Friday, June 22, 2007

Where's your ball?

Something happened today which made me flash back many years and run through a list of happenings I know is longer than I remember.

What happened was a simple request. My landlord has a dog, a beautiful Australian Shepard name Lacy. Every morning when I go into my kitchen to make my coffee, there is Lacy, staring into the window. And every morning, I say hi to the dog and she cocks her head and goes about doing something.

However, this morning, after I said hi, she just sat there looking at me with sad eyes. I turned on my coffee maker and said out the window, "Where's your ball? Find your ball, and we will play catch." Well, Lacy immediately took off for another part of her area and just as quickly, returned with her ball in her mouth. She then dropped it and started nudging it with her nose.

I knew immediately what happened. She understood me and from her body language, I understood her. So I went out and played catch with her for about an hour. But while I tossed the ball and attempted to wrestle it from the mouth of Lacy, I thought back to strange animal encounters I have had.

The first one I recalled, is at my Great Grandparents place. I was little, maybe five or six, if that, and their neighbor had a pet crow. Everyone went over to pet the crow, except me. I headed for the car since we were leaving. I got five feet from the car and the crow took off, landed on my shoulder and started pecking on my head. Of course, I got scared and started to cry...and the crow continued hammering away on me until someone ran over and took it off me. I got in the car and never looked back.

Years later (and a number of insignificant animal encounters), I was visiting my cousins. We went to someone's farm and were checking out the animals there. We got the corral with the horses and there was one horse out. I was told that horse hated everyone except one person. I don't remember that one person, but that person was the only person who could get close to the horse. We then left and went inside to eat. When we finished, I decided I would go outside and I went to the corral. There was the mean horse, staring at me with its big, brown eyes, standing in the middle of the corral. So, like an idiot, I climbed through the log fence and walked up to the "Terror of the Farmland." To my surprise, the horse didn't do anything. I rubbed her (his) neck, scratched her nose and chest and in return, she snuggled her nose under my arm.

While I was making friends with the horse, my cousins came up. They were yelling at me to get away from the horse, but I ignored them. I knew I had a friend in that horse. I didn't attempt to ride her, but I am sure I could have barebacked her around that corral and nothing would have happened. As I walked over to fence where my cousins were, I noticed the horse followed me. I began wishing I had a carrot or an apple, or even a sugar cube to give her, but I didn't. So I patted the horse on the side, and climbed back through the fence. When one of my cousins attempted to befriend the horse, the Terror of the Farmland returned and almost bit his hand. Everyone looked at me and I said, "She likes me."

Years later, I was in the Air Force, stationed in Alaska. I was working day shift at the time, and every evening after work, I would hit the dining hall and after chowing down on the great food they served, I would grab an apple and head to my barracks. One evening, I didn't eat the apple, so I put it on the outside window sill of my barracks room. The next morning, I went to get what would then be a nicely chilled, apple and found it missing. Figuring someone walked by, saw it and decided it would be a good start to the morning, I let it go and went to work. Of course, that evening I picked up another apple and again put it on the sill and found it too, was missing the next morning.

Well, I decided I would find out who was taking my apples. Since I was off the next day, I figured I would put an apple out there and watch and see who took it. Sometime during the night, I fell asleep, but woke just as the sun was beginning to lighten things up. I looked and noticed the apple was still there. So, I began my vigil again. It couldn't have been more than 15 minutes when something happened. I watched as a large dark brown nose and huge head came up to the sill, opened its mouth and in one bit, took in the apple. It was a moose. And the lack of antlers told me it was a female moose. I walked to the window and watched as the moose wandered back to the wooded behind the barracks and decided I would get two apples from then on.

I continued to leave an apple on my window sill and every morning, the apple was gone. This went on for weeks until one morning, rather than being awakened by my alarm clock, I was awakened by the noise of a crowd outside my window. I walked over and noticed people with cameras taking pictures. For a moment, I couldn't figure out why anyone would want a picture of my window with me standing in front of it in a white T-shirt. Then I heard someone say, "Look, it's moving." and I peeked out over the sill. Below and to the side of my window was the female moose, but she wasn't alone. She had given birth to two calves right below my window. I got dressed, grabbed my camera and joined the crowd. I was able to get a photo before the base animal control officer arrived and got everyone to leave. For me, it was to work.

When I returned, the space under my window was empty. That night, I put an apple on the sill and went to sleep. The next morning, it was still there. The moose never returned for an apple, but it wasn't the last moose encounter I had in Alaska.

Flash forward a couple of years to San Antonio, Texas when I stationed at Lackland AFB. I was editor of The Talespinner, the base newspaper, and for a safety article, I put the word out that I wanted to get a photo of a live rattlesnake. A week later, my phone rang and the person on the other end said he had two snakes cornered about two blocks from my office. I grabbed my camera and took off. It wasn't hard to find the place the snakes were. There was a crowd of people in circle about 20 feet in diameter staring somewhere into the middle.

When I arrived, I pushed my way through the people and there was two sergeants with snake poles (or whatever they call those things they catch them with) keeping to coiled, ready-to-strike rattlesnakes at bay.

I walked up to one of the guys and said, "Where did you find them?" He told me and said, "Get your photos quick. I need to return to my office." So I squatted down, focused the camera on one of the snakes and took a picture. I wasn't pleased with the shot, so I moved around to the right and squatted down again. As I lined up my shot, I noticed the snakes (I was trying to get both in the photo) were looking at each person in the circle behind me and as they looked at them, they would flick their tongue and rattle their tail and then move to the next person. As they came around to where I was, I lowered the camera and realized people were saying something to me. It turned out I was very close to striking distance from the snakes. But they were turning their heads towards me and I figured any sudden movement on my part might trigger their defense reflex, so I remained where I was.

When it came time for me to be stared down, the snakes didn't give me a second look. I know, because I was watching the eyes of each one as they turned towards me. There was no fear of me in them...but there was a lot of fear of the people standing behind me. I stayed there for a few moments, then stood up. As I did, I watched the snakes and neither one paid me any attention. I turned, thanked the guy for calling me and went back to my office. I decided not to use the photos and instead printed a staged photo of a stuffed rattler in striking mode.

Moving forward, it was the mid '90s and I was fishing at Prineville Reservoir. It was a hot day and where I was, the sun was beating down like a sledge hammer. So I decided I would go up the bank 15 feet or so and sit in the shade of a Juniper tree. I could watch my pole from there and not worry about the back of my neck becoming well-done. After about 10 minutes, I heard a sound above me and felt a rush of air pass over me. I lifted my head and looked up and to my surprise, no more than five, maybe six feet directly above me, had landed a Golden Eagle. About the time I started to look up, the eagle decided it would look down...and it did. There I was eyeball-to-eyeball with a wild, beautiful, Golden Eagle.

I started to smile and just as I cracked the corner of my mouth, the eagle spread its wings, lowered itself into launch position and took off. But before it did, it let loose with a load of crap which hit the back of my hat. I watched it gain altitude and fly out of sight over a nearby hillside. I then got up, walked to the lake side, washed my hat, rung it out, put it on, packed up my gear and went home. I figured nothing could top what had just happened.

I don't know if anything of these incidents mean anything, but I like to think they do. I have had many other encounters and all of them have ended the same walking away wondering what happened.

About the time I finished flashing to the eagle incident, I went to toss the ball and Lacy decided she would get an early start on catching it, so she leaped at the ball...still in my hand. She got the ball, but also got part of my hand.

Darn that dog...

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