Ghost Story II (Phantom Dog)

October 2, 2008 at 5:40 pm (Ghost, Hiking, Jasper, Stories) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


Ghost Dog

I woke up early this morning and thought I’d sit down and word ramble a little while the level in my coffee diminished. A departure from my usual mornings (or whatever passes for morning in our night shifter world!) Usually I rather arthritically moan and groan my way out of bed and move slowly to the coffee pot. I save the leftover coffee from the day before so a first cup can speedily warm in the microwave. As it warms I get the coffee pot going with fresh coffee. I’d like to say that I then stand at the kitchen window and watch the birds busy at the feeders, assess the approach of fall in the first leaves dropped from the three maples that stand by the swing, and generally absorb the nature of the day.

I’d like to say that (and, in fact, I DID just say that), but it would be a winky tinky lie. The truth is that invariably I take my first cup of coffee back into the bedroom where I make the bed. My Granny ingrained this in me so strongly that I will make beds in hotel rooms even when I know housekeeping is two doors down waiting for me to depart, even when we get up through the night for an hour or so during our usually insomniac nights off, even when I am washing our favorite linens that I intend to put right back on. Some of my early memories are of staying with Granny overnight. I’d sleep up in the finished attic. There was a double bed up there that Brother John got, and I had the single bed. It was one that had an old iron headboard. When we would go downstairs in the morning, Granny would ask sweetly (she NEVER raised her voice), “Did you make your bed honey?” She would never ask that if I had. She had this Granny ESP. I would turn around and head back upstairs and the habit has followed me all of my days. This habit (and dare I say others) didn’t stick with Brother John. He used to pay me to clean his room and I think if I lived closer he would STILL pay me to clean his room. (Brother John here… Yep! I’d pay. And pay gladly! And pay often!). Thinking about it, I’m not sure what would have happened if I had ever defied Granny. No one ever did. She never yelled, she never punished, she never argued. The most we ever heard was, “Now you don’t want to make Granny cross do you?” For us, that was like hearing, “Now you don’t want to have single-handedly stuck a knife in my heart or set fire to a house of poor, sick orphans, do you?” There would be no need for water boarding or any other torture methods if Granny was doing the interrogating. That one little statement and the worst terrorist would be on his knees sobbing.

Anyway, digression completed, after the bed is made I usually start right in to the daily house chores and whatever other tasks the day holds. By the time I’ve finished my hips, knees, and ankles are all loosened up and mostly ache free and I have satisfied my little obsessive compulsive soul with ACCOMPLISHMENT. (Uh, yeah. I do have a check off list…)

Oh, another thing. I wake up EVERY morning without fail with a song in my head. And believe me, that song is not choosy. It could be a song I’ve been learning on the fiddle or mandolin, it could just as easily be a commercial jingle, disco refrain, gospel chorus, Scottish reel, classical aria, or hillbilly ballad, my head doesn’t care. (Brother John here… a mild interruption. I too ALWAYS wake up with a song in my head. Must be a family thing). Many times I don’t even LIKE the song and go around begging Sammy to give me another tune, or turn music or the TV on. And, not only do I often not like the song, I never seem to know any more than a line or two of the words, so I get the same tiny piece that I do know repeating over and over. This morning, for example, as I sit here, it’s “Low Rider” by War. “Take a little trip, take a little trip, take a little trip with me.” Oh yeah. I used to play a mental game. Whatever the first complete song was that I heard on the radio after I got into my car to drive to work, would be the predictor of my shift. “Dream a Little Dream”, good. “Welcome to the Jungle”, bad. I finally stopped doing that when I realized that there were not nearly as many songs about nature and flowers and love as there were about cheatin’ slime bags or environmental decay.

Anyway, another digression completed. What I started to say was that October is here. Another season is making its self heard and seen and smelled. And remembered. About four or five years ago I had gotten into jogging. It started when my friend Anita and I started walking and yakking about husbands, work, kids, life, etc. Then we started jogging on the down hills, then jogging on the flats, then the little uphills. Before I knew it we were jogging four days a week, four to seven miles at a shot, and looking pretty fit as a result. (These days I walk, and not as often, and my figure reflects it.) On the days that we couldn’t get together, I would go by myself. This is a little October ghost story about something that happened while I was jogging.

