Tag Archives: Medicine Spirit Ranch

Buzzards and Vultures

What a joy to publish a guest blog piece  from a friend and true expert on bird behavior. The honor is even greater and more personal as Dr. Rylander was one of my principal professors when I attended college and majored in Zoology. What a surprise when Dr. Rylander and I learned that following our retirements that we had both chosen Fredericksburg, Texas, as a place to live. He is the author of Behavior of Texas Birds, published by the University of Texas Press.

One of the nearly constant sights over our ranch is the presence of vultures languidly circling high above. Little did I understand the differences of the two types of vultures that we see, although always being amazed by their graceful flight and efficient clean up of roadkill along our rural roads. Dr. Rylander makes their presence more meaningful and enjoyable to view than I had ever considered. Enjoy!

 

Guest Blog Piece by Kent Rylander, Ph.D.

Growing up on a farm during the late 1940’s, my brother and I called them “buzzards” – those large, black, hawk-like birds that soar in circles high overhead, or that stand on the highway by a road kill and fly away lazily if cars approach too closely. Even today most farmers in Denton County call them buzzards, and some still shoot them because they think they’re hawks or that they transmit diseases.
Later, when our parents gave us a field guide, we learned the preferred name, “vulture,” a term ornithologists introduced to distinguish our vultures from the unrelated African buzzards. We also learned that two species occur in Texas, the Turkey Vulture and the Black Vulture.

Black Vulture on the left and Turkey vulture on the right


Overhead these two vultures might appear to be the same species because they are so similar in general appearance. However, a closer look reveals that the Turkey Vulture is very light on the wing and rocks gently back and forth as it effortlessly soars for hours; it rarely needs to flap its wings. In contrast, the Black Vulture’s body appears too heavy even for its broad wings. Indeed, Black Vultures must flap and glide just to stay aloft even at high altitudes where thermals are strong.


The “personalities” of these two species are related to their different body types. Both have keen eyesight and regularly search for carrion while they soar high above the ground, but they differ in an important way. The Turkey Vulture’s large wing to body ratio allows it to fly low over the ground and locate small animals such as snakes and rodents. It also has a sense of smell, which almost all birds, including the Black Vulture, lack because olfaction is useless for an animal that spends most of the time in the air.


More than a century ago Audubon claimed he demonstrated olfaction in Turkey Vultures by placing a dead animal under a sheet next to a realistic painting of a carcass. A vulture flew down to the painting but ignored it, then pulled the carcass out from under the sheet.


Although Black Vultures can’t locate small carcasses because they must fly high to stay aloft, they compensate for this limitation by watching Turkey Vultures forage low over the ground. When a Black Vulture sees a Turkey Vulture feeding on a small carcass, it drops down and drives the Turkey Vulture away. The Turkey Vulture seems to accept being bullied by its much heavier and stronger relative, even when both are at a large carcass.


Is the Black Vulture more aggressive because its size enables it to be a bully, or is it basically just a more aggressive animal?


The answer to this question lies with the young, fluffy white fledglings, which hatch and live in small caves in cliffs and rock formations. When a person approaches a Turkey Vulture fledgling, the young bird cowers and retreats to the back of the cave; but when a Black Vulture fledgling is approached, it hisses and lunges at the intruder.


So when we look up and see Turkey Vultures and Black Vultures soaring together, ostensibly cooperating while looking for a well-deserved meal to share, we know that, thanks to their genetics, they’re not foraging together because they’re friends.

Buddy’s Last Tail Walk

It’s a sad day on the ranch. Buddy’s walking, continence, and comfort level continued to deteriorate. This dog who was born on our ranch (in my closet actually), herded the cattle with great skill, miraculously broke up bull fights, and has now died on this ranch will be missed. Buddy’s pain led to mournful yelps these last weeks. But he died surrounded by his pack of dogs and humans while proudly overlooking his domain from his station in the back of the pickup. I feel compelled to write this sad note for all who knew Buddy personally and for those of you who knew him only through this blog. He was quite a dog!

By this morning the dark clouds of Hurricane Hanna had spread over south and central Texas including Medicine Spirit Ranch. No moisture has fallen to the ground as yet from the gray, ominous clouds, in contrast to that on our cheeks. Just after being laid to rest in a grave beside his mother, Mollie, the sun briefly broke through the dark sky, illuminating his still body like a spotlight. Interpret that as you will. Buddy died peacefully and at a time that was appropriate.

Buddy’s incredible herding skills moving cattle will be remembered. But even more so, we will miss his love for family. His bravery in the face of large animals was unsurpassed. He was the most loyal being I’ve ever known. For reasons known only to Buddy, he sought me out wherever. He was my constant companion. He laid beside me in the bed for six weeks when I was recovering from my own back injury. He was aptly named.

Perhaps such devotion, if in a human, would be seen as cult-like. Nevertheless, I cannot help but feel flattered by his allegiance and devotion to our family. Of course this is a Border collie trait, but Buddy showed this behavior in spades.


Buddy will be missed. What a dog!

Buddy as a younger dog. That’ll do Buddy.

Tailwalking Buddy

Not that many years ago, a Border collie puppy named Buddy was born beneath a row of slacks that hung within my closet.

Alissa, our daughter in law, holding Buddy as a puppy

This puppy along with two other older Border collies would one day drive off a pack of marauding coyotes that, under cover of darkness, had stolen up behind Buddy’s human companions.This was the puppy who eventually would grow into an adept ranch dog capable of breaking up fights between huge bulls and of skillfully moving a cattle herd across our ranch.

