You know it’s a hot one when Shrek engages in mud baths.
For a couple of decades I had dogs of significant stature. Shrek isn’t exactly small, but he’s a hundred pounds less than Frost and half the size of Chandler and the beautiful Bronte. Shrek guards us the best he can, and takes his watchdog duties seriously. I have no doubt Chandler was capable of bringing down a man, afterall that’s what bullmastiffs were bred for. Bronte weighed 110 pounds and had amazing speed. It’s a long story but I watched her catch a full grown doe by the throat and slam her head into the ground. Frost could be stressful to have on staff because he was perfectly willing to maul any misbehaving visitors to the hollow. And yet, Shrek’s as loyal a dog as I’ve ever had. Here he’s clambered inside the Mountaineer and intently awaits orders.
Yesterday, the yellow dog and I were piddling around the workshop when we heard strange sounds emanating from the strip of trees at the end of the garden. It must have been of animal origin, but sounded alien and joyous. Suddenly, Shrek exploded off in a sprint, his hackles raised. Exploded may be too strong a word here. He is by far not the fastest dog I’ve known (that would be the beautiful Bronte), but neither is he the very slowest (that would be the basset Waldo). Halfway down the garden barking, Shrek slowed at the intimidating sound of large wings gaining altitude. Immediately, I realized I knew those weird sounds of a minute before, it was the vocalizations of happy vultures over carrion. As I walked the garden and wondered what the dead animal would be, two buzzards awkwardly landed in a tree above me.
I could no longer see yellow Shrek, but I noticed one buzzard was looking downward. With it just being the pair, I assumed it was the black vulture couple that lives here every spring and not bigger turkey vultures. (Though smaller than turkey vultures and eagles, black vultures still have a nearly six foot wingspan.)
This was not good news for the Shrek below as black vultures can be quite aggressive. If he was sniffing around their meal, they might run him off. I wasn’t concerned, though. Shrek may be of pure heart as my dog consultant says, but he is not known for his courage. No dog has such a talent for quick retreat as my yellow one.
I reached the trees to find Shrek in full investigative mode. We searched but there was no dead animal, no rotting husk of a deer or raccoon or ground hog. Shrek kept returning to one spot, indicating to me where the big smelly birds probably had been.
All I can figure is that they were drinking from this little spring creek branch that rarely runs above ground. Or perhaps they were playing in the water from the happy sounds they were making. It wouldn’t surprise me as they have big and bold personalities.
If someone were to say, “Sure, your dog is fat and yellow, but is he skilled at investigation?” I would answer, “Look at him, and you tell me.”
I was flipping through an old notebook and saw this line from a novel by the great Scottish writer Denise Mina. I’m sure I made note of it because it resonated powerfully on a personal level. However, no matter my strangeness or bafflement, I don’t compare with this fat yellow Pug-like hillbilly we call Shrek.
However strange he seemed on the outside, it was nothing compared to how baffled he was on the inside.
Just now in the dimming light, walking to the house with Shrek, I jumped sideways before it even registered in my brain that a copperhead was whipping his body frantically at my feet. I wasn’t the reason for the strange contortions, though. Walking just a bit in front of me and inches from my leg, yellow dog Shrek had rudely stepped on the snake’s head and then continued on his way. Copperheads are generally treated with respect, if not fear and this 2 foot fellow was obviously insulted by the breach of protocol.
I went out on the porch awhile ago and was having a conversation with the dogs when a doe walked through the edge of the garden. His hackles on end, Shrek jumped down the steps putting on a display of proud ferocity. The doe stopped walking and stood looking at him with disinterest. Shrek halted short of the defiant deer, confidence waning. After a half minute of indecision, he looked back at me standing on the porch watching and started the heartbroken moaning that only he can do, the shame and embarrassment too much for him to endure. He stumbled back to the porch and climbed the steps his head hanging low. I fetched him a treat and gave him encouragement. I vigorously told him that he was a good boy but he was unconvinced.
Late last night, we had heard an animal sound up in the field. Ian said it sounded like a goat. I took that to mean a doe was talking to a newborn. And as is the case when they have a small fawn, the mothers stop playing the game of politely running a short distance when Shrek tries to impress me. The politics are interesting. A few years ago we had a doe who would actually chase the little dogs if they came too near. She was a hard core good mother.
In my little workshop building, there is a backroom I use as an office. I was sitting in there yesterday with the cat upon my lap, when in through the open door walked a young raccoon. I assume he was just looking for cat food, but thinking him rude, I told him so and off he ran in surprise.
In my novel, Murder in the Ozarks, Andy attends church one Sunday morning. “A tall man with a crew cut and black-framed glasses met Andy at the door, welcomed him by name, and handed him a photocopied program.” That line is my earliest recollection of Theo Jackson, handing out bulletins Sunday mornings before church when I attended with Granny. He knew everybody, and everybody knew him.
Theo was a direct descendant of the pioneer doctor Alvah Jackson, the man who many consider the founding father of Eureka Springs. Theo Jackson made a big impression on me. He had a large farm in the Rock Springs area east of Eureka Springs and he was a man of stature in the community and in his church. I was always impressed with how he carried himself with both humor and dignity. We once attended one of his mountain oyster parties and he was a gracious host.
Theo is someone whom I regret that I’ll not have another conversation with. In fact, I feel like he and I started some conversations that were still in play; conversations that we never finished. The last time we talked was in the barber shop and we continued a conversation we’d been having for twenty years about coyotes and wolves.
We lived on Rock Springs Road at one time and Theo was a neighbor. We had a half-grown Anatolian Shepherd pup named Frost and I was concerned about Frost getting along with Theo’s dog. Theo pulled in one day and his dog jumped out of the truck. Frost was probably 80 pounds then and put the dog back into the truck. I apologized, but Theo just said that Frost was doing his job. Over time, Theo grew to think a lot of Frost. He said that he liked to drive by and see Frost standing out with his cows in the pasture because that meant there were no predators around. After we moved to the hollow, Theo called a couple of times just to ask how Frost was doing.
Theo Ulysses Jackson died August 1, 2015 at the age of 88. He will be missed.
After seven short years with us, our Bullmastiff named Chandler passed away May 16, 2014. He was polite, strong and dignified, but worn down by the years and poor health. When he first came to us years ago he was just skin and bones, weighing only 95 pounds. Late in life he was more like 125. Quiet except for the occasional “big dog bark” warning to coyotes and strangers late at night, he kept a watchful eye upon us and the other dogs.