Loving and Losing Rascal.

rascal

Our handsome, complex boy.

Edie, my little dynamo dressed in Australian Cattle dog clothing, keeps running to the bedroom to look for Rascal. Then she runs into the living room, again to look for Rascal. She looks out the window. She checks the yard. But he’s not there. He’s not in any of those places.

She appears momentarily confused, but then seems to remember what happened and, with the dog equivalent of a shrug, moves on to find another of our pack to chase. The gift of acceptance—dogs have it. We can learn from them.

I do think Edie still hopes Rascal might pop back up because he was her self-assigned job, her cow substitute. It was not an easy job. Rascal was a high-drive, highly reactive, highly unpredictable dog. Yet, since the day agile little Edie walked through our door just over a year ago, she has monitored his activities with relentless drive, devotion, and eventually friendship.

Two nights before Christmas, the unthinkable happened to bring an untimely end to Edie’s job. I’m fairly sure Edie was the only witness to our tragedy because, in the aftermath, I found her hiding in one of our dog crates. She was crouched all the way to the back of the crate, tense, and trembling. It took several minutes of soft talking and reassurance to coax my girl out.

I wish she could talk. I wish she could tell us how it happened. What we have been able to piece together is that Rascal was killed in the back corner of our yard. All evidence points to an attack by a coyote—inside our fence. Inside the boundary we once considered safe.

My mind keeps searching, irrationally, for the rewind button that will take me back to the moments just before Rascal’s death. If I could just go back in time, I could fix this. I could do things differently. I could keep Rascal safe.

Rascal sitI keep thinking back to the last time I saw him. He was actually being good. That was a rare thing for Rascal, especially in the evenings. Usually by 9:00 or 10:00 at night, Rascal had to be shut in his crate to keep him from exploding through the house repeatedly, racing out the dog door to bark at the horses, a bird, a deer, a leaf, anything…everything.

But on that night, he was being calm. I did not ask him to go to his crate. An unintentional, fatal mistake. Thankfully my last words to him were in delight, “Good boy, Rascal.” I’ve said some pretty terrible things to that dog out of total frustration, so I am blessed by this last thought, my last image of my challenging boy.

I was busy wrapping presents and Jim was relaxing in the recliner with a couple of dogs serving as blankets. All of the dogs were in the house, most were asleep. I didn’t pay much attention as a few of them would come and go through the dog door. They had always had free access to the yard. At least they used to.

At some point…it would have been after 10:30 or 11:00…Rascal went outside. I didn’t notice. He didn’t go tearing outside as he was prone to doing. I guess he probably went out to hike his leg on a fencepost. I never heard a thing. No alarmed barking. No sounds of a fight. None of the other dogs sounded an alert. There were simply no signs to bring my attention to the life and death struggle that was happening no more than 30 yards from where I sat tying bows on festively wrapped gifts. No more than 30 yards from where Jim cuddled with some of the other dogs.

I only discovered the tragedy when it occurred to me that we were having a quiet night. No Rascal disturbing our peaceful evening. No Edie in hot pursuit. I called out for him. There was no response. As crazy as Rascal could be, he always came to me when I called. Always. But not this time.

By now some of the dogs were up and heading outside. That’s when I noticed them acting strangely as they congregated in the dark of the back corner of the yard. That’s when I saw a black form laying on the ground, up against the fence.

And I knew. I knew he was dead. I knew.

We quickly gathered the other dogs into the house and Jim ran out to see what was wrong. I could see by his motions that there was nothing to be done. I could also tell by the movement of his searching flashlight that he was concerned.

On this night, Rascal—our fierce protector, the ultimate, fearless predator—became the prey. Because there was simply no noise, we believe a coyote was already in the yard when Rascal ventured out. Rascal was a formidable match for another dog, but no match at all for the ancient survival instinct of a wild animal. He was killed efficiently, and I like to believe quickly, by a grab to his throat. I did not see it happen. I believe only Edie knows the whole story.

I won’t go into detail, but Rascal was not killed in an act of violence by the coyote, we know he was killed for sustenance. We had just had an ice storm and every tree, every bit of brush, every blade of grass still wore a shimmering, translucent jacket. The coyotes were simply hungry and trying to survive freezing temperatures in an area where habitat loss has grown more pronounced every year by humans moving in, changing the landscape. Instinct led this coyote to the scent of our dogs…his prey.

