Walking with Fergus

I asked Fergus—floppy-eared Muppet dog, as Steve calls him—if he wanted to go for a walk this afternoon. He treated the question with great suspicion. He rolled his eyes and curled more tightly into the kennel under the stairs, one with a broken latch that seems to be considered a safe cave for cats, dogs and fox, probably because the door is always open. It was Ferg’s nap space today and the leash in my hand probably said “trip to the vet” instead of fun.

I didn’t realize that Fergus had never been for a walk on the trails. He is one of those dogs with twitchy legs that, if given the opportunity, will run and run on the trail of scent and excitement until he stops…and has no idea where he is. When he does make a trip outside the gate, it usually is for a medical reason. So it took some coaxing to get him to the gate today. There was slight hesitation outside the gate, then he found his feet and nearly took me off mine.

We skied the snowy hill down to Cranberry Run. Then there were three bridges to conquer. Fergus’ legs shook as he stepped over the slats, just like most people do. He paused halfway and watched the water flow below. But adventure in the form of a running fox squirrel were incentive enough cross to the opposite bank. Coburn’s Bottom Trail led us to David’s Turtle Pile of bush honeysuckle brush where a deer and a flock of turkeys flushed and melted back into the trees.

We followed turkey tracks up the hill past Sycamore Point and saw the deer and turkeys in the upland grasses. Then they spotted us and disappeared into the snow, sunlight and stands of black walnut, sugar maples, and honey locusts. A white-breasted nuthatch gave us a good piece of its mind, but we never heard the deer or the turkeys again. I’m sure they knew exactly where we were, and kept themselves hidden an hour later when my mom hiked the same trails to enjoy this Day-After-Christmas snow before it melts away with a new work week.

Later, Fergus curled up in his bed and snored softly. I thought my arms were tired from keeping him in check. Turns out that it is exhausting for a hound dog to pull his human up and down hill, through woodland, grassland and back again.

No pictures, please

As Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton so eloquently said regarding the present pandemic, we humans are waking up to life. While we blink sleep from our eyes, life goes on around us.

Here on The Quarry Farm, bush honeysuckle whacking is a means to social-distance ourselves during Ohio’s StayHome proclamation. At this pace we may see the forest for the invasive trees this year. As David Seitz works his way south from the old stone quarry, Paul Nusbaum is clearing A new walking trail to skirt the ancient homestead well, Riley Creek, and the Bottom’s rich vernal pools. That area is a quiet shelter for migrating songbirds. As I took out my own pandemic fear and frustration on bush honeysuckle and a [gasp/horror/curses] privet I found at the northern-most point of the nature preserve, a Black and White Warbler eyeballed me from the top of a small maple. My camera and phone sat safely at home on the kitchen counter so the only image I can share with you is a description of a dainty bird, striped black and white from beak to tail.

The aforementioned lack of camera is the lead in to the story that I saved for sharing on a rainy day. Thunder rolls outside today and heavy downpours turning clear Cranberry Run the creamy brown of the surrounding fields, so here goes. I present to you a tale filled with suspense, partial nudity and a happy ending.

It was a dark and cloudy Wednesday night. Somewhere in the darkness, a domestic fowl uttered a strangled cry. Fergus the Tree Walker Coonhound scrambled to his feet, baying all the way down the stairs. I stumbled along behind, forgetting my eyeglasses on the nightstand. Fergus blew out the front door and down the driveway. Quinn Fox wove through the hound’s floppy Muppet feet, emerging through the tangle with Gerald the Rooster in her jaws. I screeched at her to “drop it!” She did! Fearing the worst, I carried a limp Gerald into the house. He had a heartbeat, so I left him in the bathroom basin and ran back outside, trading Fergus for Cady the Pitbull because Cady is quieter at 2:00 a.m. than an excited hound dog. My Steven was now in the fray, tracking Quinn with the flashlight app on his cell.

I was in a shortie. Steve wore a t-shirt and boxers. Our shoes and my eyesight were in the house. It was maybe 40 degrees on March 25 in Northwest Ohio.

We took turns going back inside to grab shoes, jackets and cheddar cheese. After much fun and games on Quinn’s part, the little red streak took refuge under the front porch. Steve shown light under the deck while I crawled under, cheese in my cold little fist. Since Quinn likes cheese and there is no soft pillow under the porch, she was ripe for reclamation. Once she was back in the warm house with Fergus and Cady, Steve spotted a wet mound of gray fur at the point of the Fergus/Quinn collision. A young Virginia Opossum lay there. Its tongue lolled on the grass and its legs curled in little clawed fists. We stared at it in the beam of the cell light, surmising that the marsupial had probably climbed up in the roosting box shared by Gerald and Arthur and startled Gerald into mad flight. While we watched, the dead creature blinked. Steve carried him/her down the hill and into the woods.

As far as we know, the opossum is fine. Quinn, Fergus and Cady are fine. Gerald was standing in the basin by 2:10 and is fine. That bird has the nine lives of a cat. We figure that, between picking fights with Arthur, predator encounters and a past life as a cockfighting rooster, he’s depleted his store of vivacity by at least half. Steve and I, however, ran through any amount of dignity we ever had long ago.