My favorite time to jog was in the evening when the sun was low in the sky. I would try to time it so that I could catch the sunset on the top of Asper Hill first, then again as I rounded back to Knisely Hill. That meant that by the time I finished my usual four and a half mile loop and came down through the hollows, it would be just light enough to see my shoes hit the pavement. I liked the feeling that I was pushing the night back a little with each footfall. Most times I would take Jasper. At the time of this story we had only had him about a year. He was well behaved enough to never stray far, come right away when I called, and not fight with other dogs we might come across. But on this jog I didn’t take him. Archery season had come in. There would be both neighbors and strangers in the surrounding woods, at that time of day just heading out to walk or drive home. Around these parts, dogs who run deer are shot on site by some, and even though Jasper doesn’t have that habit, a loose dog could be conceived as possibly running deer, and shot by some. I’m not coordinated enough to have him leashed and jog at the same time, so I put his very reluctant (bribing with lunch meat was required) butt into the Dog Run. Our other dog at the time was our sweet Jack. Jack had recently developed a bulging vertebrae that was causing him to have tremors in his back legs and some instability, and so couldn’t have gone either. (Jack’s condition was caused by a congenital defect that worsened with maturity, and eventually caused complete paralysis of his back legs. We only had him a year and had to have him put to sleep when he was only three, but he was a good, sweet, wonderful member of our family.) So, I set off alone, to the tune of mournful howling dogs, wearing an orange vest, reflector tape, and carrying mace. My husband (second husband) didn’t like it when I jogged during hunting season because there WERE strangers who would come in to hunt. I argued that they were strangers, yes, but to be hunting on our neighbor’s property I would think the neighbors would know who they were…

The first long leg of my jog was up Asper Hill. Back then I could jog the whole thing. It may not have been pretty and involved panting and sweating, but once I made it to the top I always turned around and jogged backwards for a few paces to enjoy the view. From the top of Asper Hill I could see The Big Buffalo mountain in Newport, seven miles away. I could see Middle Ridge, the next big ridge south of me, and see several lesser ridges with the sun just angling to catch the first leaf changes in an amber glow. As I headed over the top and started down to the plateau on the other side, I smelled woodsmoke as someone burned a pile of brush. The plateau is always one of my favorite places. Secluded, the corn, wheat, and soy fields often have feeding deer, wild turkeys coming up to the high land to roost, a fat groundhog that fed by the roadside, and a fox I had seen four or five times. I headed down into the first small hollow, where a few weeks ago I had seen a magnificent eight point buck standing on the edge of the woods, and took a left onto Buckwheat Rd. This part of my jogging loop has the most traffic and is bordered by houses and corn fields. As I was jogging along I heard a truck that needed some muffler work coming up the road behind me. I got way over to the side of the road. People on Buckwheat tend to drive way too fast. The truck slowed behind me and then came up beside me. I was used to people asking directions, neighbors stopping to rib me a little and tell me to jog faster, so I looked over at the occupants of the truck anticipating a pleasant little break.

Talk about Perry County scary. I live in a county that is still very much rural Pennsylvania and gets a lot of redneck and hillbilly jokes, and some of them are deserved. It’s also a county that has more than its share of artists, musicians, poets, artisans, and intelligent, literate, creative people who still have all their teeth, but the two men I found myself looking at were not examples of the latter. The first thing I noticed through the open window was the smell. A combination of very old sweat and beer fumes was radiating out of the truck. A lot of hunters will hang their hunting clothes outside to get rid of “human” smells. These guys had may have been hanging their clothes outside but if so, had neglected to ever wash them, ever. It was a mossy oak patterned fugue. Archery season was in , but these guys had rifles sitting on the floor and resting on the bench seat in between them. The driver had a few weeks worth of beard that was stained with tobacco juice. He spat out the window, just missing my shoes, and gave me a glimpse of a few yellow teeth, a few brown teeth, and lots of spaces where there SHOULD have been teeth. He backhanded off the tobacco juice that dripped into his scruff, missing most of it, and said, “What you runnin’ from there, missy?” The other guy, younger, long really greasy hair, muscular arms (he had the top of his camouflaged hunting coverall around his waist to show a ripped and stained t-shirt with the sleeves and neck cut out) and a big beer belly. I could see tufts of belly hair straining out of the rips in the shirt. This guy giggled (a nasty little sound) took a swig of beer from the can he had between his legs, backhanded the dribbled beer from his two or three day shadowed face, and repeated, “runnin’ from, he he he.” I would have, had I been a man, been hearing the theme from “Deliverance”. As it was, I felt the sweat trickling down my back become cold, and my mind start to whirl furiously with thoughts. Like, that they didn’t have a scrap of required hunter orange anywhere about them. Poachers. I don’t have much of a problem with food hunters out of season, although the government differs from me on that point, but I just didn’t have that feeling about these guys. The back of the old sea green, primer, and rust colored pickup was full of beer cans. I also thought that I don’t know them, I don’t have my dog, it’s nearly dark, and the next stretch of my loop is very isolated. I’m also calculating the best place to jump off the road and run if I need to, figuring that I am in good shape, they obviously aren’t, I know this area and the people who live here, and it’s nearly dark. I could get rid of the orange reflective vest as I ran and disappear in the woods in seconds. I’m also thinking, that might just be something that only works in movies.

