Tag Archives: Hill Country of Texas

Jack’s Tail of Two Cities- Part II of Jack’s Story

Editor’s note: This is the second part of Little Jack’s dictated story. I hope you enjoy it. Also Jack asked me to thank his fans for their emails and words of encouragement.  When he said this, his tail was wagging broadly and he sported a giant canine grin.

Little Jack, also known as Scrapper, dictating his backstory. Note he lays on two pillows- a long way from his days when on the road

 

It wasn’t long after Eddie’s departure for college that I overheard his parents talking about a trip to visit one of her littermates. Actually I may not have understood the whole event at the time but filled in details later. I know that I understood “go” and “car”- two words quite sufficient to excite me. At that time I was still learning to understand more complicated human speech.

I sat licking my paws just to have something to do when the important conversation between Eddie’s parents occurred. Initially I had a glimmer of understanding but that soon grew into a full-fledged idea, much like when chewing on a bone in the dark and becoming surprised to discover residual meat on the bone.

You see, I vaguely remembered from where I had come and held a strong desire to visit there again. Haven’t you had this feeling? My birthplace may not have been perfect, yet I recalled it as nearly so. Eddie’s parents became more purposeful that week and began to pack their suitcases. I became increasingly excited over the prospect of going on a car trip.

I displayed my excitement by repeatedly scratching to go in and out the backdoor of our house, a behavior that seemed to irritate Eddie’s parents. Wasn’t that what back doors were for? I must admit that I become frustrated by how slowly humans move. After all, once I had my collar on, I was packed and ready to depart!

One morning my sluggish human companions finally began loading their suitcases into the car, grabbed up my sack of dry dog food and bowls, and climbed into the car that made the droning sound. I didn’t have to be called, as I had already bounded onto the backseat of the car. No way would I be left behind.

No way are you leaving me behind. Note tags that jangle.

We headed out of that busy, smelly city and drove into the countryside. We drove for a long time. Eventually the flat plain fell behind us, and the land turned hilly with gurgling creeks and streams. I kept my nose pressed against the window, panting the whole time. By the end of the trip I had nose prints covering that side window.

The number of cars and trucks on the road gradually grew less. The air became fresher and more fragrant. I smelled flowery smells, the earthy smells of cattle, and the sweet fragrance of freshly turned soil. Those smells I recognized and they pleased me and made my tail wag. This all had an uncanny familiarity for me. These scents not only were familiar, but they also tantalized my nose and made it twitch.

We eventually arrived at a cattle ranch just west of Fredericksburg. The trip seemed to take a long time, perhaps because I was much too excited to sleep. I rode in the backseat with my tail striking the back of the front seat. I think my thumping tail on the back of the seat and the jangling sound of my tags from scratching had aggravated the man, as during one of the car stops he removed my collar. It just didn’t take much to irritate him. For me I like the sound of jangling tags, except of course when I am stalking a squirrel.

Ahead of the car appeared a beautiful, bright sunset, as if beckoning me home. I panted with excitement. I could barely contain my excitement. I felt at one with this countryside; a completely different feeling than for the big city.

Soon I’d be free to run around in a big yard and go free without that wretched leash. I was one happy, excited dog, although I knew a visit did not mean forever, and it would end far too soon.

Admittedly, once back in the country, I gave thought to running away from the ranch. I feel guilty for even admitting this. I had several opportunities when I could have easily slipped under the barbed wire fence and have taken off to explore surrounding ranches. Nevertheless, leaving my food bowl and more importantly, deserting my humans kept me from doing so.

Hadn’t Eddie asked me to look after his parents? And what about chasing off those pesky squirrels in the yard? Those taunting squirrels might just overrun the place without me!

Ultimately the day of our planned departure for the big, stinky city arrived. At the time I rested under a tree next to a stream not far from the house. From there I watched Eddie’s parents straining to carry out their suitcases. I heard Eddie’s Dad call out for me in his deep voice.

“Scrapper, Scrapper, time to pack up the car and go! Come on Scrapper.”

I considered turning my back on him and heading off in another direction. I felt a tug between my feeling of oneness with this country that felt so right and my loyalty to my family from the big, smelly city. They weren’t much of a family, mind you, but loyalty is loyalty, and I am a very loyal dog.

