16 July 2015

A creeper feeling.

There's a section of the forest that gives a creeper feeling. Turn left where there isn't supposed to be a trail and drop down a ways parallel to the creek. It's dusty here, the clovers and ferns that are still alive are shrouded with a layer of dust that makes them all hang low. If you were to keep going, all the way down, like ALL the way down, you'd eventually drop down to a couple houses that live high up a mountain road. But no one's hardly ever in here.

Although I know, that they are.

One evening it was the vampires from the Lost Boys on dirt bikes, flying down the logging roads at dusk. At least 15 of them looping around the rats' nest of crookedy arteries winding through the trees. Very fast, and very terrorific for all of us not used to fleets of blazing loud motorcycles buzzing through our forest. It's a chewed up and badly logged piece of land, doesn't belong to me though, so who am I to harsh on how they've culled their trees. Jagged, old toothy chunks, piled up around scrawny survivors. The trails are rutted deep, and things come out from the trees to sting your legs.

I never feel happy in there. Yet in there I still go. Everybody probably has this place somewhere, and there's a thing in you that can't keep you out.

The dogs are known for a fact to do weird things in that patch of land. Gustavo has chased invisibles, Banksy obsessively bites at sticks, and I don't know if they're creeped out because I am, or do they feel it too?

We walked in there yesterday early evening, and I was getting a creeper feeling. Sometimes I listen to it, sometimes I don't. I didn't last night and we still headed down the hill. I don't often plan which way we'll go when I walk and something pulled me to walk straight down the steep way. All the dogs were antsy, and I chalked it up to everybody's hyper and good thing they're having a run.

A motion flurry caught my eye, high up in a tree, and I could see through a veil of branches some kind of big hawk. I'm no bird person. A bird's a bird, it's either some little thing, a crow, or bird of prey. This one was big and somewhere between hawk and vulture size. I do take note of the big birds, because some are super sized enough to perhaps hook long talons into a Gustavo dashing across a trail. I did think it fortuitous to see one, because I'm reading a book right now about a depressed lady in England who trains her wild goshawk to sit on her hand in a glove and always fly back to her.

The author's name is Helen Macdonald. Her feral hawk, with long lethal fingers wears a tiny handstitched helmet and soft leather leg shackles called jesses. I had to look these up in google. Do you do that now? Every single mystery can be partially solved online. The hawk's name is Mabel. She's not so much a pet as a wild hunting companion, like from the history of falconry. The author teaches it to hunt along with her, and together they walk the countryside in England, looking for prey.

I like this book a lot. The author loses her bearings in regular life, and starts to turn wild with her bird. Her real life is out in the woods, she can't really function in her other life everywhere else. I think I know this person.

So I notice hawks a lot now. How would that one look sitting on my big leather glove, wearing a tiny ruffled cap covering her eyes so she'd never even see me? This one was high up in the tree, and in the book sometimes that happens to Mabel, she's stuck up there, deciding to be wild or not, before she chooses to fly back to her lady's cloaked arm. I think about this, the way she trained something so fierce, when suddenly, this one flaps out from behind the branches with a gray squirrel hanging from it's claws. It was a big bird, but a squirrel's pretty big too, and off the bird went, through the sky to a tree just a bit farther away from us.

This might have been a magnificent nature moment, watching her move her prey further from the interlopers in her woods. But all I could see were those long sharp feet, so easily skewering the squirrel and transporting it to a safer branch to shred him apart to eat. Because of drought, the animals all seem hungrier and in different places lately, I feel bad for them but I it makes me feel uneasy.

I used to know where they were and now I don't.

I think though, that the squirrel eating bird was actually flashing us a signal, because as the bird moves out of sight, we all hear the unmistakable sound of deer crashing away through the brush. Those of us who can hear anyways, Ruby doesn't hear a thing anymore. Deer can cling to vertical hillsides, somehow they can run where I can barely creep, and I could hear them running fast and down the hill below where me and the dogs were paused to watch the bird.

And then there was another sound. This one, something I've never heard. A big and ferocious sounding scuffle. Things were breaking, no animals sounds that I could exactly identify by species, but it sounded loud and violent and way too close. Bears attacking each other with axes, gangsters beating each other with copper pipes, the robot war to the death in the woods. This is a thing I've never heard in the forest. I've heard sounds that go bump in the night. I've seen carcass and even fresh kills, stumbled across a fresh rib cage or a leg, but I've never thought about the moment that the actual death occurred. I guess I imagine those moments to always happen late at night, when I'm at home in my jammies, safe in my house, warm in my bed, doors and windows locked around me. Asleep and not worrying about who's eating who outside.

