capped, noting the similarity of the leap to the dramatic one taken by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in that movie classic from the sixties. "I can't swim," Sundance says sullenly. Butch bursts out laughing. "Are you kidding?", he asks. "The FALL will kill you!"
They leap, shouting as they drop, survive and go on to further adventures.

Percy must have seen the movie.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Winter of the Goose

On the mornings I go walking without my dogs, I often pass Baxter Pond. Baxter Pond is man-made, I think, but lovely and natural-looking. There are weeping trees and hearty indigenous plantings all along its banks. A small bump of land in the middle is homebase to several clans - mallard ducks, sea gulls (visitors from the bay next door) and, especially, Canada Geese.

These geese are a lot of fun. They are not afraid of people, either pedestrian or automotive. In the spring, when goslings have hatched and the gaggles are especially close-knit, it is common to see those geese families crossing the road to get to the bay where, I assume, the menu selection is better. With one parent in front and one in the back, the geese babies walk carefully in a straight line across four lanes of stopped traffic. Most of the time people are very good and patient. They stop, roll down their windows and smile affectionately as the geese waddle their way across. Some crabby people try to weave around them or, even worse, try to muscle the geese out of their way by driving real close and honking their own horns. We don't like these impatient, heartless people.

Usually, the waterfowl of Baxter Pond keeps to itself. But one winter, a few years back, there was an odd bird (sorry, had to) living in the pond. He was a goose, but not a Canada Goose. He was brownish-gray and had one of those bumps over his orange bill. He was extremely friendly and openly solicited snacks from passersby.

I named him Harry. Since I was walking nearly every day at that time, I saw Harry quite often. It got to the point where I would stroll by, call his name and wait, knowing he would appear out of the rushes momentarily. And he did, honking and flapping. I fed him cracked corn (I know I shouldn't have) and talked to him for a few minutes before continuing on my way. Harry ate from my hand. He didn't seem to have any friends among the others. He was the only gray-brown goose and all the other birds pretty much kept to their own kind. I felt sorry about that. Such a friendly fellow deserved a few buddies.

These visits continued into the spring, until, after several straight days of not seeing a trace of Harry, I decided he was really gone. I never saw him again. It is interesting how powerful an impact even small interactions with other living things can have on us. I can still see Harry popping through the reedy grass upon hearing his name called. I can still hear his insistent honk when I took too long getting his snacks out of my pocket and how he would try to help himself, nosing in and sometimes getting my fingertip instead of corn.

A friend later suggested Harry may have been someone's pet at one time. That would explain his lack of shyness and his only-ness at the pond. Part of me wished I had taken him home, however impractical that would have been. I wonder and worry about him, even now. Does he know this? Can he remember these moments in his life? I wish I knew.