“Hurry up Scrapper. It’s time to leave. Load up now!”
Both Eddie’s parents were calling. Their pitched voices sounded sorrowful, as they repeatedly summoned me. As if my own will had been stolen from me, I stood up, arched my back, stretched, and trotted back toward the yard. Once there I feigned a happy side-to-side tail waggle and jumped through the open back door into the car. Eddie’s father smiled.

I can’t fully explain how I felt about this situation except to say, I was hesitant to leave. Still I was loyal, and they were my human companions. Eddie’s father stuck his head in through the backdoor and removed my collar and tags for the trip. I settled in, awaiting the final packing of the car, expecting to hear the trunk slam shut at any moment.

It was then that something entirely unexpected occurred, something so thrilling, so galling that it would change the course of my young life. I saw a black, four-footed animal with what looked like a black mask, scurrying across the lawn. It had dark, evil appearing eyes and an alternating black and white striped tail. I caught a whiff of it and the animal cast off a different scent from any animal I had ever smelled. I had never experienced a raccoon before, but I was pretty sure it held evil, vile intentions and required my dealing with it. I needed to defend the house and my people from this disreputable predator. I raised myself up and launched myself out the open door. I took off at full speed, racing after the intruder.

The evil raccoon

The raccoon saw me coming, turned tail and lit out. It ran under the fence and scurried into a nearby woods. I dove through the fence, raking myself on the barbed wire in the process. One must sacrifice when pursuing bad animals. I could run faster than could the raccoon and rapidly closed the distance between us. What I didn’t realize was how good the masked one would be at hiding. He had a regular disappearing act. Several times I overran that sneaky raccoon, as it hid behind trees and expertly concealed itself in low spots. I had to place my nose to the ground several times and retrace my path in order to pick up its distinctive, musky scent. Having found its trail, I followed it. Repeatedly I jumped the raccoon, and each time it raced off with me in close pursuit.

The sneaky raccoon

What I failed to recognize at that time was how my pursuit was leading me farther and farther away from my city family and the car that made the droning sound. During the frantic chase, I seemed to lose all track of time. Oh what fun I was having!

After considerable time had passed, I looked up, surveyed the area for familiar surroundings, and failed to recognize where I was. I began to make a large circle, surveying the area. Nothing at all looked familiar. I was lost. I felt confused and for the first time in my life, I was entirely alone. Let me tell you that’s a pretty scary experience for a small, young dog.

I spent the rest of the day, searching around for familiar landmarks and my people. But by then I had lost all sense of direction. I cocked my ears up and heard no telltale sounds. Time passed. Finally the sun began to set behind some distant hills. The air temperature dropped. Fortunately my fur coat keeps me warm unless the temperature gets really low. Tired by this time, I lay down in an earthen crevice beside a stream and began to assess my situation. I licked my wounds where I had earlier scraped myself bolting through the barbed wire fence. I considered my options. It didn’t take me long to realize my circumstances were not good, not good at all.

To Be Continued

The Importance Of Place

Have you ever noticed how comfortable you feel at home?  Each of us has a certain comfort zone and a sense of place. I’ve often wondered about this?

Buddy as a puppy. “Say this lap feels pretty natural”

This feeling of belonging, belonging to a certain geographical place affects us all- a place that feels right, looks right, smells right and provides comfort and mitigates the travails of the world. Whether it’s early imprinting, as occurs with baby chicks, or some combination of the sounds, smells, sights, and memories (an overall gestalt for an area), I am not entirely sure. Nevertheless, for many who have lived away from their special places know the strength and durability of the homeward draw. It’s like a magnetic force and can be almost overpowering.

Buddy:Being in this pickup truck just feels right

Trudy and I lived for ten years in Minnesota while I trained in Neurology. Our two children were born there and we have wonderful memories of Minnesota. We met some lovely, lifelong friends, enjoyed the incredible 10,000 pristine lakes, and delighted in many novel experiences (have you ever tried lefsa or lutefisk?).

Nevertheless, both Trudy and I felt a nascent longing to return to Texas, our native home. When offered the opportunity to join the faculty of the new Texas Tech School of Medicine in Lubbock, Texas, we quickly determined to leave our adopted State of Minnesota and head homeward.

What is it that makes a place comfortable for us? I’d lived in Texas during my formative years. Trudy had always lived in Texas. We both missed the gratuitous friendliness and expansiveness of spirit that is Texas.