A young Buddy

This was the patient dog who spent six weeks at my side while I, not so patiently, waited out a painful back injury. This was the puppy that would eventually grow into a wise old dog and who has now entered his dotage. In short, Buddy has now grown old.

Six months ago Buddy passed his 14th birthday. While his eyesight and hearing are not as keen as they once were, his major physical limitation relates to his mobility. You see, his rear end tends to give away, causing him to unceremoniously plop down. His collapse is usually followed by his soulful eyes pleading for a bit of help to regain his four footed stance. Trudy or I will then help him to his feet and allow him to get underway. We have found that by holding onto his tail and slightly elevating it, he is far more capable of walking without falling. This maneuver seems to aid Buddy’s balance and walking. We refer to this as tailwalking Buddy.

For a dog as independent-minded as a Border collie, it is surprising that Buddy accepts our tailwalking, but Buddy has a way of accepting gracefully his limitations that accompany his aging. I never thought acceptance would become one of his traits along with his intelligence, herding ability, and loyalty to his human companions.

Buddy also must now wear a belly band and incontinence pad. We suspect Buddy’s leakage also relates to his old spinal cord injury.

Notice the belly band around Buddy

Our method proves effective but requires us to buy large amounts of incontinence products at the grocery store and order his male belly belts online. Together this combination of items has saved spotting around the house. Again Buddy accepts the belly belt and pad without seeming to question. When he enters the house he waits patiently just inside the door for Trudy or me to fasten into place his padded doggie belt. (I worry as to what the store clerks must think about Trudy buying such large quantities of male incontinence pads! Fredericksburg is, after all, a fairly small town.)

Trudy and I have made other modifications around the house including elevating Buddy’s dog bowl to make it easier for him to eat, placing runners in our tiled bathroom to facilitate Buddy making it to his elevated dog bowl without falling down, and lifting Buddy into and out of the padded bed of my pickup.

We are unclear as to why Buddy shows progressive walking impairment. We do know that years ago Buddy suffered a spinal cord injury from a ruptured disc that briefly left him with paralyzed hind limbs. We suspect this is the likely cause, worsening now with his advancing age. With patience and rehab Buddy following his original injury gained a normal gait although never achieving full strength in his hind legs. Border collies also may develop hip dysplasia that could also be a contributing factor.

Trudy tailwalking Buddy

 

At times Buddy whimpers, yelps, and pants, all symptoms that suggest he is in pain. Learning this our veterinarian prescribed pain pills. These pills have helped. Nevertheless, nighttime is the worst time for Buddy. Trudy and I have spent many nights letting Buddy in and out of the house, requiring us to tailwalk him up and down the stairs to the yard, laying on the floor attempting to comfort him (he sleeps under the bed), and providing middle of the night snacks. Our list of interventions is short but repeatable. It is also exhausting.

A recent addition of a second pain medicine has provided further benefit. Nevertheless, on a daily basis we seem to see an overall worsening of Buddy’s mobility. His decline inevitably brings up the wracking question as to how long we should proceed with our Buddy routines in light of Buddy’s  discomfort. If Buddy stopped eating, lost his zeal to travel in the pickup, or no longer showed his love of life, the decision would become much easier. For now Trudy and I will help our aging Buddy dog to travel around the house and yard by holding his tail and dutifully trailing along behind him. Metaphorically speaking, is not this what Buddy has always done for us?

I’m here for you my human companions

Tom and Buddy

 

Winter At Medicine Spirit Ranch

The work changes with the seasons at Medicine Spirit Ranch. In many ways winter is the busiest time of year because we must keep the animals supplied with hay and supplemental protein.

Also we carry out tasks more suited for winter months. For example, the small evergreen juniper saplings, referred to locally as “cedar”, visually contrast better in winter from the tall brown grass. This makes it easier to find the cedar in winter and to apply a set of loppers to the task. The cedar is most unwelcome on ranches, because it demands huge amounts of water and competes with the various grasses needed for our grazing animals.

Also we repair fences during the winter. The fences become stretched from cows leaning over them and deer jumping through them. Also feral hogs have made their unwelcome appearance and will likely create still more fencing problems. Ugh!

We horses need our protein pellets every day. Now don’t be late!

We work on equipment during the winter that typically is in heavy use during the warmer parts of the year. We cut dead trees and clear drainage pipes under ranch roads. The daily cattle feeding is greater during the winter than during the remainder of the year as we keep them supplied with hay in the form of giant (900 pound) bales. We also feed the cattle range cubes on a daily basis to supplement their protein needs.

The horses on the other hand receove their protein containing feed every day year round whereas the cattle don’t during the non-winter months. Given the excitement and jousting for the range cubes by the cattle, we refer to it as “cow candy.”

So why do the horses get supplemental feed every day of the year and we don’t?

This past week we’ve been repairing a well in one of our pastures. This job proved arduous, as we had to dig up a 45-gallon container that was buried in the ground. The container stores water and moves it to a nearby water trough. We found a leek at the connection that fed into the bottom of the tank. Unfortunately after replacing the pump motor, replacing the water container and some  PVC connections,  and then reburying the tank, we sprung yet another leak. It seems the large water container sank deeper into the hole, re-breaking the PVC pipe. A second attempt at this fix hopefully has addressed the problem. We’ll see. So far, so good.

Curious how the cattle stood around the developing pond resulting from the leak and gawked at our inability to fix their water trough. I am pretty sure Number 36, a.k.a. “the Tongue” was chuckling. Cheeky cow! She is my nemesis.