In this exact moment, I realize what I might be hearing. All I can think of is, really bad place to be right now. Banksy and Otterpop use the very wise common sense they sometimes can have and glue themselves to where I am. I snap Otterpop on a leash. The last thing I need in this moment is another boss giving alternative and perhaps demented orders. Gustavo and Ruby, however, don't have the same reaction, and life does not go according to plan.

You know how dogs do weird things sometimes, in new situations? I'm teaching a new group in an agility class right now, and we go through it with all the She-Does-It-Perfectly-At-Homes when the dogs stress up and down from the novelty and excitement of being part of a new group in a new place. The class is definitely at the But-She-Does-It-Perfectly-At-Home stage right now. I'm totally guilty of this, too. Godamn, I always think. She NEVER does that? Why in front of the teacher? Why right now at the park with all these people standing there observing? I scratch my head and figure out the next step. Always learning better about how the dogs think from having to bail out from a WTF moment.

We're just past a tiny, shredded up grove of old redwood stumps and chewed up trees. Gustavo flips around and heads into the grove, surrounded by a triangular track of paths carved by bikes and trucks over the years. There's apparently something in a stump he must have at this very moment. I guess. Even though he can be a chaser, he gets scared by danger animals and can do unpredictable things. His patented coyote detection method is usually spinning donuts making hamster sounds until I can contain him. That's for close by coyotes. We all know something is down there doing something bad, and Gustavo's chosen this moment to dash away into a stump like a furry little hobbit. I can't even see him anymore, but I saw him go in.

I'm not sure if yelling or calling out is a good idea or a bad one. The thrashing and crashing noises start to wind down but there's a new one. It sounds like something being dragged through branches and brush. Very, very close. I want to be anywhere except for here.

As Gustavo ran off into the grove, Ruby has inexplicably raised her nose to sniff the air, and takes off running at a speed we don't much see from Ruby anymore. Ruby hasn't taken off on a walk in maybe, 5 years. 6 Years. 7 Years. 8 years, maybe. For real. This Ruby, the only one I know now, placidly trots behind us and stops only to munch on coyote poops that she finds along the way. This Ruby shifts into a high gear every so often to catch up to my leg, or run ahead to a dog out in front on a really good day, but other than that she mostly just trots along in the back and is almost an afterthought on our walks. This Ruby doesn't do anything not according to plan. She's just, Ruby.

New improved Ruby, the Ruby like Ruby used to be, is running now, along the road towards the brush, pausing to sniff the air then moving fast forward again. Moving only away from us and moving fast towards the bad sounds. Ruby is nearly completely deaf. The only thing she can hear is sometimes, in the right acoustics, very loud clapping sounds, maybe. She also can't see well, and only out of one eye. Ruby is who should never, ever, ever leave the group, and who still gets to go with us because she never, ever does.

And now she's galloping, her crazy, crooked, sideways run, down towards the brush, picking up a scent that has her very, very excited. Ruby's sniffers still work really, really good.

I'm thinking the scent she's just picked up may be blood.

I've got two dogs with me. One's inexplicably climbed into a stump and I don't know what he's doing. And the oldest, blindest, deafest, is running away. And there are sounds coming from the forest beneath me that sound like death.

My running away would bring Gustavo back. He's a scared little weenie at heart, and putting pressure on him by running towards him never works. When he does run off, after a squirrel or some turkeys, I usually move along and he's back on his own in a flash. He keeps track. Gustavo has enough survival instinct to know he'd never survive in the forest on his own. Ruby however, is another matter. Ruby exists in her own little foggy bubble. At least she hasn't run into the trees along the edge of the ravine, but now I suspect she's scared herself and doesn't know where she's going. She's whipped herself into a panic and is running ahead of me on the track and I'm chasing her with the other dogs.

I should be a lot calmer in this moment, but I'm not calm at all. Scary sounds of an animal's demise in the bushes do that to me. I think she knows it's me chasing her, but doesn't exactly know why we'd be doing this or even if it is us and so she's gaining speed. Banksy flies up to her to head her off, she's not allowed to do this any other time but bless her little border collie heart that this kicks in. And it works, sort of. Ruby splits off in a new direction, now into the grove where Gustavo disappeared.

Banksy comes back into me. Banksy for the win on this one. Nobody told me the benefits of border collies in the woods. They just don't care about the wild things. She might be a pain on the ass around the ranch when the horses are moving, but in the woods, wild things are off her radar.

