Category Archives: Dogs

My dog chewed my Peterson’s Field Guide!

Remnants Roger Tory Peterson's Field Guide

Yeller, my Australian Shepherd-Labrador mix, chewed and swallowed several color plates of my Roger Tory Peterson, A Field Guide to Western Birds, ninth printing of the 1969 edition.

Here is Yeller with snow several winters ago.  He’s a good dog!  Yeller has a habit pattern of wanting to play at about 6:30 p.m. in the evening.  Sedate most of the day, when that time rolls around he will seek me out in the office and pester me until I play with him.  He is most fond of me wrestling with him on his huge pad, a 3×4 foot mattress-like dog pad, until I give up.  Yeller will lead me to his pad, pick up a toy and challenge me to play, “Take Away!”

I am not always a good play companion for I get too busy with very important things like writing a blog and will command, “Lay down.”

Yeller retrieves 25 lb. sacks of dehydrated goat milk and children’s toys from about the countryside when I used to let him run uncontrolled.  I’ve found rubber Daffy Ducks and Pluto the dogs in my front yard, carefully placed by Yeller after rambling through neighboring pastures and juniper groves.  I keep him indoors now and will let him out on a “field leash,” a twenty-five foot yacht rope leash I used to train bird dogs.  In most cases, the toys he brought back to the ranchito were abandoned by insensitive little primates in the veld.  He is a rescue dog, sort of St. Bernard-like.

This fine, courageous dog chewed my Peterson’s one night last week.  When I arose at 5:00 a.m., I found my field book that I have carried in field packs, backpacks and floorboards of many pickups scattered into hundreds of pieces on the floor of my office.  Many of the color plates had been consumed.  He was especially hungry for the quail and duck color plates.

Punishment?  No way.  The act of destruction occurred in the middle of the night and if I had chastised Yeller he would not have connected the “event” with my scolding voice that I hardly ever use because he is such a fine dog, good dog.  Besides with all the scents attached to that field book, carried in my sweaty hands, dropped in a bog, stuffed in field bags with Trail Mix and held in my possession since 1972, I could hardly blame him.  My fondest remembrance of referring to the Peterson was when I was up in the Sangre de Cristos, near Truchas, New Mexico, and I identified my first Black-billed Magpie (Pica pica) that flew about the trail I ascended into the Pecos Wilderness.

That’s okay, Yeller, I understand you.  I can always get another Peterson’s from Amazon.com, but there never be another dog like you.  Now, go fetch your toy!  It’s playtime!

Yeller is looking for Peterson.

 

 

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The other side of nature

The other side of nature. A rather intense blizzard, Christmas time, Texas High Plains, 2009.

We turn our heads, even raise our hand to eye so as to blind us to the other side of nature — fierce cold.

Winter storms force cattle to turn their backsides to the wind and drift — drift until warm temperatures encounter their travel.  But during the worst of blizzards, cattle bunch into box canyons, fences and fast-flowing streams that terminate their travel, even their lives.  The worst of western blizzards came in 1888, destroying like a monster from Hades the free range of the American West that never arose again.

The photograph inserted shows the blizzard of 2009 that stranded motorists and brought out the National Guard to the Texas High Plains.  Brenda and I drove through the storm.  Livestock perished, not like 1888, but many perished despite the efforts of cattlemen and helicopters dropping hay from the heavens, manna for cattle.  We put chains on the pickup in Roscoe and took them off in Slaton, slowly making our way to Lubbock, then Santa Fe.

I drive at least two times, sometimes four times a week, between Mingus, Texas, and Abilene, a journey of 87.2 miles from my ranch house to Cisco College.  As I travel, I see good and warm things, but I also see a tableau of death, regardless of cold Winter or warm Spring.  I do not write about the tooth and claw — only one post in a year have I written about the other side of nature — because it is most unpleasant and I have been taught by my family to look the other way, grit my teeth, bow my back and work on, carry on, even pick up sticks and rocks from the corral to forget and cover the other side of nature, raising a hand to the eye.

I was taught by my family to keep death and blood away, the least semblance of pain is to be endured against happiness and pleasure receding too quickly in our lives.  I learned in college that my family’s philosophy was stoicism, remembering vaguely the word, but daily that conduct.  I write this blog about nature and how she covers us second by second, year by year, like a quilt on a cold winter’s night, a softness and heaviness at the same time, installing comfort into our harried house.  The warmth erases pain and anguish.  But, there is another side that we all must endure.

