By Jill Henderson – Show Me Oz –
I wrote this short story many years ago. Our beloved 12 year-old lab, Buck, lay dying on a pallet in the middle of our living room as Dean and I and Buck’s best buddy, Milo, comforted him until his time came. It was sudden and wrenchingly painful and left us with a hole that could never be filled. But even as we mourned, we laughed. For Buck’s life, and ours with him – and with Milo – were joyous and filled with adventure, laughter and lots and lots of love. This is a short story about a dog whose life was too short. From my heart; in Buck’s voice. This hasn’t been edited thoroughly on purpose. Buck would want it that way. I hope you enjoy.
Buck: A Short Story
The water dripping from the eaves sounds exactly like a heavy shower just passed through, only it’s not rain that’s commin’ off, it’s meltin’ snow. This fine fifty degree day and has chased off most of frozen stuff that’s been hangin’ around here for the better part of the month. We’re tired of it, but glad for it, too, what with us just barely out of a four-year drought and all. I can just hear the aquifers fillin’ up down there. That’ll make for good gardening come spring and good canoeing come summer.
These kind of days, these warm windy kind right smack in the middle of winter just make me feel like getting out and doing something with my hands and using muscles that’ve sorta gone soft over the winter. I did get out today and I got some things done, too. But what I got done was to put up a trot-line, so to speak, for Buck. Buck’s one of our dogs and well, right now he’s not doin’ so good.
Just before Christmas, sweet ol’ Buck had a stroke or somethin’ and it’s left him disoriented and a bit clumsy. He’s a yellow lab mix of some kind. We found him up on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana about 12 years ago. He was just a pup then, full of piss and vinegar and gettin’ into trouble with a pack of dogs that ran there.
I remember the first day I ever saw Buck. Me and Milo, our other dog, were outside in the little front yard of the cabin we were renting from a Salish man on Flathead Lake in Western Montana. Not one of them fancy kind of cabins, mind you, just a real old run-down settler’s cabin painted barn red with some fencing around it. The fence was mostly wire along the sides, but up front there was an old rickety picket fence that hadn’t been painted in about ten years, and right now the gate on that thing is hangin’ wide open like it normally does.
Now, Milo here, he’s a little poofy lookin’ thing that don’t rightly know what to make of other dogs. He’s sweeter than just about anythin’ I can think of, but he sure don’t know how to be sociable with his canine cousins. He just never learned how, I guess, ‘cause he’s one of them puppy-mill dogs and never had any friends but us his whole life. It sometimes gives him an attitude and he forgets that he’s just a medium-sized dog after all.
Around the reservation, the dogs are somethin’ else. These dogs aren’t wild but they pretty much fend for themselves and do just nearly whatever it is they like. It’s not that folks don’t care about ’em, it’s more like they believe that they are capable, intelligent creatures and give ‘em their own heads, if you will. They also aren’t much into possessing other spirits, like those of their dogs, so they let ’em be just what they are; dogs. And most times, rez dogs are pretty laid back and no trouble at all. The trouble usually comes when they start gatherin’ together, like most social creatures will. Then there ain’t no tellin’ what kind of troubles they’ll get into.
I’ve heard of packs of dogs takin’ down a deer and even a cow now and then. And I know from experience that they consider chicken to be especially tasty…minus the feathers, of course. I also know that some of those dogs can be flat out nasty when they run up against another pack or a lone dog that don’t belong to them.
So, we were sure glad to have that little rickety fence around our place so that Milo could go out for a whiz at night without us having to worry too much about him. After all, he weighed all of about thirty five pounds, and he was a city dog, to boot. We figured he probably looked pretty tasty to some of those rez dogs, though he weren’t really much more than fur and bones.
Well, like I said, Milo and I were outside in the yard enjoyin’ the beautiful Montana spring when all of a sudden this fair sized yellow dog comes trottin’ down the gravel road. Right off he sees Milo, whose white fur fairly jumps out at you in the sunshine, and he makes a bee-line for the fence. I look over at Milo, who’s also seen this yellow dog, and even though he’s a little poofy city dog, he ain’t really afraid of nothin’ and now he’s headin’ towards the fence, too. Me, I’m imaginin’ what’s about to happen here, ‘cause I can see plain as day that that damn gate is hangin’ wide open. But before I can move a muscle the two dogs are nose to nose through the pickets and I can see clearly that the yellow’s hackles are up.
It didn’t take that ol’ yellow dog but a second to get through that gate and Milo moved just as quick to meet him head on. They stood stock still, eyes wide and tails stiff. Your classic stand-off. Then Milo flinched just a hair and the yellow dog suddenly dropped down on his front feet with his hind end straight up in the air, and the two commenced to frolickin’ like they’d known each other their whole lives and hadn’t seen each other since they was just pups.
I just could not believe my eyes! Not so much ‘cause I thought for sure a second ago that I was goin’ to have to bust up a dog fight with nothin’ but me and God to do the bustin’, but because I had never seen Milo play with another dog in his whole entire life. I’d had him nearly four years now and shy of tying a piece of fried chicken around the neck of the other dog, he just did not have any interest in it. But here he was playing as naturally as a pup; and me, I’m suddenly laughin’ so hard I forgot all about that damn gate.
After a bit I start to really lookin’ at this new critter in my yard, this yellow dog that has blown away all I ever thought I knew about ol’ Milo there. He couldn’t have been more than a year old, his feet and head still seemed a bit too big for the rest of him. His golden, wheat colored fur was a bit long for a lab, especially under the long tail where it hung down in a fringe. The fur on his belly and withers was creamy white and his eyes were almost as black as his nose. He had classic droopy lab ears and one of ’em had a pretty big tear in it that was recently healed over. I knew where that rip had come from, and in my mind it meant that this dog did not belong to a pack here in the Rez; at least not yet. He had gotten that nasty wound some time ago by the very pack that he would someday belong to if he could hold his own against them. I cringed at the thought.
He also had around his neck a dirty old blue bandana that had been folded up like a collar and tied on when he was but a pup. That bandana was like an announcement that clearly said he belonged to some-one. Probably one of the local Salish. But whoever it was hadn’t noticed, or cared, that the puppy they’d strapped that thing to was not a puppy any more, and now the damn thing was nearly choking him to death. It’s a wonder he could even swallow, that thing was so tight around there. Kinda irked me to see it, but he wasn’t yet sure of me and I thought twice about pissing off the wrong person.
The adventure continues next week in Buck: A Short Story (part two).
See you then!
Filled to the brim with colorful stories, wild walks, botanical musings, and a just a pinch of “hillbilly” humor A personal and inspiring tale of homesteading in the Ozark backwoods by noted author, naturalist and plant organic gardener, Jill Henderson.
Jill Henderson is an artist, author, and the editor of Show Me Oz . Her books, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, The Garden Seed Saving Guide and A Journey of Seasons can be found in the Show Me Oz Bookstore. Jill is a contributing author for Acres USA and Llewellyn’s Herbal Almanac and her work has appeared in The Permaculture Activist and The Essential Herbal.