I just want to leave. Because now we are making all kinds of crazy sounds up here, just on top of the hillside where something we don't know has killed something else and we are likely not welcome to be privy to this information of who's done what. We have thrashing sounds, we have running sounds, we have clapping sounds, and we have now a little bit of loud whisper yelling because I want the dogs all OUT without calling too much attention to us up here near the little grove.

But nothing's working and whatever's down there still must be down there if it has a kill. And by now probably hears all of our commotion.

Ruby's panic of blind running has now taken over her first idea to follow that scent. She's just tearing around on the track around the grove and I dive on her, knowing it's probably my one chance before she really freaks out and bolts somewhere new. I can feel her under me beyond terrified but I'm able to scoop her up into my arms and hang on for dear life. In this moment she knows it's me and thank god, I think we're all going to be fine. I snap her onto a leash, and drag her along with me and Otterpop.

I scramble into the grove, pulling those two poor dogs along over branches and bramble. Last thing I'm going to do now is lose anymore dogs. I figure out where Gustavo's gone to, inside a tangle of downed logs and pieces of once were one magnificent, ancient tall tree. Now just shredded and jagged bits. I don't know what he's doing but he needs to be out. I grab a long pole of a downed branch and poke it around, shake it around in there and he's spooked out like a shot. This is brilliant. And Banksy thinks so too because I've created toy now, from a stick. Gustavo looks confused, and Banksy now needs the toy. It's about 6' long and stuck in a log.

Gustavo gets snapped onto a leash, he's freaked out. I don't know if from the annihilation sounds, an animal he found in the stump, the fact that I've rutted him out with a pole, or by all of the above. Poor little Gooey. Otterpop and Ruby are freaked out from being drug around and by my general state of completely manic. We've got monsters in the brush and I've turned high strung and volatile and nobody's happy in this moment. So much for our walk. Off we go, minus Banksy, up a steep hill at at the fastest clip I can find to vacate the death zone. There's quiet coming from the hillside now, and I don't know if that's good or bad. I think I liked it better when I could hear it than when I couldn't.

Banksy finally appears, running up that hill dragging my stupid long ass dog removal branch with her. It's heavy and long and she's not making good time with it. She's found the toy of all toys and since I was using it first obviously it's a pretty valuable thing that we need for a game. This is all one big party time, right?

I holler down the hill, "TRADE!"

Banksy and I have our own free trade agreement and any contraband she will willingly drop is always rewarded with a cookie. No questions asked. This is an agreement that's taken us many months to reach peaceful negotiations on, and this would be a super place for the magic of dog training to actually work.

The stick is dropped and she runs up the hill to us and she gets a leash too.

Out we go. It's about a mile and half out to the road, and we keep going for a ways til I take a break. Nothing's following behind us, we're all going to be just fine. I am shaky though. The dogs think I've gone a bit cuckoo. My phone is in my pocket, I snap a phone photo to remember. That phone take crappy pictures. But I wanted just one, a lot.

This is maybe the last walk Ruby gets in the forest, at least the last one not tied to me. She's been slowing down, we don't take her when we go far, we can't take her to the beach. After all that, I see how easy it would be to lose her in the blink of an eye. She's usually pretty sharp, but sometimes lately I wonder. Ruby is far too beloved to ever let anything bad happen to her.

I don't know exactly what killed what down on the side of that slope. I do know that pumas are the only animal that easily take down a deer. I know they're in our woods, but also that they prefer to hunt at dusk and dark and dawn, and the sun was at 5:00 midsummer high when this happened. There's those new big coyotes now, maybe those can take down a fawn. This is what I would like to think happened. Usually the coyotes are scavengers of what the pumas leave, but who knows now, the animals are different in the drought.

Always you know what you should have done in hindsight. That creeper feeling is there for a reason, and that bird showing me her squirrel was the second warning I didn't heed. I do think we'll take a break from that section of the woods for a while, I don't know that I've got enough bravery to walk anywhere near there for quite some time. There is wild, and there's wild. I am very clear now on the difference.


Terry A said...

that was excellent suspenseful writing, biting my nails by the end (Please let ruby be OK, please let gustavo get out of stump safely, please let banksy come back") somehow i figured otterpop would come through it OK. whew.

team small dog said...

Whew! is right!

Anonymous said...

isn't that the most awesome feeling when your 'trained' dog actually does what you ask when you really need it to!!

Jenn said...