There is an extraction, a debt, that inevitably must be paid.  As I drive the 87.2 miles to Abilene and back to Mingus, I see, even hear the debt being paid in blood and tissue.  How many deer, raccoons, skunks, possums, coyotes, dogs, cats, field mice, ravens, hawks, snakes, fox, moths and monarch butterflies can I continue to see killed along the roads?  I see the remains; I am even a part of making the remains.  The only debt I hear paid is the lovely monarch butterfly that hits my windshield, leaving a yellow stain that I cannot wash off until the day ends.  The monarch strikes my windshield and I cringe.  I think, quite often, that my salary, forcing my travel to Abilene, is not worth the agony and groans that I feel and emit as I see and hear the other side of nature.

I write of horses prancing, birds singing, dogs playing and armadillos browsing with slow gait, rooting and eating contentedly.  Then, why write this post, why bring up the other side of nature?  Death and blood and stench of flesh?  I’m not sure, but to bring up the other side of nature seems to balance my exuberance downward.  Downward to the way-things-are and away from illusion, closer to truth.  My work is affected.  As I drive the interstate to Abilene I see the panic of deer running across the road, jumping the fence to safety, to daily heaven.  I walk into class to lecture and the gravitas of it all weighs me down to essentials:  why are we here, what are we doing, what are the models we want to imitate, what are the models we wish to avoid?  I don’t waste time for I am doing my best to answer those questions for that day.

As I come back home to Mingus, I think:  I am here to groom my horse, play with my dog, feed my cats, tend my pastures, grow plants for monarchs to feed upon, protect the deer in my domain and love my life and wife.  Taking my hand from my eyes, I see life as gift once more as it is balanced against the other side.

______________________________

Notes:

I often have Brenda read my stuff before I publish it.  She read this and said, “Very good, but very heavy.  They’re going to say you haven’t had your anti-depressant.”   We laughed.  She understood what I was trying to say in the post.  I told her that I have been wanting to write this post for a long time.  One of the reasons I support wildlife corridors is the death I see on my travels to Abilene.  There’s a place along Baird Hill that needs protection.  I see drivers trying to avoid the wildlife.  Many succeed in avoiding the critters.  Drivers aren’t all talking on the cell phone.

http://twitter.com/sage2m

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Filed under Baird Hill Pond, Deer, Dogs, Life in Balance, Life Out of Balance

Creatures of Dusty Blu

I work with a horseman, Dusty Blu Cooksey, at the college where I teach in Abilene, Texas.  Today he told me of animals besides his horses that envelop his life on his ranch northwest of Abilene.

First, Blu has dogs and horses, even a dog that cannot hear, but watches for hand commands and other para-linguistic signs from Blu.  His horses compete in shows all over the Southwest, and early in his horse career, Blu had two world champion quarter horses.  That was in the 1980s.

Nowadays, the creatures of Dusty Blu include an armadillo, coyote, raccoon and cats.

The armadillo was brought up to the stables by his dogs several years ago.  It was a baby armadillo and the little guy was carried gently in the mouth of his Blue Heeler, placed upon the ground in front of Blu and his workers, as if, “Here’s a little guy that needs help.  Take care of him.”  They put him in a stall since he was small and let him grow and eat dog chow.  After the armadillo grew to a juvenile, Blu let him or her out, but the armadillo stayed about the corrals, never venturing far, and tunneled into alfalfa haystacks to sleep during the day and roam at night.  The dogs consider him one of them and let the armadillo browse and eat with them at supper time.

The dogs brought a baby coyote to the stables, like the armadillo, and laid him down gently.  The dogs seem to know rescue quite well.  Blu fed the coyote pup and neutered him when he grew of age.  Wiley is the coyote’s name and he attends the ranch, never venturing far from his home he knew as a pup.  The dogs consider him one of them and let Wiley alone.  At times, he howls, but not out of loneliness.

A raccoon habits the place and washes his food in pools of water.  The creatures of Dusty Blu seem content.  Within the past few days, Blu tells me that an unusual cat, calico and tabby combined with two different-colored eyes, meandered into the mix.  A kit of small size, Blu will take him to the vet for neutering and care.  Nurture surrounds the kit and the void disappears.  When Blu told me today of these things, I laughed at the complex of animals with him and how his horses tolerate the menagerie.

Deep down, past laughter, I looked at Blu as he walked away to teach.  He’s a tall man and dresses western all of the time.  I saw wings and his hat was rimmed in gold.

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My life defined in the kingdom of animals

Jack with Spot at 401 Congress Avenue, Brownwood, Texas (ca. 1952)

My life has been defined by animals.  All sorts of animals: chickens, dogs, cats, horses, cattle, birds, wild and domesticated beings. For whatever reason, I preferred to stay home as a child while my mother and grandmother worked and when I was older and my mother married J. W., I liked the fact that he had land in Mills County filled with cattle, raccoons, squirrels and wild, tall, native grass that I later learned was bluestem.

