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.
Today, after the rain had stopped and the sun had brightened the blue, clearing sky, a Barred Owl called out from the edge of the woods. After what seemed like too long a time, another owl answered and then far down the hollow a third responded. Isn’t that an omen, an owl calling during the day?
In the third grade, I played the male lead opposite Wendy the Witch in the Halloween play. What was odd about the whole deal was that I was even cast as Mr. Owl. I was new to the school and was so quiet that I was known as a barely functional mute. But I still remember my grand entrance with the construction paper feathers taped to my brown long-sleeved shirt, trying to project “T’wit, t’woo, I’m here to help you!” to the back row of the little auditorium. I’ve identified with owls ever since.
I was pleased when we moved into the hollow and would hear the eerie call of the little Screech Owl or the occasional deep hoot of a Great Horned Owl. Once I saw a white-faced Barn Owl in the barn, of all places.
But it is all Barred Owls these days. Barred Owls are pretty big, their wingspans nearly as wide as the windshield on the vehicle I drive. I know this because they sometimes swoop down toward the road as I drive through the woods into the hollow, and then pull up just before they hit the windshield. In the moment that we are face to face with only safety glass between us, the owl looks huge.
A year or two ago, owlets were raised and they sure could kick up a cacophony trying to learn how to do the “hoohoo-hoohoo, hoohoo-hoohooaw!” of their parents. They did this every night in the tall trees behind the chicken house, making the hens and Mr. Crowe very nervous. A group of owls is called a parliament, so we have a parliament of Barred Owls in the hollow.
Some say an owl hooting during the day is a portent of death and doom. I don’t mind.
This is the time of year that local hunters head for the deer woods, sometimes even here into this forested hollow. The neighborhood dogs like this as they find pieces of deer that they happily bring home on which to gnaw. Here a happy Dachshund works over a leg.