Well, just them a car came along that DID have a couple of neighbors in it. They stopped to chat and my buddies in the truck moved on. The neighbors moved on too and I started jogging again. As I headed down a little hill before I made the next turn on to Knisely Hill road, I saw, around the next bend, pulled off into a field access road, the sea green truck. “Crap!”, I thought. To turn back or bypass Knisely Hill would mean several miles of jogging in the full dark. I also had to work that night and would be late. I said a little prayer and turned on Knisely. About that time I heard paw pads behind me. They were just there all at once, but I did have other things on my mind at the moment and figured I just didn’t notice. Lots of the neighbor’s dogs would come up and greet me as I jogged, but usually with a lot of barking and fuss about it. This dog was silent. I had had my hand on the mace ever since my conversation with the cretins and I turned. Trotting behind me was one of the biggest dogs I’d ever seen, and not one I recognized. He had red fur like an Irish setter, but a big woolly head and deep barreled chest like a Newfoundland. He wagged his tail, mouth open and panting, and I relaxed a little. “Hey boy”, I said. I put out my hand, palm up, in case he wanted to sniff me and be petted but he kept just out of reach. So, I started jogging again and he passed me and started loping in front of me. I talked to him, and he would turn his head and perk his ears up to listen. I was so distracted by this big, beautiful, shaggy stranger that I forgot momentarily my other not so beautiful shaggy strangers until I realized we were going by their truck. The doors opened and the younger guy got out. The driver had one foot on the ground and stood, leaning against the door. Both had beers. “Hey Missy, why doncha come talk a bit?” “He he he, yeah, come talk?” “Aw come on, we’ll give you a beer.” “Yeah, beer.” The younger guy took a few steps away form the truck and I got the impression he was either going to urinate or expose himself right there in front of me. Just then the big red dog crossed over to their side of the road. “Holy crap, lady, where’d you get the DOG!” Young guy backed slowly back to the truck and stood behind the open door. I jogged desperately on, hearing the dog’s paws behind me. Then I heard the truck start up, pull out, and turn (thank you Lord) in the opposite direction. As the sound of the un-muffled exhaust faded away I turned back to my protector, thinking that if he followed me home he was going to get the biggest, juiciest hamburger I could make before I tried to find his owners. There was NOTHING there! Now, it had only been seconds since the creeps had driven away and I had been hearing footpads behind me. I was jogging along a field of soybeans. Even though they hadn’t been harvested the dog was way bigger than they were. Even though it was now dusk, I could see clearly for some distance in all directions as I circled around looking for him. I called, “Hey, dog, red boy.” He was just gone as quickly as he had appeared.

Did I have an angel? Was he a ghost? I asked around over the next several days, thinking maybe someone had guests up to hunt who had brought their dog. I also asked about the sea green truck. And, I changed my jogging times and course for awhile. Sometimes when you need a little miracle, you get one. There have been two or three other times since, when I have been out walking, that I have THOUGHT I heard footpads behind me. Once I was so sure of it I put out my hand in back of me expecting a friendly lick. Nothing. I almost expect to hear a story one day about a big red dog that some old farmer owned generations ago…

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The Walk

September 29, 2008 at 10:00 pm (Bees, Brother John, Dogs, Family, Felon, German Shepherd, Hiking, Jasper, Pets, pit bull, Plants, sedum, Stonecrop sedum, Visit) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


By Eydie Wight

Just keep truckin' on...