We continue to vaccinate calves for black leg (a bacterial infection) and periodically take a load of yearlings to market. Six calves have been born within the last week or so. They are so cute at this age. See their pics below.

We never seem run out of tasks on the ranch despite the season. Nevertheless, I can hardly wait for Spring to arrive.

Morning Symphony

Trudy and I continue to “camp out” in our guesthouse while our home undergoes renovation and restoration. Because of a flood, our wooden floors required replacing and we had to move out for three weeks. While we were at it, we decided to do a bit of updating as well. Fortunately we had a guesthouse to move into rather than having to move to a motel (a dog friendly one, of course). We plan on moving back to our usual house in just a few days. Hoorah!

While we have felt frustration over our inability to access certain items, my morning routine has remained unchanged. It begins with a canine symphony, or should I call it a canine cacophony?

You see, after I shower and begin to dress for the day, my two Border collies, Bandit and Bella, begin barking like crazed dogs. They become so excited by the prospect of going out onto the ranch. They are not at all patient


“Two-footed humans sure move slowly!”

.

Jack, our little brown dog, appears nonplussed by the whole matter. If anything Jack places himself between the Borders and me, attempting to prevent the overly excited collies from jumping up  while I totter about on one leg, putting on my jeans.

I am a good dog in the morning, not like those noisy Border collies.”

I’ve found that the barking of the Border collies cannot be suppressed. I try repeatedly to shush them verbally, but to no avail. I even resort to gently squeezing their jaws together. Nothing works. Bella, bless her little canine heart, has even taken to nipping at my legs (very disconcerting for me), if I don’t move along at her desired pace. She clearly herds me in the direction of the pickup and becomes visibly frustrated if I need to double back.

Unfortunately, even on reaching the pickup, the morning symphony of dog barking doesn’t stop. My good neighbor and friend, Tom Norris, says he can always tell where I am on the ranch because of the dogs’ barking. You see, sounds carries very well in Live Oak Valley.

I suppose my dogs’ barking is a new form of G.P.S., i.e. godawful pet sounds! Or maybe it should be C.P.S, Canine Positioning System. Eventually the dogs stop barking, although I suspect it may be because of doggie hoarseness.

My frequency of blog posting (and FB posting) has slowed lately. This absence results from the time I’ve  devoted to writing another book. I am entering the final phases of finishing my next book (well prior to sending it off to potential agents and publishers and the lengthy process that is sure to follow). My book is tentatively titled Hitler: Prescription for Defeat.

The book seeks to answer the “Holy Grail” of questions about Hitler- that is, what was it that affected his reasoning to the extent that he made such colossal blunders in judgement toward the end of World War II. The premise of my book is that Hitler’s failing health and abnormal personality largely explain his errors in judgment and aided the Allies in achieving victory. The book goes into Hitler’s major and minor illnesses along with describing his unusual personality characteristics and how these aspects worked against him. His health is spliced into a number of the major battles of World War II. Wish me luck!

I have  received feedback from my beta readers on Hitler: Prescription For Defeat and have made the necessary edits. I feel so grateful for the time and expertise of Janet, LaNelle, Tom, and Madeline for carrying out this helpful task. Thank you. Extra sets of eyes prove very useful!

By the way, if you haven’t had a chance to read my first book, Carrying The Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales, I hope you will pick it up at your favorite bookstore or order a copy. The book has won awards, and received generous comments from Amazon readers. These reviews on Amazon are extremely welcome and encouraging.

Carrying the Black Bag book

My absolute favorite feedback about Carrying The Black Bag came in the form of a picture from a family member who was at the time training as a Pediatric surgical nurse.

This young reader gave me a great morale boost by reading my book between surgical cases

Taylor McNeill, a surgical nurse and dear niece, reading my book between cases

The days at Medicine Spirit Ranch are lengthening and warming, and it won’t be long until Central Texas looks like the picture below. Spring with the wildflowers is hard to beat!

Bluebonnets and Paints

Wrong Way Tom and Trudy

In reflecting on 2018, I’ve concluded that Trudy and I must have gone the wrong way or must have taken the wrong path in our lives. Let me explain.

At the beginning of the 20th century 90% of the population of Texas lived in the rural areas and only 10% lived in the cities. By the end of the 20th century these percentages had reversed with 90% of the population of Texas living in urban areas and only 10% living in the country. This trend toward urbanization goes unchecked thus far in the 21st century.

Meanwhile Trudy and I left behind our former homes in the cities (Dallas-area, Lubbock, Houston, Minneapolis, even Moscow and London) where we had lived our entire lives. Instead we went the wrong way and adopted a rural lifestyle living in the countryside outside Fredericksburg ,Texas. Clearly we moved counter current to the usual demographics, but why.?

Moreover, we chose to live on a cattle ranch and raise cattle at a time when the cattle industry has  swooned from the greatness of earlier times when cattle allowed Texas to become a wealthy state. We certainly don’t claim the same lifestyle as the frontier ranchers in Texas who lived in fear of marauding Indians, struggled against nature using primitive tools, and made their ranch rounds via horseback rather in a pick up. No, our experiences don’t compare to the difficult frontier days that were depicted in the western movies, but that doesn’t mean our lives are without challenges as this blog has at times depicted.

Buddy and Bella: “No way is this the wrong way. This ranch life is what we were bred for.”          Photo by Ramsey

Little Jack: “Hey Pick Up Man, had you not gone the wrong way, I wouldn’t have lived out my story at Medicine Spirit Ranch”

 

And while some would argue the western myth with its exciting cattle drives and western heroes springs more from Hollywood fantasy than reality, it still fills a void, a yearning, if you will, for a simpler life of raising and moving stock, enjoying good neighbors, and experiencing a simpler, less hectic lifestyle. These are the activities we have enjoyed since moving to Medicine Spirit Ranch.