Now I have to come to terms with this violent, sudden loss. An argument rages inside my mind. My emotional self feels extreme guilt and grief. How could I have missed this struggle? How did I not realize my dog desperately needed help? Logical me says that I cannot punish myself for this. The reality is that I did not know. Even if I had heard something it’s doubtful I could have saved Rascal, and in truth, my actions would have likely caused our other dogs to stream into the yard, putting them in grave danger as well. In time, the logical side will prevail. I will see to it. This was not our fault. This was not my fault.

coyote run

Once a fascinating photo, now an eerie foreshadowing. This photo was taken a few years ago. This was a small female coyote who visited our fence in the mornings for a short time. Rascal is at the front of the pack, running the fence with the coyote. This was never an aggressive event, but almost seemed playful. We suspect that this little female, thriving in the bounty of spring, was likely seeking a mate.

Looking back does no good. There is no going back. What we do have to live with now is the knowledge that our home, our haven, has been violated.  We have always felt safe here. We have always kept our dogs safely fenced in…the natural world free to exist outside of this boundary, often to our delight. But now the boundary, our trust, has been breached.

I truly don’t blame the coyotes.  I hear them sing so beautifully every evening. I know they have young to feed. But just as they would protect their den, so shall we.

We have taken steps to ensure the immediate safety of our dogs. They no longer have free access to our main yard after dark. They no longer have access to the yard when we are not home. We check carefully before we let the dogs out at night or in the gray, pre-dawn morning. We are vigilant.

Motion detection lights will be installed in the dark corners of the yard. An electric fence will be run on the exterior of the chain link, not to keep our dogs in, but to keep wildlife out. We fear that the coyotes may come back. They have tasted blood here. The rifle positioned by our back door is a constant reminder that they are no longer welcome to come so close again.

The dogs all still rush out to the spot where Rascal’s life was taken. They still sniff carefully there, the male dogs and the female husky/malamute mix mark with their urine there and scruff their back feet as if sending a message to the coyote. I hope he listens. I hope he heeds their warning.

And now things here are much quieter. Much calmer. Rascal was a force to live with—his absence leaves an unmistakable void, both in a bad way and, admittedly, a good way as well. He was like a dangerous whirlwind in our home. He stirred the other dogs up. He caused stress. We were working on it, though, and I believe we were making progress. I’ll never know.

Rascal was a vital, strong eight years old. For as much as he was an impossibly frustrating dog to have around, he was equally affectionate. He was fiercely loyal to me. He was incredibly smart and complex.

To my Rascal:

You were a dog I never intended to keep.

You were a dog I never intended to love.

You were a dog I never intended to lose.

In the end, on all three counts, the best of intentions failed, and love and loss became reality. You were the dog that was so very hard to live with…now you are the dog I find it very hard to live without. Know that we learned from you. Know that your absence from our fold leaves a hollow spot. Above all, know that you were loved.

Rascal Dwayne

Rascal’s story was the topic of one of my earlier posts. You can read about him there: https://talesyouwin.wordpress.com/2013/11/08/its-a-lovehate-thing-but-mostly-love/

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Category: Best Christmas. And the Award Goes To…

christmas lightsToday is December 26. The day after THE day. I am enjoying a chocolate truffle for breakfast (don’t judge) as I survey the aftermath of yet another great Christmas.

I could put gifts away. I could pack unused wrapping paper, gift bags, and boxes into well-organized storage bins to be ready for next year (made myself laugh with that one!). I could even start taking decorations down instead of leaving them up until Valentine’s Day. Instead, I grab another truffle (it is NOT time for New Year’s resolutions yet) and let my mind take a little journey with the ghost of Christmas past to see if I can answer a question that was posed to me a few weeks earlier, when the items on my to-do list still numbered greater than the hours left before the arrival of the magical day.

The question? I was asked to describe my favorite Christmas—the best Christmas I could remember.  Hmm. Good question. Perhaps another truffle will help me come up with an answer.

It’s a difficult question because I was a very lucky kid. Christmas was a big deal to my family, always filled with tradition and, frankly, excess. There were huge Christmas Eve dinners followed by the one-gift-on-Christmas-Eve allowance to whet our appetite for the mayhem that would ensue the following morning. There were cookies and milk placed carefully on the mantel just before three excited girls were ushered off to bed.

On Christmas morning, there were always stockings hanging carefully on our bedposts. Santa was very clever. He knew he could buy our weary parents a few extra minutes of peace if those same three excited girls were occupied with small gifts and treats before they even climbed out from beneath the covers.