I was a latch-key kid.  And when I sped home on my Hawthorne, Montgomery-Ward bicycle, the first thing I did was play with the dog.  The dog you see in the picture is Spot and he was the second dog I ever owned.  He did not live long, for distemper took his life.  Before him, there as a chow-mix of a dog named Toy that mother had to relocate because he ate the neighbor’s chickens.  I loved that Toy and when he was picked up by a farmer that lived in Bangs, Texas, one world came to an end and I lost my innocence, not in the back seat of a Ford, but in the driveway of my home as Toy went away.  To this day, I can remember his fur and his dark, black tongue.

Many events force growth and sadden our days.  The loss of a loved one, four-legged or not, wounds us and we stagger into days and nights hating the loss and finding ways to forget it or ease the heart from the tear.

Many events bring growth and brighten the day.  The face of a loved one upon rising in the morning, the nickering of horses in the barn and the wagging of that tail.

At the end of this post On the left sidebar of the blog home page are photos of cats, dogs and horses that surround Brenda and me. All of the cats are gone now, from accident or predators.  I miss each of those kitties:  Fenster walked with me to the far fields like a dog, Bubbles talked to me on the road down to the barn and Painters never strayed from my side while I fed and tended the horses.  Painters would lie down in the middle of the corral and the horses would walk around him.

Lottie is a schnauzer and was my mother’s pet.  I brought Lottie to Mingus and she has run through every room in the house slamming her toys for attention and play.

Yeller is like Toy, my first dog, the chow-mix.  I first saw Yeller across the county road, staying on the Nowack place, our neighbor to the north.  Yeller loved children, but the Nowacks had several dogs already and Yeller had come from some other family or was abandoned in the country by a cold-hearted person.  One day Steve Nowack tried to shoo Yeller away.  Yeller crept off the property and went down the road, just out of sight of the children, and stopped.  Yeller turned around and sat on his haunches and looked over the grass towards the children, wagging his tail and smiling, wanting to go back and let the smaller children ride him.  I had already begun to like the old boy, but that was it: Yeller obeying to go off as instructed, but not far enough to lose sight of children.  I would not let another minute go by with him unattended by a human companion.

I called him to our yard.  As he saw me engaging him and then petting him, Yeller ran around in circles, merrily and merrily he went.  Soon, we took Yeller to the vet and had him brought to pristine health and today, tonight as I write this post, he sits on the floor beside me.  I walk him and Lottie three times a day.  He is always on leash.  I cannot dis-attach myself, nor do I want to, from the kingdom of animals.

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Filed under Dogs, Recollections 1942-1966

Quarter-size moon in north Erath County, Texas

For the last two mornings as I have walked the dogs and tended horses, the temperatures have been down into the lower 50s, upper 40s.  Such a relief to have Fall come.  I slip into my old, red coat to enjoy the cool, late-night outdoors before dawn.  My Aussie shepherd, Yeller, and schnauzer, Lottie, linger at the gate.  The quarter-size moon in the eastern sky holds water like a cup.  I hear coyotes.  Yeller stands still, facing the coyote chorus.

The pack goes quiet and we return to the house, enter the kitchen and begin the day.

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Filed under Dogs, Flying Hat Ranch

Field Log 9/21/2010 (Quail)

North Erath County, Texas, Lat 32.43 N, Long -98.36 W, elev. 1,086 ft. Turkey Creek Quad.

One week ago, 9:00 a.m., I flushed a large covey of quail to the west of the ranch house.  They were feeding under the live oak tree.  A single quail sighted a week before the flushed covey.  Relinquishing pastures to native grass may have induced quail browsing.

Two mornings ago at 5:00 a.m. while walking the Yeller and Lottie, I heard a deer snort over the fence on the Dooley place.

Solitary white cow bird sighted two days ago.  Cow birds feed with horses in early spring.

The four inches of rain two weeks ago has caused greening of all pastures.  Pasture grasses, especially buffalo grass, are re-erupting.

Yesterday morning at 5:00 a.m., some type of birds quietly chattering in mesquite trees.  Quiet chatter.  Never heard such a thing before.

Harris hawks continue to prey in the pastures.  Their flight patterns are low to the ground.

Some slight turning of tree leaves in grove to yellow and brown.

Overturned soil in arena to soften ground for Lilly and Star.

Dove hunters are not so plentiful this year about the county.  Few shots heard.

Bull nettle growth about stock tank needs cutting.

Photograph featured is a cottonwood tree above Casa Sena in Santa Fe.