Perhaps springing from the innate narcissism common in writers, I’ve chosen to share our experiences on this blog. I’ve shared earlier stories of caring for remarkable people who developed neurological disorders, and, in so doing, shared extraordinary experiences that reveal much of what is good about human nature. These stories are in my book, Carrying The  Black Bag: A Neurologists Bedside Tales.  

Carrying the Black Bag book

available online or favorite bookstore

I am proud to say it has won several awards:

In a way writing books in the digital age also runs counter culture. Nevertheless, i can think of nothing more pleasing than sharing stories  in the hope my readers will gain a modicum of benefit from them.

I am working hard on a second book that time will tell whether it sees the light of day. I have tentatively titled it, Hitler: Prescription For Defeat. In it I’ve tried to bring my medical skills (retired though they may be) to bear on Adolf Hitler’s little known, but serious health issues. Too little attention has been devoted, in my opinion, to how his poor health impacted his leadership in World War II, inadvertently affected the great battles, and assisted the Allies in defeating Nazi Germany. Hopefully 2019 will see me finish the book and move forward toward publication. I’ll soon the manuscript to several wonderful folks willing to serve as my beta readers/ Any encouragement you might offer would be appreciated, or else any advice to move onto other subjects.

Looking forward to 2019, “wrong way Tom and Trudy” will continue to live our rural lifestyle. We’ll continue to enjoy our “wrong way” lifestyle” as well. Also Tom will continue to blog about his observations and experiences at the ranch and elsewhere. And in the meantime from Views From Medicine Spirit Ranch, I extend to you my fondest wishes for your personal successes in 2019. Happy New Year!

Flash Floods in the Texas Hill Country

Only a few weeks ago I wrote a blog piece on the terrible drought and now we have floods! Such is the weather in Texas. As the old saying goes, “If you don’t like the weather in Texas, just wait a few minutes!”

For the last two days we’ve been largely stranded on our hill outside of Fredericksburg. Several times I’ve gone down the hill only to have the flooding of Live Oak Creek prevent my from leaving the ranch. This happened after the ground had been thoroughly saturated and then another 10 inches or so of rain fell. The thin soil  can’t absorb that much water, so it runs off into the streams at a rapid clip. On a positive note my stock tanks are now full. It’s been a long time since I could say that. See below

It is surprising how strong the current can be, as its been known to wash out fences and sweep away cars and trucks. Trudy and I have gained a healthy respect for flash floods and try not to tempt fate. Our schedules are not that precious. See debris line below, showing earlier extent of the flood and white water other side of low water crossing.

Our dogs have reacted in different ways. The dark, rainy days suggest Jack’s favorite past-time- napping. See below. Jack likes his creature comforts, especially snoozing on a pillow top mattress on our bed with his little head on a feather pillow.

Jack: Rainy days make me sleepy. For that matter sunny days do too.

 

Our senior Border collie, Buddy on the other hand becomes anxious during storms. As always he is goal directed animal if there ever was one. He begins to look s for a job to perform. Below you will see what the flash flood caused with Buddy. As you can see he has prepared for a still worse flood, waiting in his pool float, umbrella overhead, and goggles at the ready. Buddy always has a plan.

“Let that water rise, I’m ready for it!”

Puppy Love- Part IV and Conclusion of Jack’s Story

Editor’s Note: This is the concluding episode of Little Jack’s backstory. He clearly has enjoyed dictating his story, and I have enjoyed writing it down. I have learned Jack is an amazing little brown dog with a far more interesting and heroic background than i had suspected. He and I hope you have enjoyed his story. Jack has certainly enjoyed his fan mail.

 

Little Jack dictating his story

 

I knew I couldn’t survive much longer on my own. By then I had learned the pitfalls of being a lone dog on the road. Eating whatever I managed to catch had proven too infrequent to sustain myself. Moreover dodging guard llamas and donkeys, avoiding fierce horses, evading cars and trucks, and barely escaping the clutches a mountain lion had taken their toll on my freedom-loving doggie spirit. I was ready to exchange a few biscuits of freedom for a bowlful of security.

The following afternoon I trotted along the country road until it passed through a ranch entrance. There the road became an even smaller byway.

A sign at the ranch entrance

I then traveled up a steep hill. With the climb my paw pads became progressively sorer and my belly increasingly empty. When I lifted my nose from the ground, I saw a white stone house perched high upon the hill. It became a distant visual target that encouraged my flagging hopes. I knew exhaustion would soon overcome me if I couldn’t find rest and food. What did I have to lose by proceeding up the hill to its summit? Might this signal what I had been searching for my whole life?

Shortly after arriving in the front yard of the house, I heard a noisy, old pickup grinding its way up the hill. Fear welled up within me, as I had suffered close calls from such vehicles. I tried to hide, but could find no good place to do so.

Soon out of the truck stepped a clean-shaven man who was quickly followed by two large dark and white dogs. The dogs that later I learned were Border collies sensed my presence almost immediately. When the collies ran my way, I retreated, but the two dogs were bigger and faster than I was. The collies quickly trapped me inside the fenced yard. I turned on them, crouched, growled, and prepared to make my stand. While trying to appear aggressive, I knew my energy level and my physical state were depleted. I doubted I could protect myself for long from these larger well-fed, highly energetic dogs.