Minnesotans were in no way unfriendly but seemed not as overtly warm and forthcoming as we’d come to expect from growing up in Texas. Plus we admittedly missed the Mexican food and Bar-B-Que along with the independent mindedness and largeness of spirit in Texas.

A friend of mine in Fredericksburg, Texas recently told me of having his grandchildren visit from New York City. Wishing to introduce his grandchildren to the wide, open spaces of Texas, he drove his grandchildren to The Big Bend Area. There with their recently purchased packs, canteens, and hiking boots, they set off on a well marked park trail to explore the grandeur of the Big Bend National Park.

After some time had passed, one grandchild developed a quizzical look on his face, looked around with an expression of perplexity, and said in a panicky voice, “Grandfather, we are lost!”

The grandfather asked in a calm voice, “what makes you think we are lost?”

The grandson replied, “Well, there are no people here, we must be lost!”

“I feel right at home in my pack.”
Buddy stands tall above Mollie and Bandit

 

The lack of people, the lack of built environments, and absent din of traffic noise was not “home” for the grandson. It was clearly different from New York City. No doubt the solitude struck the boy as unnerving and frightening. The grandfather shared that he strove to introduce an alternative sense of place to his grandchildren, one closer to nature than is New York City.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’ve learned a lot about animal and human behavior by simply watching our furry, four-footed friends. This includes the importance of a sense of place.

Buddy, our now senior Border collie, was born in my bedroom closet.

Daughter-in-law Alissa holding Buddy shortly after his birth

With rare exception Buddy has never ventured much beyond the outer fence of our ranch. Oh he frequently rides along on trips to the feed store and has on occasion gone on a wild bull chase throughout neighboring, overgrown ranches (see an earlier post, Slacker), but he is most definitely a home dog.

Buddy crouched and ready to herd

Once and only once, Trudy and I drove him to our daughter’s home in central Dallas. Buddy absolutely hated it. The loud sounds and strange smells were, I suppose, not what he was used to. He let his displeasure known by wetting on the floor, whining, pacing, scratching at the door, and at the end of the visit most eager to jump into the car and return to the ranch. We’ll never make that mistake again. Buddy is not and never will be a city dog.

Once when our ranch house was undergoing remodeling, we had to move about an eighth of a mile and live for several days in our guest house. Buddy, despite the short distance from our home, absolutely hated it.

We had packed a few things and loaded up the dogs for our stay at the guest house (The Yellow Rose). When the sun began to set, Buddy began scratching at the door of the Yellow Rose to go out. When later I went to call him in, I couldn’t find him. Buddy had gone home. I had to return to our main house, gather him from the back porch, and haul him back to the guest house.

Buddy: “Just thought I’d wait for you here on the porch at home while you dawdled  at that other place”

This sequence  of futility repeated several times before I wised up and closed the yard gate to the guest house so that Buddy could not leave. Needless to say, our dog spent a few restless nights at the guest house while the remodeling proceeded.

I learned from Buddy’s escapes that a sense of place proved more important than for him than did human companionship. His preference for place over person proved a little humbling but informative as to what was most important in Buddy’s canine world.

Like Buddy we all share a feeling of comfort when at home and mild discomfort when away from home.  A sense of place may go a long way to explaining homesickness, an emotion we have all felt.

While we may not understand why others feel comfortable in radically different places than our own and with different looks, smells, and accents than what we are used to, we can perhaps understand the comfort that comes to others with residing in their own familiar places.

“Why look elsewhere when I am already home”

A final thought regarding a sense of place deals with the impact of age. As Buddy gets older, he’s developing an even stronger love of home and dislike of travel. He is the first  to return to the pickup when we work on the ranch. Buddy is the first dog to want to go inside when spending time on the patio or in the yard. He is the least likely of the dogs now to participate in a deer chase or challenge a cow.

Perhaps as an older dog, Buddy feels more vulnerable. Home is comforting for him. Are there parallels in humans? As humans age, it strikes me we also develop an increased awareness of our frailties and have an increased love of home place. Don’t many older people, like Buddy, appear less willing to travel, explore, and seek out new adventures?

Our sense of place seems as important for humans, as it is for our canine companions. Perhaps our sense of place which is lifelong may even strengthen with age as it does for my four-footed friend.