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Early Morning Sounds on Flying Hat

I rise early to start the day, walking down the lane to the barn.  Before sunrise this morning at 6:45 a.m., I heard three flocks of turkeys responding to each other to the south and west of our place.  They gobbled in flock choruses, their refrains carrying far because of the cold air.  Between turkey gobbles, loud and many they were, coyotes howled and yipped.  I don’t think the coyote had a kill, but were merely howling.  Past the Dooley’s place, I heard a neighbor’s hound bay, and from the Dooley’s farmyard, a cock crowed.  Ducks on the pond quacked and I heard them on Blue’s pond to the east of us, sounding friendly to each other, not alarmed.  The sun lay below the horizon, slowly illuminating the sky, as I absorbed sounds of nature’s creatures, some wild, some not.  I finished one chore and returned to the house, waiting for the horses to turn broadside, flankside to the sun as it rose, awaiting their grain and hay.  Lilly the alpha mare will nicker when I enter the stables.

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Quail in the Texas Panhandle

Bobwhitequail

Bobwhite Colinus virginianus, Photograph birdsofoklahoma.net

In the late 1970s, I began to train Brittany spaniels to point, hold, flush, and retrieve quail.  My Uncle Adolph Kampen of Amarillo kept a Brittany as a house dog and hunting companion, and I sought to have Brittanies, train them to the hunt, and find good homes for them.   My intention was to keep a brace of Brittanies as house companions.

I first obtained pigeons for the Brittanies to flush under blocks of hay that I scattered on the neighborhood school ground.  The pigeons would fly back to their cages when flushed.  It was only three blocks away.

I purchased  fifty quail chicks to use in the training of Brittanies.  I lived in the city and would eventually move out to the country.  Bobwhite quail were available by mail order, like chickens.   A quail chick is about the size of a large human thumb, quite small and yet, not fragile.  Roger Tory Peterson writes that the Bobwhite is  “a small, brown, chicken-like bird, near size of Meadowlark.  The male shows a conspicuous white throat and eye-stripe (in female, buffy).  Tail short, dark.”

[Peterson, Roger Tory.  A Field Guide to Western Birds. Boston:  Houghton Mifflin, 1969.  See pp. 86-91.]

The quail chicks arrived in boxes delivered by the postal service.  I divided the quail into three coveys and I placed chicks in large cardboard boxes  in a spare bedroom on _____ Street in Amarillo, Texas.   At night, the coveys would settle in and sleep, but during the daylight hours, they would feed, water, and utter quiet “peeps.”

Within a month, the chicks had outgrown their cardboard boxes in the bedroom and I placed them in quail pens in the backyard that I had constructed.   Quail pens have compartments that allow all quail to be released, but one or two quail are retained in the pen so that they will call the covey back together.  It is a remarkable display of covey unity that the quail will scatter, but when their penned-up covey mates call, the group will come back to the pen and enter the pen through a funnel trap.

One day as I parked the car into the garage, I heard the loud call of quail in my backyard and in the neighbor’s yard. There were quail calls all over the neighborhood.  The latch on the pen door had come undone and a covey of quail had scattered about the neighborhood, flying over fences, going into garages, scratching in backyards, and checking out new and wondrous things up and down the block.  Within the hour, my neighbors called and told me that they had quail in their garages or screen porches and would I come and retrieve them?

I rounded up every escapee quail, placed them in portable cages and reset the latch on the main pen more securely.  Without a doubt, the time had come to buy land outside of town and start training the Brittanies on the quail.  The quail needed the space.

South of Amarillo, on the highway to Palo Duro Canyon, I purchased ten acres of land, moved the quail, pigeons, and Brittanies to the pastures with kennels and pens, and borrowed my parents’ recreational trailer.

My life in the country began.

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Filed under Birds, Dogs, Recollections 1966-1990

Old Dog Going Home

[I wrote this back in October as I drove to work.  Thought I would bring it forward for you.]

I saw a dog as I drove on the highway to work this morning in Abilene, Texas.

The dog was a white, shepherd-like dog with long hair.  He appeared old as his trot was barely a trot, more of a fast, determined walk.  He was intent on staying on the left side of the highway, just a couple of yards out of the lane, a few feet from the grass median.  I saw him about fifty yards before I came up along side him.  He did not flinch when I passed him by. The traffic was fast at 7:30 a.m. and neither I nor anyone else could have avoided him had he decided to veer into the traffic.

But what impacted me viscerally was this old dog’s self-possession and determination to travel south on that road, at that time, to get home.  It seemed that his intent to go home was so strong that neither dawn’s light nor the traffic would stop him.

Tomorrow, I don’t want to go down that highway and see him dead on the side of the road.  I have to take that road; there’s no other highway to work.  That old dog better not have gone the way of so many old souls.  I may look for another route or go off on the access road.

I truthfully don’t know if the old dog was going home.  He was old and may have been addled to the point of madness to walk along the highway.  But, I would like to think he was headed home after escaping heartless people.

Seeing him, determined to go home, struck me viscerally and I frankly moaned at his fate, his momentum, his destiny.  Whatever spirit-that-moves-in-all-things should spare that old dog an accident today and carry him to his destination safely with biscuits and bacon and companions-of-old being his due at the end of the road.

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