This is the pickup that came up the hill. Now I get to ride in it rather than have to walk everywhere

I hunkered down, my teeth bared, expecting a vicious attack at any moment. Then to my surprise the man called off his dogs and they stood down. The man then tried to catch me, but even in my depleted state, I was far too quick for him. You see two-footed, overweight humans move pretty slowly. This was my first time I saw Pickup Man. I didn’t know his intentions, and he frightened me, because by then I was afraid of just about everything and everyone.

Pickup Man with his Border collies and me

The man who by then was out of breath headed for the stone house and left me alone in the yard with his dogs. The Border collies fortunately kept their distance from me. Not long after going into the white house, Pickup Man came back carrying a piece of fried chicken. Oh, it smelled so good. In the face of the luscious smelling meat, my fears simply melted away. My thoughts of evasion collapsed before that tantalizing smell and luscious looking meat. I climbed straight up into his arms to eat the meat. I wolfed down the tasty chicken, as Pickup Man held me and carried me toward the white stone house. He stroked my head as he walked and said soft words.

Once inside the house he called out to his human companion. That’s when I first met Nice Lady. She came into the room and looked surprised at what Pickup Man was carrying. She approached us and gently took me from his arms. She caressed my head, scratched my ears, and said kind, soft words to me. She told Pickup Man how skinny, dirty, and, exhausted I appeared.

Nice Lady standing beside a Hay bale

The rest you might say is doggie history. Nice Lady proceeded to give me a soapy, warm bath in a large bathtub. She fixed a place for me to sleep next to her bed. She fed me regularly and liberally.

Nice Lady even feeds me with me sitting in her lap

Oh, and the food came from cans, a seemingly bottomless giant plastic bin of dry dog food, and even her dinner table. It all smelled and tasted so good to this half-starved dog. It took me several weeks to get used to all that food, as my system wasn’t used to eating much or very often. I eventually became used to eating more frequently and the food proved so much better than the meals I had eaten while on the road.

Here I am all cleaned up but looking pretty skinny

Nice Lady stroked me often and nursed me back to full health. I gained weight and my energy gradually returned. I knew I had found a promising new home with caring humans along with an accepting pack of dogs. And to make matters even better Pickup Man regularly took me for rides around his ranch in the backseat of his pickup. The Border collies he relegated to the bed of his pickup. Riding in a pickup was ever so much easier on my paw pads than walking.

Here I am with Pickup Man inside his truck

Well this is the end of my story prior to coming to live with Pickup Man and Nice Lady. It isn’t heroic like the stories of Lassie or Rin Tin Tin, both legends in the canine world. Nor am I as well known, as a dog that lived up the highway in Mason, Texas, a dog whose name was Old Yeller. But it’s my story and I’m proud of it.

My adventures in the big stinky city and my exploits on the road made me, for better or worse, what I am today. For sure I learned resiliency.

I wanted Pickup Man to write down my story to fill in my background for Nice Lady and him. This is the best I can recall.

Later when talking to friends, I overheard Pickup Man and Nice Lady talk about naming me Little Jack Kerouac. They said something about a book written by a man named Jack Kerouac that described his time on the road. Pickup Man and Nice Lady thought there must be similarities between his story and mine. Kerouac had described his experience, as the road is life. Well I also had traveled a road of my life to this new and happier place, and perhaps like Jack Kerouac, I had grown from and been molded by my life experiences.

I am now a wiser dog but also a pampered one

The friends of Pickup Man and Nice Lady all laughed at hearing why my name had been chosen and seemed to enjoy it much like I might enjoy a good steak bone. So that’s how I gained my new name, and I hope it makes better sense to you than it does to me. Humans can act pretty mystifying at times. But I am happy now with my name, Little Jack, and have learned to respond to it.

Now I’ll leave the rest of the story to Pickup Man, that is, if he chooses to write it down. I don’t know if he will, as he spends a lot of time sitting at his desk, clicking away on his keyboard. Sometimes he says he is moving his mouse around and on one occasion even claimed his mouse had died. Sometimes humans say the silliest things, because I know what a mouse is and even caught and ate several while on the road. I don’t know what makes Pickup Man say such crazy things, but I care for him anyway, even if a little daffy.. I think overall he is a good pack leader.

Frankly I’d just as soon Pickup Man get up from behind his computer and take me riding in his pickup, or else go for a walk across our ranch. I wouldn’t even mind if he takes along those herding obsessed Border collies of his. After all they long ago gave up trying to herd me. You see, I ‘m not the biggest dog around, but I carry a big bite.

I have gotten used to the Border collies and to respect their bravery

I’ve actually learned to respect those Border collies for their skill at herding cattle and for their bravery in the face of some really big animals. They aren’t varmint hunters like me, yet I have gained a grudging respect for their remarkable abilities. Admittedly, I have also grown to care for them, look out for them, and enjoy being part of the same pack.

What makes my life even better is knowledge that a full dinner bowl always awaits me at the house. Despite knowing this I still keep my nose to the ground, and seek out armadillos and possums. If I catch an armadillo or possum, I don’t even bother to eat it anymore, as I know better fare awaits me- dirty nose and all- at my white stone home on the hill.

As I write this I am almost nine years old, that is 63 in dog years. Wow, I am getting old. In the process I’ve learned a few things that I wish to share. Chief among my observations is gaining a strong sense of place. While early in life, I wished to explore the entire world, now I know that to be impractical. I now recognize my special place, my correct place in the world, is right here in Live Oak Valley living in a house on a hill.