Christmas trioAnd then there was the rush to see the tree, to find the gifts Santa had left. And oh that clever man! Santa always seemed to get it right—the perfect doll, the most popular game, the most beautiful sweater, a shiny bicycle, and, one year, even a bright blue cowboy hat (Yes, mine—it was a phase).

The Christmas of 1967 comes to mind as a standout. I was six years old and I remember it clearly. A television show called A Family Affair was at the peak of popularity. The show featured three children—twins Buffy and Jody, and their older sister, Sissy—who went to live with their bachelor uncle in his New York City penthouse after their parents were killed in a car accident. While the depressing premise doesn’t suggest it, the show was actually a bit of a sitcom as man-about-town Uncle Bill stumbled into his role as parent to the adorable children with the help of his ever proper butler, Mr. French.

Yes, tragically orphaned children foisted on their unwitting uncle was prime-time family fare “back in the day.” But trust me, it was truly a charming, light-hearted show. Really. The dead parents thing didn’t come into play too often. Ask my therapist.

The true star of the show, in the opinion of every little girl of that era, was Mrs. Beasley, the old-maid doll that was the constant companion to young Buffy. A seemingly unlikely choice, but trust me, it was the must-have doll of the year.

72.55.12.1-2I can still picture the moment when I ran to the tree that Christmas morning, searching for a package that was the right size. There it was…sitting toward the back on the right side of the tree. A box big enough to hold a 20 inch doll with short yellow hair, big blue eyes, black-rimmed granny glasses, and a soft, blue fabric body. OH how the wait for my grandparents to arrive before we could tear into the presents seemed eternal. I sat and talked to Mrs. Beasley through the wrapping paper and box, reassuring her that we would soon be together and that we would be very best friends. And we were. For the next few years, that doll was a fixture in my life. I still have her to this day. She is tucked away carefully, in well-loved, well-worn condition.

But was that my very best Christmas memory? Almost.

Actually, memories of Mrs. Beasley brought to mind another very special doll. But not my doll. To understand the best Christmas I have ever celebrated, we have to hit the rewind button to a Christmas that took place more than 75 years ago.

It was the 1930s and a talented young actress had won the hearts of America. Her name was Shirley Temple. Beginning in 1934, and through the rest of that decade, the perky cherub with the blonde ringlets swiftly became the idol of little girls everywhere, including two sisters living in Nowata, Oklahoma.

These two girls, who would become my mother and my Aunt Martha Lou, received coveted Shirley Temple dolls for Christmas. The must-have toy of their era, the sisters cherished their dolls and kept them into adulthood, much as I have done with my Mrs. Beasley.

The next stop in our journey to my favorite Christmas memory takes us to the early 1950s. Here we find my mother with my oldest sister Cindy, home alone together while my father was away serving in the Korean War. My mother, naively indulging her firstborn, let toddler Cindy play with the delicate Shirley Temple doll. This did not go well. Not well at all. Cindy was none too gentle with poor Shirley.

Now hit fast forward to 2004.  My mom and dad were packing up their house to make the move to a smaller home in a retirement community. My mother was in the early stages of dementia and she and Dad had made the decision that they needed to live where assistance was available should they require it. It was a bittersweet process as we sorted through boxes of memories, deciding what would make the move and what would not. It was then that I found Shirley. She was sealed in a shoe box, and stored on a shelf in my mother’s closet. Shirley, having fallen victim to young Cindy some fifty years earlier, was missing an arm and her remaining limbs were detached from her torso. Her yellow curls had been clumsily shorn. She was dirty and had no clothes. It seemed a sad existence for a once-cherished treasure.

I asked my mother if I could have the doll and then did a little research on eBay. I quickly found that there was a lively market for old Shirley Temple dolls…even dolls in poor condition like the one I had. I decided to list her on the site thinking that if I sold her, someone would take her and restore her, or use her for parts to restore another doll. At least that way, she would not go to waste. She would go to a collector who would care for her.

The doll sold very easily. I carefully packaged her parts and sent her on her way. She was heading to California to a woman who restored antique dolls. Oh Shirley, off to the left coast for a little cosmetic surgery. Typical celebrity.

