June 25th, 2014 §
Look who bounded in the house last night, keyed up like all get-out, covered forehead to paws in skunk juice, as I was all showered and in my pjs and ready to go to bed? At least he took it like a man and was only shot down his front and not all over. So last night at 10:00 p.m. I was doing emergency bathing in a little puddle of floodlight.
I suppose I shouldn’t complain too much. The last time Tuck was skunked was May 2012, which isn’t too bad for living in the wilderness. At least now I have my act together to run a hot water hose out of the laundry room, so I don’t have to do cleanup in the house.
One word: Technu. It’s that poison ivy, outdoorsman soap that combines with and removes nasty oily stuff. After the last skunking, I’d bought a bottle for just such an emergency, and boy, does it work. I rubbed it into Tuck’s fur and it seemed to instantly neutralize the skunk smell in a way that the dish soap and vinegar I used last time didn’t. I followed up with a regular dish soap wash and this morning he smells pretty decent, all things considered. Interestingly, the Technu wasn’t as effective at removing the smell from Tucker’s invisible fence and nylon collars, which still smell pretty skunky.
There are some recipes for homemade skunk smell remover online, but they use hydrogen peroxide. As the owner of a black dog, I didn’t want to play amateur beauty parlor and end up with a bleached-out pet!
April 30th, 2014 §
It’s rained for three days and nights, downpours and thunderstorms, and it feels as though this little pocket of central Virginia has become Seattle. The mists lift and drop, playing peek-a-boo with the mountains, and all the new spring greenery is positively glowing in the excess moisture.
I took a short walk through the woods behind the house this evening, and discovered that Tucker’s trail has become, much to his delight, a creek. My Labrador in sheepdog’s clothing is thrilled that the stream has somehow migrated up the hill to within his reach. He zooms along it, mud flying everywhere. It’s so fun to watch his joy in the water that I can’t even be mad at how filthy he’s getting.
The woods are laced with our native dogwood, state tree of Virginia, and they look spectacular this year. It’s next to impossible to get a good shot of them in the woods, but in person they are stunning—ethereal white blossoms threaded through the entire forest. And look at that grass—technicolor! Methinks I will have the season’s first date with the mower this weekend, if the ground dries out enough to get on it with a big machine.
The middle of the woods, where it’s usually just dry forest duff, is now full of little ponds—this one deep enough to swallow my feet!
I can’t understand why the water collects as it does here, instead of continuing to run down the hill to the creek. A mystery I’ll never solve.
More dogwoods at the wood line, with the big oaks just leafing out above them. I love the gentle curves of this piece of ground. They remind me that I am lucky enough to live in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains.
January 17th, 2014 §
December 31st, 2013 §
I was driving home last night around 9:40 after a late yoga class and grocery shopping. I was almost to the village of Free Union when I saw a white beast in my headlights, in the middle of the road. At first I thought it was a coyote, and then a wolf! But as I slowed down I saw it was a dog, a little tan and white Border Collie, so scared that it was running completely hunched into a comma shape with its tail way between its legs.
I ditched the car in the nearest driveway, which happened to be a church, and opened the door. I called to the dog, but it kept skittering down the road. I saw a collar on its neck. I called it again, using all of Patricia McConnell’s tricks to get a dog to come, bending low, making myself smaller and turning my body away so as to be less threatening, and softly clapping. The dog stopped running and turned to look at me kneeling in the middle of Free Union Road. It let me approach, and both of us had a moment of faith as I reached a hand out for it to smell, it wondering if I was a friend and me wondering if I was going to get bitten.
The dog didn’t bite me, and it let me gently take hold of its collar. In my flashlight’s beam I found a tag and learned her name was Lola. Once I spoke her name her posture instantly changed, and she let me lead her over to my car where, when I opened the door, she quickly jumped in the back seat without any extra encouragement. I was glad to see she appeared uninjured.
With Lola safe in the car I called the number on her tag. A woman answered, and she was actually speechless when I introduced myself and told her I had her dog in my car. When she regained her faculties, the woman explained that she lived in Charlottesville but was actually traveling in South Carolina. She had left Lola with her mother, who lived on the road right behind my house. The woman was so flustered that I told her I would take Lola up the road with me and call her mother to come pick her up. She agreed, and we got back on the road, Lola sitting so prettily on the back seat, looking out the window. In the dark I could hear her licking her lips, so I knew she was still nervous. But she was totally polite as we wound up the road, a sweet, beautiful, obviously smart dog that reminded me a lot of my own Tucker in her energy and spirit.