I can explore the valley, splash in my favorite spring-fed creeks, relish my varmint chases, quietly observe graceful deer without feeling the need to chase them, and most importantly revel in a sense of belonging to one special place. I love my dog/human pack and my pack loves me. As I’ve grown older, being loved and loving others have become more important matters to me. I think perhaps that is what life is all about. This valley, this ranch, these dogs, and these people just feel right to me. It feels like I’m home at last.

I hope you have enjoyed my story

Oh, I learned lessons in the big, smelly city and even while lost on the road. My actions taught me self-reliance, survival skills, and provided me with almost limitless self-confidence. But I’ve proved myself and am now an accomplished, grown up dog. I take life a little easier now. You might say I’ve become semi-retired. At last I’ve discovered my real home and more about what makes this dog bark. Isn’t that an important aspect of anyone’s life?

 

The End

Buddy- The Slacker

Authors Note: In my last blog piece (A Sense Of Place), I referenced an old story. Slacker, that on reflection I might not have ever posted. My apologies, if I am repeating. The piece is a bit long especially the lead in. but I encourage you to stick with it. A very young Buddy surprised both Trudy and me with the greatest feat of herding I have personally ever witnessed. This is where in “gangsta” terms, he “made his bones.”

Buddy’s potential for becoming a phenomenal herding dog suddenly becomes evident. Now that Buddy has become an old dog and a risk adverse dog and with his best herding days far behind him, recollection of his early herding prowess fills me with pride. I hope you enjoy this reflection.- JTH

A young Buddy posing

Wire mesh panels hung askew from the thick steel cable. What had breached this water gap was immediately evident to me, as our bull had proved to be a breakout artist and an all-too-frequent explorer of Live Oak Valley. I pulled out my cell phone and dialed, reluctantly. “Guess what? Bull’s missing.”

“Oh shit, not again?” my wife shouted into the phone.

I flinched. Then I heard a long sigh followed by a pause before Trudy responded, “Be there in a few.”

Fifteen minutes later Trudy and I hiked the dank creek bottom at our Texas ranch. It smelled of decaying vegetation and heady juniper. I also had a sense of my own building desperation. Trudy’s glare described her lack of enthusiasm for another bull chase. She hesitated near the destroyed blowout fence, shook her head and pivoted to face me.

“Can’t believe the damned bull’s out again.” Her eyes were slit-like, her arms crossed, and her lips held tightly together. “What’s it Francisco calls him?” By reminding me, she had already inflicted a verbal wound.

Hamburguesa,” I whispered, careful to avoid locking gazes.

“Ah yes, Hamburguesa,” she boomed. “And why, pray tell, why did he call him that?”

I gave a mental shrug. “Well, Francisco grumped that the next time he met the bull, he wanted him between two buns at McDonald’s.”

Trudy’s hand shot up, jabbing the air emphatically, “Yeah, sounds good to me too, make mine a double bull burger and hold the cheese! After all, I’m watching my calories, you know.”

She gave a brief, tension mitigating smile. I nodded and bent low beneath the creek-spanning steel cable. When a flash flood occurs—a fairly regular occurrence in the Texas Hill Country, the incredible force of the raging water tears the wire panels away from their metal fence posts. This allows the panels to swing back and under the cable so that limbs, trees, and other flood-related detritus can flow under the panels rather than rip out the entire fence line. As useful as these water gaps are, they are  the weakest point in the fence line and where lusty bulls typically break out.

With careful steps Trudy and I trudged along the creek bank as my gaze glanced into the stream, unable to resist the urge. Growing up in Texas, I’d heard many stories about poisonous snakes. Standard fare at Boy Scout campfires, almost as common as consuming s’mores, had been stories of wriggling water moccasins boiling up from the depths of a creek and pulling down an unfortunate person to a slithering, agonizing death. While no real proof existed for this often-repeated tale of woe, we Scouts were convinced such horrible occurrences must have happened.

Trudy’s pace hesitated, distracting me from my obsessive serpentine thoughts. She turned toward me. “Why is it, COW-BOY, after countless breakouts, you haven’t sold that roaming ruminant and bought a bull with instincts more akin to a homesick prairie dog?”
Ouch, I recognized a practiced soliloquy when I heard one. She must be seething.

Charolois bull in a less distracted state


I felt Trudy’s frustration as fully as did she. In the past we’d scoured the hills and valleys of neighboring ranches, searching for our missing bull. We’d navigated treacherous arroyos, advanced through nearly impenetrable stands of juniper, and skittered down rocky embankments on our pained backsides, all of which had inevitably left us sore, scraped, frustrated, and barely speaking.

I had not missed her enunciation of “COW-BOY” and her sharpness of tone. While stinging, I was relieved my lawyer/wife had used it, rather than one of her scatological, so-called “legal terms of art.”

“Well Trudy, he was expensive, out of a champion line. And he throws great calves.” This is your final foray, big guy. It’s a one-way trip for you to the auction barn.

She paused to speak but before she could argue further, her foot slipped off a wet rock and she splashed into the shallow creek bottom. I heard her emit a grunt and saw her face develop a scowl worthy of Ivan the Terrible during a bad toothache.

“Yikes, this water’s arctic!“

“You okay?”

“You ask me, this freakin’ bull’s got the lineage of a bulldozer crossed with a race horse!” Frustration basted her voice, as she scrambled out of the icy, spring-fed creek.
This isn’t going to be fun.

Desperate for Trudy’s help, I felt mollifying her was a must, as teamwork would determine our already limited chances for success. “Well, we may need to sell the big guy. His episodes are getting more frequent and he’s learned to outsmart us.”