After sending Shirley away, I must admit I suffered a little seller’s remorse. And then it hit me…if Shirley could be revived, why shouldn’t she be returned to my mom? I contacted the buyer and she told me that my Shirley was actually in decent condition and that she did plan to restore her and sell her again. I didn’t hesitate. I told her about my mother and asked if I could buy Shirley back after her transformation. It was a done deal. We were both very thrilled at the prospect of reuniting my mother with her precious doll.

After months of waiting, the fully restored Shirley finally arrived.  I carefully wrapped her up and placed her inconspicuously beneath my parent’s Christmas tree. I must admit I was nervous. My mother’s dementia played games with her memory and I wondered if she would even recognize this doll as her own.

Shirley 2On Christmas morning, our family gathered at my parents’ house. Gifts were passed out, wrapping paper was torn away, tissue paper floated through the air. Then someone handed my mother the box…my present.

I just sat back to watch. Why I didn’t think to raise my camera to preserve the moment, I don’t know. All I know is that my heart was pounding in anticipation of returning this must-have doll to her rightful owner.

My dear mother opened the box and immediately gasped a quiet little, “Oh.” Tears immediately filled her eyes as she gently lifted Shirley from the box. Tears immediately filled my eyes, too. I knew that despite the fog that often clouded Mom’s memory, she immediately recognized her childhood friend.

Once the moment of surprise passed there were many “how, when, where” questions, lots of laughter and a few more tears. My sister Cindy reached for Shirley to take a closer look and we all cried, “NOOOO,” immediately teasing her for the acts of vandalism her younger self had committed so many years before.

More laughter followed with Mom holding Shirley out of Cindy’s reach, with Cindy finally gingerly holding Shirley to admire her new hand tailored dress, and then with Mom hugging Shirley to her chest in silent thanks. It was the best Christmas morning I had ever experienced and it was all thanks to a recycled doll that had finally come full circle.

We had no way of knowing it, but this would be the last Christmas we would all be together. We lost our dear Cindy the following spring, and then lost Mom a few years later. Shirley is back with me now, safe in my display case awaiting her next Christmas debut. That will be the day when Shirley is wrapped in Christmas paper for the third time and presented to a precious little girl who never met her grandmother Cindy, and does not likely remember much about her great-grandmother.

My great-niece, Elizabeth, does not yet know about Shirley and her history with Cindy and “Gram,” but there are stories to tell. There is this story to share. Then, someday, when she is old enough to care for her, the pretty little doll will travel through time once again to create another treasured holiday moment.

In reality, the best Christmas ever, may be the one still to come.

Image

A Letter to James Squirrel Jones

James Squirrel Jones enjoying breakfast on a frosty morning.

Nature is filled with miracles and I’m proud to have one such miracle living right outside my front door. From your unlikely childhood–reared in my spare bedroom–you are finding your way into the life you were meant to live. One free of cages and doors, and eventually free of clumsy human moms who can’t even begin to play chase with you through the tree tops.

It is so hard to leave you outside as freezing temperatures set in. I could easily catch you again…bring you back to the warmth of our home…but there are no lessons in that. You were meant to survive and you’re proving your instincts are guiding your way.

For now, cute James, I will treasure our morning visits and you will treasure the nuts and fruits I provide. Then, when spring comes again, I suspect one day we won’t even say goodbye…you will just move on to the next chapter in your life.

It’s our own little story of nature and nurture. In the end, nature will prevail. Good boy, James.

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Winter Artist

Winter Artist

Has my beauty faded,
has all of the color drained?
Or is it that you just don’t see?

There is beauty in vibrancy,
in fresh, new life,
thriving in a warm glow.

But there is boundless beauty in subtlety,
in life surrendered to the quiet,
masked in prisms of cool color.

Appreciate the glory
that everyone can see.

Treasure the secret loveliness
that requires you to look a bit deeper.

Bread, Kitty Litter, Toilet Paper, and Milk. All We Need to Survive.

snow dogs

Photo by Jim Thomason

Walk to the bread isle of just about any grocery store in the Tulsa area tonight and you’ll find nothing. Absolutely nothing. Well, I did find hotdog buns, but that was it.

Bread delivery truck strike? Nope. Giant sandwich festival? Nope. Snow in the forecast? BINGO.

Apparently we are facing snowmageddon and that requires everyone to stock up on bread. Why? Because if the earth freezes over and we all end up stranded in our homes—orphans of the storm—at least we can enjoy toast. This is my best guess. Yes, let there be toast!