Once home I left Lola in the car for safekeeping while I got her petsitter on the phone. Within a few minutes a nice man arrived in a pickup to claim Lola. Apparently she had bolted several hours earlier, and her caretakers had been frantic looking for her before having to call their daughter to explain they’d lost her dog.
They think she was trying to get home, back to town. The man who picked her up explained that Lola was a pampered city dog, and he feared that between cars and coyotes she wouldn’t have made it long on her own. But it made me wonder—Lola had navigated five miles down three different pitch-black roads and was nine miles from home—on the right road, headed the right way—before I picked her up. It makes the movie Homeward Bound sound not entirely unreasonable.
It was after 10:00 p.m. when Lola’s owner called back to thank me again, telling me she was still so shocked. She said Lola was “like her baby” and she would have been devastated had something happened to her. I told her not to worry, that everything is okay, and to have a Happy New Year.
And with this, my dear readers, the last story of 2013, I wish you all a Happy New Year. May we all be lucky enough that adventure, heartbreak, and salvation rejoin us on the other side of midnight.
December 25th, 2013 §
Despite the roaring fire in the woodstove, Santa found his way down our chimney last night.
He even found the peanut butter to stick in Tucker’s present.
Once the peanut butter was gone, in less than five minutes, I got the new toy dumped on my lap and an invitation to play.
So much for Tucker quietly amusing himself. But at least he understands the holiday lesson of sharing.
Merry Christmas from our little farm family to yours!
December 13th, 2013 §
Just now, at 9:00 at night, I was in my office downstairs on the computer when I heard a pack of coyotes set up a wild commotion right in my front yard. It was so loud that I heard it over my Skype conversation. I jumped up, flipped on all the outside lights, muscled my eager dog away from the front door, and ran into the pasture screaming, “Get the **** out of here! Go away!…” as loud as I could. I made it to the line separating the unmowed pasture from the lawn before the light dropped off and I stopped to listen. I could hear dozens of small feet running through the frosty tall grass. I turned and headed toward the lights of home, this little interaction having set all the neighborhood dogs to barking, and the entire hunt club’s hounds to baying. We all screamed together.
About an hour later my own dog was pacing at the front door, barking. Again I told him to stay inside and stepped out on the porch. Now the pack was back in my woods, where I could hear them singing and pacing. I yelled some more, gave up, and went inside.
In the almost four years that I have lived here, the coyotes have been a remote presence. I used to hear them crying, usually late at night and so far away as to be almost indescernible. But in the last couple of months they’ve moved closer. It started with them waking me up by crying in the field between my nearest neighbor’s house and mine. Then this week they woke me at 12:20 a.m. setting up a racket in the front yard. They were so close that it sounded like they were in my bedroom. I got up and turned on the floodlights to try to scare them away, but really all that happened was that I had a hard time sleeping that night from the adrenaline rush. In my intellectual mind I know that coyotes outside in the middle of the night pose no threat to me or my animals. The dog’s asleep in the laundry room and the chickens are safe in their coop. But there’s something so primally hair-raising about a coyote chorus that I challenge you to peacefully sleep through the sound.
Which brings us to tonight, and a coyote pack that obviously feels comfortable enough to try to claim, at a relatively early hour, my very lawn. I wouldn’t be worried about this but for the fact that when I got my dog, Tucker, from his breeder in Ohio, she told me that in her area coyote packs use their females in heat to lure unneutered male dogs from their yards and then the entire pack kills the dog.
As the caretaker of a dog that is not only unneutered, but that also believes it’s his duty to protect our farm and who runs without hesitation to make his rounds in the dark woods, I am concerned about having Tucker out loose at night when there is a large pack of wild canines very vocally vying for his territory. I always bring Tucker inside at sundown, and he’s let out again for only a moment right before we both go to bed. He always does a perimeter check during this trip, and I listen for him to run through the woods and fields. The entire time he’s outside I am anxious, listening for any sound of a confrontation.
