Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), and several Kindle ebooks.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Walking the Farm

On Sunday afternoon, Maggie and I walked on Polecat Creek Farm down the road. This time we took two of the other dogs from the kennel—Jack the elderly mixed retriever and Hubert the almost-middle-aged beagle.

I parked on high ground. Hubert leaped out as soon as I lowered the tailgate. Maggie fidgeted until I said the magic word: "OK." Jack waited until I placed his stepstool and helped him down.

The weather was too warm for late November (I wore a short-sleeved shirt), the sun shone brightly, the sky was a brilliant blue. With the leaves gone, I could see deep into the woods. I could see the contours of the land that are invisible when the trees are in full leaf. The two younger dogs ran flat out; Jack and I—both arthritic—limped along at a slower pace. All four of us thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

Watching Maggie and Hubert run was pure joy. I didn’t even try to get a picture. The big black and white border collie and the small black and tan beagle running together would have photographed as a blur. While Hubert kept up with Maggie at first, eventually she ran big circles around him. Picture Jack and me going slowly down the hill to the creek, Hubert running hard, and Maggie circling the three of us, holding us together.

If I’ve ever seen anything more beautiful than a border collie running, I can’t remember what it was.

Jack and Hubert both came from this farm. When my first border collie Abby was a young dog, she went into the woods one day and returned with a skinny adolescent red dog—I called him Jack and he was ours.

When Abby, Jack, and our mixed sheltie Emma were running along Polecat Creek a few Februarys ago, they stopped suddenly at some brush along the bank. Inside was a tiny puppy. When I got close to him, he growled, so I—figuring his mama was running not far way—left him alone. The dogs and I continued walking, but we didn’t see or hear another dog. Dusk fell, and I heard the owl hoot. I couldn’t let the pup become owl dinner, so I went back, ignored his growls, and grabbed him. I stuffed the tiny shivering pup inside my jacket and took him home. He screamed most of the night unless I held him. I asked around the area for his owner and no one came forward. Abby decided she’d raise him and I gave him to her. After all, she’d done a good job raising Jack. My husband named the pup Hubert.

Abby taught Hubert all the things a dog should know: how to bite a varmint on the back of the neck so the kill is quick and clean, how to listen for moles, how to load in the truck.

Abby had come from this farm, too. One July many years ago, we found her living wild under the hemlock near our camping cottage. My old labradoodle Cracker and I came from Roanoke every day for a week to feed her and try to tame her. Finally, Abby followed Cracker into the car and I took her home. Cracker, one of the best ratters I’ve ever had, taught Abby the technique of catching mice and moles. Now Abby’s buried under the hemlock where we found her. Cracker is buried on the Union Hall farm, near where my own gravesite is.

But I’m digressing here—not unlike the way a dog digresses from the trail it’s running to investigate something more interesting. Here’s another digression:

This morning’s Roanoke Times ran an article about a group of Roanoke parents who want to cover a school playground grass with shredded rubber and fake grass. The real grass, it seems, didn’t last and kids had to play in the mud. Actually, they didn’t play in the mud—the playground was fenced off so they couldn’t play in it while it was reseeded.
The fake stuff, it seems, would be a much better play surface.

Have kids changed so much since I was young that they don’t like to play in mud? That they don’t like to watch ants build anthills in the dirt? That they don’t like to observe insect life in the grass?

In the 1950s, the Huff Lane School playground was a combination of dust, mud, and sparse grass. But that was OK; it was for playing on. We’d come in from an afternoon battle of dodgeball, our dresses covered in red dust, and we knew we’d been playing successfully. We’d achieved oneness with our environment. No one expected grass to grow where we played. Now the Huff Lane playground is paved over.

In the early 1970s, I used to walk a dirt path in Garst Mill Park. The park was a bit of wildness in surburbia—a creek ran through it, trees grew untended on the hillside, the grass was worn in places, an abundance of interesting weeds and wildflowers grew along the edges. Wildlife flourished there. Sometimes I'd catch a glimpse of a huge snapping turtle who burrowed into the creek bank. But the park, haven to wildlife that it was, wasn’t "user-friendly." The creek, which often over-flowed its banks, was rip-rapped to stabilize it. I never saw the turtle after that. The path was covered with asphalt and called a “greenway.” While it was great for skateboarders and bike riders, it was too hard for me to walk on. I stopped visiting the park.

On my farm, the path is dirt is some places, grass in others, leaf-covered this time of the year. The remnants of weeds and wild-flowers bend in the breeze. Polecat Creek—which the dogs hurl themselves into—sometimes over-flows its banks. That’s OK; that’s what creeks do.

My land is unspoiled by human attempts to make it more “user-friendly.” That's the way the dogs and I like it.

1 Comments:

Blogger Arlene Walters said...

How observant you are, Becky!I agree whole-heartedly about the wussiness of today's parents when it comes to kids'play. Mud or no mud, today's children have been robbed of the best part of being a kid...free play! Being a physical education teacher in my former life, I was there in the beginning of the meltdown of curriculum planning vs. budget battles. The first programs to be cut from elementary schools were music, art and P.E., the most critical needs of early childhood learning! What always brings chuckles to my cynical mind these days is the "wonderment" that we have a nation of obese, graffiti-minded youth with direct-line ear attachments to listen to gosh-knows what--we know it's not Mozart. Oh, well, I am ranting and I need to get back to my own blog now that I'm back home. Congratulations on the blogging record for November! Arlene

6:58 AM  

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