The other apparently all-important items on the we-have-no-idea-how-to-handle-snow must-have list are kitty litter, milk, and toilet paper. The litter is to be kept in the car in case you get stuck and need to create traction (For the record, I have never seen this actually work. The litter tends to just mix with the snow to create sharp little projectiles that shoot out from spinning tires to torture the poor soul trying to push).

The milk is because, because…you should just always have milk on hand. Don’t question it. The toilet paper, well, you know. You do NOT want to be stuck at home in a storm, having consumed massive amounts of toast washed down with milk, and not have a good supply of TP. ‘Nuf said.

So let’s just admit it, Okies do not handle the threat of winter weather with anything that remotely resembles grace or good sense. All week long the weather forecasters have been predicting a “major winter weather event.” It was to kick off with a coating of sleet to give the roads a nice slippery base that would then be covered by snow. Lots of snow. (if you look up “lots of snow” in the Okie dictionary it will be described as anything ranging from 1/8” to four feet…it’s all the same to us.)

The reaction to the threat of snow around here is completely ironic because toss a good tornado warning at native Okies and we all run outside to watch for the damn thing.  But God forbid you threaten us with some fluffy frozen water vapor. It becomes the end of the world as we know it.

This storm was supposed to start by 8 a.m. this morning. Then they pushed it back to 10:00. Then 11:00.

At exactly 11:00 a.m., the sleet did start to fall (meteorologists all across the area immediately started high-fiving and slapping each other on the ass). It continued off and on all afternoon alternating with a dusting of snow. Aaaaaand then the real fun began because if there is one thing that rivals our tendency to overreact to the potential of snow, it is our general inability to drive on the stuff once it arrives. Fasten your seatbelts, start your engines, and let the demolition derby begin!

I swear I heard reports of no fewer than four fender benders within an hour of the start of the “winter mix precipitation.” I, however, was not afraid because I knew “the Duke” would see me through the storm. Yes, I do name everything. The Duke is my Jeep and this is our first snowfall together. I am happy to report that we made the whole drive home in perfect form. Not one slip or slide. Way to use those four wheels Dukie!

So when most people arrive home after a long day at work on a miserably cold day, they run into their cozy homes, immediately change into flannel jammies, heat up some comfort food (I recommend mac and cheese), and curl up under their favorite blankie by the fire, right? Well, that scenario is probably accurate for many people, but not for me.

No, when I got home today, I got to change into my Carhartts (if you live on a farm where the weather gets cold, you surely know what these are…if you don’t, they are super warm, very ugly coveralls and jackets) and headed out to the barn to help Jim get the animals situated before the full force of snowmageddon arrived.

Now, I categorize farms into three types:

  1. A working farm. (Provides for the greater good/nourishment of America)
  2. A hobby farm. (Provides for the family and/or provides specific products for a cross-section of America)
  3. An E-I-E-I-O farm. (Provides no real value other than joy and an occasional backache to the resident humans)

Our farm is the latter, but proper preparation for freezing weather is equally important. All of the animals have to be fed. Round bales of hay have to be moved into the pastures. These are big suckers. Moving them involves the tractor with a huge hay spike attached. Potentially a lethal weapon in my hands, Jim handles the drive-the-tractor responsibilities while I man the gate. With him driving, I feel very sure I will not be impaled. I do not inspire the same confidence in him.

Water troughs have to be cleared of ice. Our two hogs have to have lots of fresh straw so they can burrow.  Our two elderly horses need their blankets—first time for blankets this year and the gals weren’t quite down with it, but we worked it out. There was a little cussing involved.

Last, but oh-so-certainly not least, we put out some extra food for our recently released to the wild young squirrel. He’s in for a big surprise tomorrow…do squirrels get excited about playing in snow for the first time like puppies do? We shall see.

Ok, barn chores completed, we finally did get to come inside to get into those warm jammies and decide on a comfort food for dinner. We actually went with soup…BUT there was chocolate cheesecake for dessert. Good call, Jim. Good call.

And now we hunker down (That’s Okie for stay inside) to await the big storm that could deliver a few inches of snow overnight. Oh sure, you people who live in the great north and other places that experience snow on a regular basis can snicker all you want, but that amount of snow will pretty much bring northeastern Oklahoma to its knees. Seriously. The schools have even already waved the white flag and cancelled classes for tomorrow and there is nary a flake on the ground.