Living in the country is a constant negotiation with all the creatures that called this place home before I, and since moving here I’ve had to assert myself against innumerable insects, snakes, mice, rats, moles, voles, opossums, raccoons, foxes and airborne predators such as hawks and merlins. But the coyotes are a new threat, and the one that most makes me feel as if I’m living in a Jack London novel.
Short of firing a shotgun in their general direction, I am all out of ideas about how to get this pack to choose a territory other than the one my dog and I have already claimed. Does anyone have any other ideas?
October 7th, 2013 §
I was on the couch yesterday morning when I heard a loud thump outside. Tuck barked. I ignored it. Then I heard another thump, and Tuck got up and went to the front door, where he went crazy, growling and barking and whining. Of course I got up and when I looked out the front door, I saw my neighbor’s two horses at the end of my front walk. Looks like my neighbor had forgotten to close her gate and they’d escaped, again.
I knew my neighbor wasn’t home. While I called both her numbers and just got voicemail, the horses made their way to the back field by the garage. For the next hour or so I kept an eye on them to make sure they didn’t head for the road, and I waited for my neighbor to call to say she was on her way over to capture them.
Well, I was still waiting when the horses came up around the house garden and started to nibble my landscaping. When one of the horses shoved his muzzle into a container of just-sprouted lettuce, smushing the baby plants into a pulp, I got a bit annoyed and realized that if I wanted my plants unscathed I would need to remove the horses. Easy, right?
Except I am at best uncomfortable around horses, and at worst very afraid of being near them without a fence in between us, especially when I am all by myself. I have had enough scary experiences around and on horses that I don’t really feel the need to hang out with them ever again. But I had to do something, not only to save my garden but also any unsuspecting motorists that might be driving up the road when one of these horses got an idea to bolt.
When another neighbor had captured these horses the first time they escaped, she led one by looping a huge horse rope around its neck. And horses, being herd animals, will tend to follow each other. If I could get one horse home odds were the other would follow. Only trouble is I didn’t have a rope that was stout enough to lead a horse. So I grabbed Tuck’s longest, heaviest leash and hoped it would hold.
Tuck was still going nuts on the porch, his order-loving mind just blown by these very large, very alive, and very out-of-place creatures that had suddenly appeared in his domain. Something was. not. right, and with every language he had Tucker voiced his concern, eyes round as saucers and ears pinned back flat to his head.
While Tuck paced and whined and watched with the most consternated expression I’ve ever seen him make, I offered the black and white horse a couple of placating carrots as I gingerly petted his head. Then I looped the leash around his neck, holding both ends in my fist, and started pulling him toward home. It took some persuading—the appeal of lush new grass is high—but I got him moving. I had to walk with my hand basically against his neck because the leash way too short to properly lead a horse. But I got him going at a pretty fast clip and held his head up so he couldn’t dally and snag more grass. This put me walking uncomfortable close to him, but I just tried to stay aware and away from any of the parts that could kick me, rear up, smash me against the fence, or otherwise bash in my skull, which was feeling very tiny and exposed next to this giant mass of twitchy muscle.
I got the horse all the way home and into the gate by his barn, which sure enough was open. I had to push him pretty hard to get him through, as he didn’t want to leave his freedom. The brown horse had galloped along side of us, frolicking in the newly hayed pasture. Unfortunately, he didn’t follow his buddy into the gated pasture, and instead headed further out to graze. I knew he was the more spirited of the horses, according to his owner, and he’s also bigger, so I had to steel myself to approach him.
I got the leash around his head and had to pull with all my might to get him to stop eating grass. It must have been a pretty silly scene, me trying to move a stubborn horse with what amounted to a shoelace. But after digging my heels in I got his head up and got him moving along toward the gate. He tried a few more times to stop to graze, but something about my militant march must have made him realize I meant business. I got him in the gate, where he and his friend kicked up their heels and laughed at their little adventure as they took a victory gallop around the field. Then I went home, left my neighbor a message that I had gotten her horses in, and spent the next two hours shaking from all the adrenaline that had just flooded my body. And I have to say, this little experience emphatically confirmed that I prefer my horses as beautiful lawn ornaments in my neighbor’s field, with the gate firmly latched.
March 9th, 2013 §
February 27th, 2013 §
January 17th, 2013 §
Here’s to more adventures on the road and on the farm.