I went for my first walk of the fall season this afternoon. We had been down to Brother John‘s yesterday for his BIRTHDAY!! and he had made a request that I take some pictures as I go on my walks. Brother John likes to stress me. (Brother John here… I really don’t enjoy stressing out my dear Sister. Honestly!) I’ve only just figured out how to use the digital camera, and the thing still hasn’t quite learned who its master is. It likes to flip into other realms like video footage, stored photos, and settings. Sometimes it will just sit there and refuse to take the picture. Other times it will snap off about 20 shots of the same thing before I even know what button I pushed. The more advanced we become technologically, the more I want to cower in my cave and paint on the walls.

I have a little “purse” I take with me when I go walking. I got it ages ago from some army surplus magazine. It used to be a Swiss medical field bag and I’ve found it to be just about indestructible. It has a shoulder strap I place over my head and across my chest, and a flap closure that keeps stuff from spilling out when I lean over, yet is quickly accessible. I always take a a few plastic bags for any wild plants, seeds, nuts, feathers, stones, or other interesting “stuff” I might come across. I have a knife for taking specimens and in the heavy flower season I take my medicinal and flowering wild plant books. I also take tissues (for… well you know), a bandanna, cell phone (’cause Sammy makes me), notepaper and a pen, granola bar and a bottle of water. I know the home woods well enough that I am never truly lost. Up hill leads to ridge tops where I can see and identify the “big” ridges, Raccoon Ridge to the north, and Middle Ridge to the south. Downhill eventually leads to water, water eventually leads to the Big Buffalo Creek, and the Big Buffalo Creek eventually leads to a road. So, lost for days, no. Lost for an hour or so longer than planned, yes. There are so many little glens and valleys and knobs and passes. They can all look pretty similar, especially when foliage is out.

Well, I set off up Hominy Ridge, stopping to take pictures of the upper pond. Or what used to be the upper pond. We had a lovely little eight by eight, five foot deep pond that our to-remain-anonymous neighbor had dug out for us several years ago with his back hoe. There originally was an existing depression where a spring head comes out. The water was clean and clear and supported lots and lots of frogs. I tried putting koi in it the first year, only to find that after the first couple of days either the koi were being coy, or I had no more koi. I learned that not only do bullfrogs enjoy a nice, young, tender koi, but so does the snake we caught swimming through the overflow pipe and into the pond. A few years later, the tree on the south side of the “pondette” put roots through the dam wall, causing the pond to spring a leak. Instead of water going through the overflow, down the cut I had so carefully “prettied up” with rocks to create miniature waterfalls and planted with daffodils and day lilies, and then flowing into the little frog pond I had so lovingly created with my own hands and a shovel, the water leaked out of the dam wall and began to flow down the access road and right across the driveway! Then, the bullfrogs tunneled into the sides of the pond for their winter sleep, and water followed those channels in the spring to create MORE leaks. We shored it up and packed it down, tried lining it with plastic and some bags of concrete until finally about two years ago we gave up for awhile. It’s still on my long term list as “Do something about the @#$%&*!! pond!” (Brother John here… I LOVE ponds! What a wonderful and natural habitat for all kinds of creatures! If only I lived closer to ya Sis, I’d find a way to restore it!).

For those that don’t know me, I am somewhat of a survivalist. Not at a “live in a commune” level (at least not yet) and I still like my flush toilet and the occasional movie, but I decided about 16 years ago that I don’t ever again want to live somewhere I don’t have a reasonable chance of growing or harvesting or hunting enough food to sustain me and my loved ones. I have just enough medicinal plant knowledge to slap a reasonable poultice on something I’ve stitched up. And just enough edible plant knowledge to feed us without either starvation or poisoning! I view this knowledge and the people who have imparted or inspired it in me as gifts. Not only do I want to accept them gratefully and gracefully, I don’t want the knowledge to be lost. Harvest only what you need, and never harvest all of something.

Was I proselytizing? Why yes, can I get an “Amen!”