I do not know what my day will hold tomorrow. If the snow does fall as predicted, my business partner and I will have to decide if we will delay the opening time for our dog care facility or if we will just suck it up and mush on in. Of course that trek will happen after Jim and I check in on the oink-oink here, and the neigh-neigh there, here a baa, there a bray, everywhere a bark-bark menagerie that defines Tails You Win Farm.

As for now? I’m tending the fire as humans and dogs wind down for the evening—except for Edie the cattle dog, I swear that dog never sleeps—to  await the onslaught of Old Man Winter. According to Jim, who is napping on the couch (yes, he is under there somewhere), it is apparently a four dog night. Thankfully we have plenty of dogs to go around so we should both be toasty warm.

Yes, we are ready. We not only have bread, we also have bagels and English muffins. Bring it on, Mother Nature. Bring it on.

Author’s note: Technically, I am forbidden to post photos on the internet of Jim sleeping. If I breach this agreement, he will retaliate by posting sleeping photos of ME and I am NOT one of those pretty sleepers. My face gets all slack and my mouth hangs open. I can’t help it if my nose doesn’t work. A gal has to breathe. However, since you can’t actually see Jim sleeping in this photo, I think I’m safe. I think. I hope.

Be Here With Me

HowieBe here with me
Your day must end sometime
Your tomorrow isn’t real yet
I only know this moment

Rest with me
Let loose a deep sigh
Let the warmth of my body
Bring peace to your soul

Trust in me
You are safe tonight
If coyotes invade your dreams
I will always chase them away

Learn from me
I am wise enough to know
We only have here and now
I am innocent enough to believe it is eternal

It’s December 2 and I Feel Nothing.

ImageToday is December 2. I should feel something. I’m not sure what. But something.

December 2 is just another day to most people, but not to me. It’s a day I will always remember for three good reasons—and one tough one.

The good reasons.

On December 2, 1995, a litter of 12 beautiful Dalmatian puppies was whelped at a good friend’s house. I had the absolute pleasure of being there to help each precious puppy squeal its way into existence. The puppies started coming at 12 midnight and were all here by 6:00 the next morning. The firstborn was a big, strong boy that was immediately nicknamed Bear because he looked just like a little white polar bear. Eight weeks later, Bear would become my special puppy, renamed Teddy.

Myra familyOn December 2, 1997, exactly two years later, a litter of 12 beautiful Dalmatian puppies was whelped, this time in my home. I helped my sweet girl Myra welcome her family starting with the first puppy at 6:00 a.m., and ending with the last puppy born at 12 noon.  The second puppy born would be my sweet Vanny, and the fourth puppy, my boy Carter.

Two litters of 12 puppies, born two years apart on 12/2. One litter born between 12 and six, the other born between six and 12. They almost had to be special puppies…and they were.

In addition to becoming my beloved companions, both Teddy and Carter were champion show dogs. Evander was an exceptional agility dog and also performed as a fire safety education dog teaching children how to stop, drop and roll, how to crawl under smoke, and how to jump out of a window to go to a safe meeting place.

These dogs were with me through many good times and, at various points through the years, each licked salty tears from my cheeks. They were family to me.

I just lost Van on April 12th of this year. Of course he left on the magical 12th day. All three boys lived happy lives well into their teens. In all three cases, it was simply their time to go.  Their respective deaths were peaceful with Jim and I by their sides. I helped bring these boys into this world; I was there to help ease them back out.

So today I should feel gratitude. As in years past, I should feel joy in the happy memories of Teddy, Carter and Vanny. But I don’t.

Ted Dad NanDecember 2 is also the day my father died. It was last year. He had been declining for weeks. There were no miracles left for his tired heart. It was his time. My sister and I were by his side when he left.  In the embrace of our love, he passed peacefully.

I’m not one to dwell on the anniversaries of death. I don’t immerse myself in grief. It’s just not how I choose to cope. It’s not how I want to remember my loved ones.

But I will always remember 12/2. It has been a fixture on my calendar for 18 years. And now it is the first anniversary of Dad’s death.

And I should feel something.

All day long I waited for it. The meltdown. The melancholy. The hollow sense of loss.

Or maybe the annual feelings of celebration would surface. The faint smell of puppy breath.  The warm memory of promise in each precious first breath.

But no. Just nothing.

I couldn’t believe it. What was wrong with me? Am I that hard? That callous?

No.

The truth finally spoke to me.

If I opened that door in my mind, even just a tiny crack, I would be surrounded by fog of loss, of longing. I would have to surrender myself to feelings that just did not have an appointment on today’s busy calendar, or within the walls of my bracing heart.