My good friend and neighbor, Tom, his three young grandchildren, Trudy, Francisco, and I had chased the bull on multiple occasions. Tom’s grandchildren, careening about the neighboring ranches in Tom’s four-wheel ranch utility vehicle, had relished the pursuits to a much greater extent than had we. Tom’s grandchildren once had even pleaded, “Grandpa, next time we’re at the ranch can we pleeeease chase the bull again?”

But in this instance “Colonel Tom,” as we called him, and his young charges were unavailable and Francisco was away from the ranch for the weekend. The task of rounding up our wayward bull fell solely to Trudy and me. We were feeling clearly over-matched. But we had little choice but immediately to take action, as the bull had escaped in the direction of a ranch known for its prize-winning Angus. A white calf amid a herd of Black Angus stood out like a beacon, as with great embarrassment I had once before experienced.

While all marriages have disagreements, often over money, sex, or how best to raise children, our marriage had matured to the banal stage where these bull chases represented the principal challenge to our marital bliss. Okay bull, this time it’s gonna be you or me.

I had left Buddy, our nine-month old Border collie back inside the pickup with the windows partially down for ventilation. Before heading down the creek, my parting glimpse of the young dog was of him perched in the back seat with his left ear standing up and his right ear flopped over. Buddy had never been able to elevate his right ear, a maturational quirk I assumed, but one that imparted a comical and eternally youthful appearance.

Buddy when a little older and after bringing his ear under control

Trudy and I continued down the creek bank. Here we are busting our butts, chasing the bull while our lazy dog snatches a snooze in the pickup. What good is a working dog that just sleeps in the pickup? What a worthless slacker he is! Maybe I should get rid of him at the same time I get rid of the bull?

Trudy and I rock-hopped our way down the shaded creek bottom where slivers of sunlight created silvery streaks in the rolling creek water. We ducked beneath bowing branches of live oaks, dodged flickering cottonwoods, and pushed through pungent juniper whose needles clawed at our exposed skin.

Trudy’s hair became disheveled with twigs tangled within her neck length, curly russet locks. The burbling creek and rustling leaves of the cottonwood trees seemed to hint at what an impossible challenge lay ahead for us.

A quarter of a mile into the adjacent ranch, in an area overgrown with clinging brush and waist high native grasses, we discovered the neighbor’s cattle. This occasion also revealed the location of our bull. Cool Spirit, our peripatetic bull, stood in the middle of a scraggly herd of mixed breed cattle, languidly licking the neck of an old, skinny cow whose bones bulged out under her hide like a hastily built stork’s nest. The old saw came to mind how women in the bar get better looking after midnight, and I wondered if a similar sentiment might also hold true for horny bulls.

Of all the forms of love, lust seems the easiest to dispense with as it simply defies logic. Hillary Clinton once described her husband, Bill- America’s best-known philanderer, as too often thinking solely with his little head. This implies the sexual urge is a strong, an even overpowering one at times. After all our bull had charged through seven-stranded barbed wire fences, accepting untold cuts to be with an intoxicating, pheromone-secreting cow. Bill Clinton also had paid his public penance as a result of his libidinous escapes.

Just then something jarred my thoughts back to reality.
“You see that big bull over there?” Trudy said.

I shifted my gaze. “Good Lord,” I croaked, my voice cracking like a teenager. Apprehension shot through me like a jolt of electricity. By then the red bull before me had lowered its head and was advancing in the direction of our Charolais bull. Our bull had already spotted him, and had shifted his attention from the homely target of his desire toward the threat of the approaching bull. Our bull in turn lowered his white, curly topped head. The two bulls glared, snorted, and scraped hooves at each other from a distance of less than thirty yards.

Each bull weighed well over a ton. I felt my worry rocketing higher. Oh my god, we sure ‘nuf don’t need a bullfight.

Unfortunately our approach seemed to act like a starter’s pistol. Just as Trudy and I crept forward, both bulls became determined to establish their dominion over the scraggly herd. They began pawing in earnest at the ground with their huge cloven hooves, throwing sprays of brown dirt under their massive, bulging bellies.

Their aggressive displays, fearful as they were to us, deterred neither bull and soon gave way to full, all out combat. The bulls, like two race cars off the starting line, ran at each other, crashing head on. Locked head to head with  their muscles rippling, they strained to drive the other into a compromised position. The bulls continually emitted loud and fearsome sounds like preternatural beasts from Hades. Their ruckus kicked up a thin cloud of dust that carried on it their rank aroma.

Locked in combat their heated battle raged back and forth across the shallow creek bed. The bulls’ massive blows caused the very ground under my feet to shudder. Their enormous bodies knocked over small trees, as if broomsticks, and they splashed through the rocky creek bottom with a dull clattering of their hooves.

Appalled by this brawl, Trudy and I scrambled to find safety behind a large Live Oak tree. We cautiously peered around its trunk and observed the ongoing fight. I felt powerless to intervene, having by then lost any hope of driving our bull back to our ranch.

I felt thoroughly dejected. The escalating circumstances had outstripped my limited capacity for retrieving our bull. Just on reaching this emotional low point, a flicker of movement caught my attention. I swiveled my head and caught sight of a black and white form flash by.

Recognition set in a second later, as both Trudy and I gasped in unison. Young Buddy, ignoring our shouted, desperate entreaties, raced headlong into the midst of the horrific bullfight.

“God, he’s going to be killed,” yelled Trudy, her cry barely rising above the din of the mêlée. Trudy turned and slumped down next to the tree, no doubt fearful for what was likely to follow- the killing of our half grown dog.