Click on the image to see a larger view of Sammy and Eydie Wight's Upper Pond

I wanted to get a few pictures for Brother John so I walked around the pond to try to get an angle that might show something of what it used to be. As I worked my way around to the north side, I got nearer and nearer to my aster supping beautiful “wild” Italian honeybees. They were just as numerous and active as they had been when Sammy had first noticed them the other day. I moved close enough to them to try to take a few pictures, but none came out showing the bees as more than a blur. I realized that the view of the pond I wanted was smack dab in the middle of the asters. So, I thought, “might as well see how even tempered my fine Italians are.” I slowly waded into the aster clump, covering my sweatpants (no pajamas today), with dot sized dusting’s of pollen. The hum of the bees (either really, or just in my imagination) grew a little louder, but not (really, or just in my imagination) angry or threatening. Maybe just a communicated “what?”. I stood there in the midst of honeybees and asters with the sun warm in my face and counted a quick blessing and said a quick “thanks”. Life is good. I got my picture of the pond and slowly waded out of the asters. During the time I had stood there a few bees had briefly landed on my clothing, but none on my skin, and none that seemed at all upset.

Click on the image to see a view looking down Hominy Ridge

Jasper, Felon (Brother John here… we could use a nice Felon story hint, hint 🙂 ), and I headed on up the ridge. As we began to go up the access road Jasper and Felon checked out all the really good smells while I panted a little and remembered what a trek it is up to the top. I kept having to stop to duck under or step over spider webs that were spun across the way. I can’t remember who it was, my dad, or my granddad, that used to tell me spiderwebs across the trail meant no Indians had been there in the past few hours. I didn’t know whether to be relieved or disappointed. On one hand meeting up with an Indian would be really cool. On the other hand, meeting up with a startled, unhappy Indian might not be. I believe the tribes that would have hunted, scouted, and traveled in this area were Iroquois. Our unidentified neighbor has found arrowheads and artifacts along the Big Buffalo Creek.

Click here to see a full sized picture of the deer stand.

I can never seem to find the deer stand up at the top of our property. Even though I know where it is, tucked right in the northeastern- most corner, I can still be looking right at it and just not see it. My second husband did the camouflage paint job. He was very talented and did nearly too good a job. It sits about 20-25 feet up a nice tall ash tree. Our access road joins with one that runs east along the top of the ridge and across the back of several of the neighbor’s properties. There are no houses up this far. As we head east, first Jasper, and then I, startle a large gooneybird (it’s actually a pileated woodpecker that we call a “gooneybird” in these parts due to the sounds it makes) and watch it fly from the standing dead tree it had been pecking on to the top of a red oak.

Turkey Feeder

As I walk along, I can hear chainsaws in the woods south of me. Firewood time. I can also see scrapes where the wild turkeys have been feeding, the remains of acorn and hickory shells where the squirrels have been cutting, and the deep nipped underbrush where a deer took the easy path of the access road and grazed as it went.

My sort of goal was another access road that cuts across the ridge and ends up on the top of Asper Hill. But, rather than connecting to the one I’m currently on, it appears about halfway down the backside of the ridge. I can never find it. And, I can never find another trail that ends up at an old, many years abandoned farm that sits in the plateau near the top of Asper Hill. I know this much, I go east on the top access road until it peters out into an impenetrable (I know this for a fact) bramble and sumac patch. Then, I keep to the right of the twisted lightning struck tree and head northeast along the edge of the huge boulder field. If I continue east, I should run into part of a road that was put in when timber was cut about 40 years ago.

I got that far, and started down the road, and then realized that both dogs had disappeared. Jasper never strays far, and did come running when I called his name. Felon will follow his nose to the ends of the earth. I called him, no answer. But, if he’s having a good time, he could be ten feet away and still not answer. So, I clapped my hands. Clapping my hands is like when your mother has called you to get up for school three times and she is now sending your dad up the stairs. I immediately heard Felon‘s panting coming up from the hollow. The dog sounds like a steam locomotive. Once the happy family was reunited, I looked at my watch and realized I had to start home to get a nap in before work.

This trail I was on may or may not lead to the ones I want, and I’m dying to find out. On the way back I noticed that the wild blueberry bushes are dry as a bone. Most of the leaves have fallen into a little brown heap at their feet. We need some rain. As we head home Felon races ahead, his attention already moving on (he’s like an ADHD kindergartner after nap time). Jasper hangs back to walk with me at exactly the right pace for me to ruffle his fur. He looks at me, and I swear he is smiling, saying, “Didn’t we have fun?”

More of the Deer Stand

One more view of the Deer Stand

Tree Fungus (Fairy Ring Not)

Seedum w/ Butterfly

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