It’s not that I don’t feel anything today. It’s that I just can’t. I won’t. I won’t allow it.

Maybe later, when my day is done, when I’m not required to be a functioning adult for another eight hours or so, maybe then I’ll open that door and I’ll welcome Dad and three handsome spotted dogs in for a visit.

Maybe then I’ll let myself cry. Maybe? Oh, who am I fooling…I’ll cry a little.

Then I’ll hear my dad’s voice saying something like, “Oh hell, Nan, we’re fine. Suck it up.” Dad could never stand to see one of his girls in tears. I’ll picture the dogs wagging their tails and dancing in circles to cheer me.

I’ll listen to Dad, and I’ll smile at my boys. I’ll let my tears dry as I quietly shut that door again, lingering on the threshold for just a moment to say another goodbye.

See you next year, boys.

Be Very Quiet. I’m Hunting a Wild Boar?

Baby spammy

Spamela Anderson as the tiny piglet that captured our hearts nearly 12 years ago. This is NOT a wild boar. Photo by Jim D. Thomason

Eight words I never thought I’d say, let alone document in writing? Jim has gone out hunting on our land. But it’s true—he has his rifle and he’s not playing around.

He’s not stalking deer, bunnies, bears (ok, we don’t have any of those here). He is out looking for our farm’s equivalent of the zombie apocalypse: the wild boar. Yes, we apparently have at least one wild hog interrupting the somewhat peaceful existence that is Tails You Win Farm.

Now, before anyone gets upset and starts lobbying for feral pig rights, let me assure you that we would NEVER, I repeat, NEVER make this lethal decision lightly. We have a great respect for all things living out here, whether part of our family or part of nature. For God’s sake, I actually hug trees. And name them. Seriously, I’ll introduce you to Billy Ray Cyprus someday.

But the wild hogs are a very different story. Rather commonplace in many parts of Texas, these pesky creatures have apparently migrated north and are proving to be very unwelcome guests in our home, sweet home range.

This story actually started a couple of weeks ago when we got a call from our nearest neighbor informing us that one of our pigs was loose in our horse pasture. Our wise neighbor knows that Jerry Swinefeld loose in our horse pasture can quickly translate into Jerry Swinefeld standing on his front porch peering in the windows, so he’s quick to call if he spots him outside of the pig pasture.

Jerry is a big hulk of a hog and really quite an affable guy (don’t ask Jim about this…he has a different opinion. Everyone is entitled.) He occasionally forgets there are boundaries in his world, and at around 800 pounds, there really are few boundaries that can hold him back if he decides to roam. A phone call informing me that Jerry is “visiting the neighbors” is not shocking.

So I headed out to the barn to grab some feed and coax my errant piggy home. But when I flip on the lights, there, blinking sleepily, and dare-I-say innocently, is Jerry, snuggled up beside Spamela Anderson. Right where he should be. Sweet, good pig!

(I could literally hear Jim rolling his eyes as he read this. Did I mention he’s not a fan? In fact, in the event that society collapses and we are forced to survive off the land, Jerry is the first animal on his “survival food” list. Alas poor Jerry. Don’t get comfortable Bob the ram…you’re a close second.)

So, either Jerry is very clever (not so much), and very fast—managing to go about 15 acres to harass the neighbors’ dogs and hightail it back to look all sleepy and completely innocuous in the span of about 10 minutes—or we had another visitor.

My first thought was that someone else in the area must have a pig that escaped. We didn’t see the pig again the next day, so my guess was that it headed home, as Jerry would have, to be on time for the all-important next meal. True to stereotype, meals are big events in the day-to-day lives of hogs.

In talking with my neighbor the next day, however, he said that he thought he had seen three dark colored pigs running across an adjacent cow pasture a few weeks earlier. Hmmm. This news did not thrill me, especially since I was fairly sure no one else in the area had hogs, but since we had not seen them again, I didn’t dwell on it. My hog was (for once in his life) not the guilty party, so all was right in Tails You Win land.

That false sense of calm took a dramatic turn the day before Thanksgiving. Jim headed out to take care of our animals and was greeted by a large, definitely-not-a-pet-piggy boar standing outside the back door of our barn. Actually, make that napping outside the back of our barn. Yes, a big, tough wild boar. YIKES!

By Jim’s description, the “piggy” in question looked something like this guy I found on the internut (not a typo…trust me…better name for it):

Wild_boar_sketch001_BW_enh_800

Sketch of a wild boar from “The Last Battle” by C.S. Lewis.

