Thursday, February 24, 2011

Deer Chaser

The Deer Hunter
With about two miles left in a scheduled five mile run, I picked my way over the Fairfax Cross County Trail, careful not to turn an ankle on a hidden root or ill-placed rock.  There was nothing special about this run, except perhaps to mention that the 2-5" of snow called for turned into a half inch, and did more to muddy the trail rather than add any other real hindrance.

My dog, Mattie, and I had just crossed the critical creep jump where she gets let off leash to go for an icy plunge and steal a few gulps of water while I tiptoe across the rocks.  Except this time, rather than hooking her back up, I decided to let her stay off leash with full knowledge that dusk had started to settle and the deer may be brave enough to step out into the clearings.  

Mattie generally does well off leash, only going a 100 feet ahead or so before waiting for me to catch up.  And this time, she stayed right behind me on the single track...until her jingling collar started to recede farther behind me. A new smell? I thought.  Something else's pee?  Only when I turned to call for her did I hear the sharp snap of branches and crunch of the brittle grass.  

Mattie was gone.

For the past two weeks, my dog and I have hopped into the car, driven the few miles down the road to the trailhead, and raced the sunset.  My wife and I have what we like to call "shelter moments" with the dog.  These are snapshots we mentally take of the dog doing outdoorsy things with us that we would -- in our imagination -- send to the shelter to show them what a good life we're giving Mattie.

I was not impressed.
However, these moments usually end in disasters that we wouldn't want the shelter to see.  For example, hiking down the backside of a mountain, feeling euphoric in the Shenandoah sunshine, we had one of these "shelter moments."  We let Mattie off leash, and true to the tale above, she stayed with us.  Life was good.  Until a deer got spooked and took off into the woods...and Mattie after her.  We had instant terrors of combing the woods for our dog...and never finding her again.  Of course she came back -- twigs hanging off her and prickers velcroed to her fur -- because let's face it, she's never going to catch the deer, and if by some miracle she did, well...then what?  And to add injury to insult, Mrs. Onthebusrunning sprained her ankle shortly thereafter.
Mattie's favorite things: chasing deer
and rolling in poop.
Cast against the brown landscape, she was still easy to see, her white coat flashing between the trees.  Then I saw the shock of white on the backside of the deer clustered on the creek's shoreline.  And those same shocks of white lifting and bounding deep into the woods. 

I became the moron yelling, "Maaaaaaatttttiiiiiie! Mattie come!"

Finally, with the deer out of reach, Mattie gave up the hunt and came trotting back to me, tongue lolling out the side of her mouth and head hung between her shoulders.  The look was not one of "I'm sorry I ran off," rather, "I'm sorry I didn't get them, Dad."

A very dirty dog.
Before she returned to me, I noticed that she was no longer the white dog I remembered just minutes ago.  Instead, she'd camouflaged herself with the mud, gravel, and grass native to the trail.  As I went to her, leash at the ready, she dove neck first into the grass to ground whatever deer, rabbit, or goose poop she'd found into her and her collar.  It should be noted that aside from being fed, these are Mattie's two favorite past times: chasing deer and rolling in poo.

"All right, you," I found myself saying out loud.  "I bet you're pretty proud of yourself aren't you?"  She snorted and rolled again.  I clipped the leash back onto her collar and we trotted back to the car...less careful about where we stepped or what we stepped in.

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