Monday, December 27, 2010

Something's Out There

“Would you stop it,” I said loudly to the two black Labradors, Roxie and Pixie.  They had been restless all evening and their activity was getting on my nerves.  I would order them to lie down and both of them would look at me questioningly as if I was making a mistake. They would lie down for a short while, and then, one at a time would go to the front door, bump the door knob, and stare at me.  I was too busy to pay much attention to them as I typed a poem on the computer.
Their behavior grew worse.  Now they were bumping the knob and softly growling.  “They’re being very strange,” I thought, but I continued to ignore them.  Finally they plopped next to me and stared at the door. 
Usually they were very well behaved and obedient.  A month ago I had taken them with me to a family reunion.  They played with the young children, stayed out of trouble, caught two mice in my cabin, and performed flawlessly as they went through their repertoire of tricks at the talent show. They not only did the basic commands but remembered all of their more advanced tricks. They were stars and were even invited back.
Their good behavior and obedience was expected at all times and sometimes that obedience brought unexpected results.  For example, last week they were wearing harnesses and lying in the bed of my truck.  They were quiet and I had forgotten they were there.  In the meantime my  beagle, Scooter, had wandered into the road.  Scooter had very little training and had a tendency to do what she wanted.  I was determined to change Scooter’s free wheeling behavior to obedience.  “Scooter!” I commanded sternly.  “Come.”  She continued down the road, her nose to the ground, oblivious to my command.  “Scooter,” I shouted, “Come!”  Scooter paid no attention but the two labs leaped to action. Both jumped over the tailgate when they heard my command. Now both were dangling over the tailgate suspended in mid-air, hanging by their harnesses but unhurt, looking foolish. I felt even more foolish because I had given a command in their presence and they were just trying to please.
Now as I watched them pacing the floor, wanting to be obedient but they were distracted by something outside.  “Okay,” I said. “Let’s go and see what’s there.”  Roxie race in front of me and blocked my path to the door.  “You’re so funny, Roxie,” I said.  “Now get out of the way.  I want to go outside.” 
Both of them brushed past me and began sniffing the air, the ground, and then one of the nearby trees.  Pixie began throwing herself high against the tree.  Then Roxie began leaping into the air, making strange high pitched yelps.  I could see nothing in the trees and the dogs were still excitedly leaping and trying to climb the tree nearest me.  Finally I turned back to the house. “Come on, girls. There’s nothing out here.  You’re making a big fuss over nothing.”  Once we were inside again they quieted right down.
Two days later I was talking to one of my friends about how deer hunting had lost its excitement.  “Not for me,” he interrupted.  “Wait a minute.  I’ve got a picture I want to show you.  I took it two days ago, not far from here.”  He went to his truck and returned in a few minutes.  “I was alone when I shot a buck.  I wanted to take my picture with it just to show my friends.  I set up my camera on a tripod, set the timer, and posed.  I didn’t realize what a good picture it was until I brought the camera to a photo shop to have copies made. Take a good look at the picture and tell me what you think.” 
This was ridiculous.  I’d seen enough hunters with their deer next to them.  But, to humor my friend, I took the photograph and looked it over.  The camera’s flash clearly showed him proudly posing next to his deer.  I started to put the photo down but noticed another figure close by.  A mountain lion was within ten feet of him, clearly advancing.  Startled, I looked up questioningly.
 “Yes,” he said.  “The mountain lion was probably after the deer that I was holding, but I don’t know for sure.  I think the flash scared it away.  I didn’t know the mountain lion was there until I got the pictures. I reported the incident to the game warden but he was skeptical.  Have you noticed anything strange around here?”
“No, not at all,” I said.
A few days later I glanced at a small article in the paper with a picture of a mountain lion on a branch.  The article stated that hunters spotted the mountain lion while hunting in southern Platte County.  Experts verified the mountain lion’s presence by collecting hair and studying scratch marks. 
I was curious now about the behavior of the dogs.  I went outside and looked up.  Just above the first large branch were several scratches.  I shivered and went inside.  “When will I ever learn to listen to those dogs?” I asked myself.  “I’m just not as smart as I think sometimes.”

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