Tusks? Yes, tusks. Mutual of Omaha, meet Tails You Win Farm. Jim’s logical take was that this little piggy either needed to cry “weee, weee, weee” all the way home, or he needed to head to market. And by market Jim meant hog heaven. But not the good kind. Or the motorcycle kind.

My immediate response, of course, was, “You can’t shoot him!” My brain was still seeing anything porcine as a friend…something to slap a clever name on and feed on a daily basis. Jim wisely let me think things through. Which I did with a little help from my friend Google.

I found fabulous information like this:

Considered an invasive species, feral hogs can rapidly increase their population. Sows can have up to 10 offspring per litter, and are able to have two litters per year. Each piglet reaches sexual maturity at 6 months of age. They have virtually no natural predators.

“They’re mean. They’re aggressive. They’ll charge you. They’ll cut you or stab you with their teeth. They have big tusks, or cutters, as we call them…”

“You have to be real careful when you’re up close and personal with one. It’s hard to shoot when you’re shaking and running.”

Feral hog food preferences can hardly be mentioned without discussing competition with native wildlife. The potential for feral hog competition with native wildlife for food, cover, water or space should always be a concern for landowners and managers. There is documentation of competition for food with deer, turkey, waterfowl, raccoons, opossum, foxes, squirrels, bobcats…

WAIT! (insert nails-on-chalkboard sound of a needle dragging across a record) SQUIRRELS? Oh hell no. These hogs are not going to mess with James Squirrel Jones and Squirrely Temple!

Add to that the fact that wild hogs can carry diseases that could not only be a danger to my pet hogs, but also to every other animal on the farm. Even our dogs. And trust me, you don’t mess with our dogs. If you do, the dangerous, wild-eyed species you’ll have to deal with will be ME.

Still in due-diligence mode, I also placed a call to our local game warden. He basically confirmed everything I read on the internut (sometimes you CAN believe everything you read out there!). He informed me that reports of wild pigs were becoming more common in our area (oh yay), that the pigs were becoming increasingly problematic, and that we did not even need a permit to “eliminate” them on our property.

Heavy sigh.

I do not like the idea of killing wild animals. The deer that pass through our world are gentle, beautiful and welcome. We are happy to share our pastures with them. The waterfowl that noisily touch down on our pond each evening and honk like an alarm clock at dawn, are charming. My dear re-introduced into the wild squirrels are, well, family. We even coexist peacefully with the coyotes that serenade us every evening. But this hog (hogs?) poses a threat on many levels and logically, I know he has to go.

In a sense, I guess this is somewhat the same as a city-dweller having to set traps to catch a mouse that has breached the threshold. This is just a much larger, scarier mouse, and one that could easily charge at my beloved Jim, who is out there on this foggy morning at this very moment.

Suddenly I hear a loud crack, followed by another.

The dogs freeze in place and stare (except for our pit bull mix…he ran and jumped in a crate. Um, Bernie? Don’t your kind HUNT wild hogs?). The horses, donkeys and mule freeze and stare, ears erect and pinpointing the exact direction of the gunfire.

I hold my breath and wonder if Jim has been successful, and wonder if I am happy about that or sad. I’m guessing I will be a mixture of both.

Then I hear a steady crack…crack…crack. This either means that he has shot a hog and he’s going with the “Jason theory” to be damn sure it’s dead (you know how it goes, it’s the recurring theme in just about every scary movie. They shoot/stab/bash the scary human/monster…they turn their backs thinking the nightmare is over…the scary human/monster rallies and bites their heads off. ALWAYS in multiples, people! Shoot/stab/bash REPEATEDLY!), or he’s enjoying a little target practice.

I quickly exchange the following texts with Jim (because all good hunters carry their smart phones along so panicky loved ones can interrupt their task at hand):

Screenshot_2013-12-01-09-03-10 (2)

Ok. Exhale. Everyone on the farm, including the damn wild boar, is safe for today. That’s good/bad.

Well, life on the farm is kinda laid back,
Ain’t much an old country boy (girl) like me can’t hack.
It’s early to rise, early in the sack,
Thank God, I’m A country boy (girl)!

Oh John Denver, your song says NOTHING about I’ve got me a fine life, I have to shoot a wild boar. Life on the farm is most definitely not always laid back! Stay tuned…this story will undoubtedly be continued.