The bulls, focusing fully on their fight, paid no heed to the yapping dog. With the bulls locked in a violent head-to-head embrace, Buddy circled behind our Charolais. Relinquishing further attempts to intimidate with his high-pitched barking, Buddy instead gave the Charolais’ tail a vicious chomp. Startled by the attack and from an unanticipated direction, our white bull momentarily broke off the fight and took a hesitant step backward.

Our neophyte herder, sensing an opportunity, then circled and sped between the narrowly separated bulls. He charged maniacally at the red Shorthorn bull with his teeth bared. With a bite, as quick as a mongoose, Buddy gashed the red bull’s broad, dark nose. Blood flowed.

By biting him, Buddy had startled him and backed him off. Feigning a direct charge, Buddy was able to turn the Shorthorn slightly away from the Charolais. Then to my amazement, our young Border collie began to arc back and forth behind the Shorthorn moving him up a nearby hill.  At the same time, Buddy was able to gather the remainder of the herd and drive the lot of them out of the creek bed and up the hill.

I whispered to Trudy, “Oh my god! Would never have ever believed it, if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.”

“Is that vicious animal the same sweet puppy that licks my face first thing in the morning?”

When seemingly satisfied by the degree of separation between the two warring bulls, Buddy turned and loped back down the hill. He then made a kamikaze-like assault on our somewhat bewildered appearing Charolais, breaking it off at the last instant. This forced the bull to retreat several steps. Then after a series of charges, nips, and barks Buddy succeeded in turning him away from the retreating Shorthorn bull and ran the white leviathan along the winding creek bottom in the direction of our ranch.

“Come on, let’s trail him,” I urged, pulling Trudy from her sitting position to her feet.

Trudy and I scrambled out of our protected site and followed at a safe distance. We saw Buddy expertly drive the Charolais along the creek and into a copse of trees. When lost to sight, the ripping sound of breaking limbs along with Buddy’s urgent barks identified their location. Soon the bull emerged from the trees, hurried on by our overachieving, young canine. Buddy stayed after him providing constant herding pressure, hastening his always forward movement and in the direction of our ranch. The pair, bull and herder, soon passed through the broken fence line and back into our pasture.

I yelled to Trudy who trotted along creek bank, “How can a barely forty pound dog, too young to train, manage to break up a bullfight?” She shrugged her shoulders and turned her palms upward. I wondered where within Buddy’s DNA resided the knack for such shepherding? To this day, I stand in awe of the nascent abilities of Border collies.

Trudy approached me, her head down as if penitent. On nearing me she raised her head and flashed a warm smile and a coy head tilt. I noticed she now moved with greater fluidity and in a more relaxed, willow-like manner.

We did not know it then, but never again when the bull would break out of our ranch, would we encounter difficulty returning him- thanks to Buddy. On spotting our oncoming Border collie, our wayward bull would immediately reverse course and beeline it back toward our ranch— such was the respect the Charolais had for Buddy.

With newfound spring in my step, I headed for my pickup parked near the water gap. Nearby I spotted Buddy sitting on his haunches, intently staring in the direction of our grazing bull.

“Just look, that dog’s grinning like a fat man at a smorgasbord,” said Trudy.

Buddy bore an unmistakable snout-wrinkling doggie smile. She reached for my hand and gave it a warm, gentle squeeze. We stood hand-in-hand for several minutes, gazing upon our cattle and admiring our collie.

I would soon make the necessary repairs to the blowout fence, but first I wanted to savor the success of Buddy’s achievement along soaking up my wife’s affection. With my idle hand I leaned down and stroked Buddy’s soft, furry head. He was panting, his tongue bobbing up and down like a pink yo-yo. His amber eyes sparkled with excitement.

Over the next several minutes I sensed his adrenaline rush ebb away. As I stroked his silky fur, he laid back his ears, turned his head, and evidenced a satisfied gaze.

The bond between man and dog is like no other between animal and man. The empathy and understanding of a dog can slow the anxious human heart. The love of a dog remains steadfast, providing affectionate licks to the hand that may lack food to offer. That day I felt the loving bond between man and dog like I had never felt it before.

“Now that looks like one happy dog,” said Trudy. She moved closer, and we hugged.
“I’m sorry for being so cross earlier. You know I love you.”

Author with Buddy who was born to herd

“Forget it, perfectly understandable. You know, this dog of ours might just work out.”

Trudy’s face split in an endearing smile and I heard her emit a giggle, as warm as a toasted bun.

Buddy had not only herded massive animals that day, but also my lop-eared canine had herded my wife’s disposition from sour to mellow. I couldn’t decide which feat was the more impressive.

I did realize that love, like good wine and I Love Lucy reruns, only improves with time.
That memorable day left me with two thoughts that still resonate. The first is that love presents itself in unique ways be it intoxicating lust, the security of mature love, or the incredible and unique bond between man and dog. Love of many kinds empowers the soul and warms the heart.

The second consideration is that help can arrive, when least expected, and charge in on four paws and have a wet nose.

Happy Thanksgiving Belatedly

Wished to extend our Thanksgiving wishes from Medicine Spirit Ranch to readers of my blog and FB page. Given the recent death of my mother, Adele Hutton, my thoughts of late have been with her, thus this late posting. A few other views from Medicine Spirit Ranch:

Who are those strange straw people driving the Thanksgiving-decorated tractor?

Who are those strange straw people driving the Thanksgiving-decorated tractor?

Curly and the "girls" send their Thanksgiving best wishes

Curly and the “girls” send their Thanksgiving best wishes