“If you go slowly enough, six or seven months is an eternity—if you let it be—if you forget old things, and learn new ones. Even a week can last forever.”
Rick Bass, Winter

"In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer."
Albert Camus

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Day 20: The Call of the Wild

Zoe's best quality on a dog walk without the leash: she stays close to us on the trail.  She's an Australian Shepherd mix, and her herding instinct is strong.

Her worst trait: now and then, especially on a cold winter day, she likes to find dead things in the bushes and eat them.  If she smells something and goes after it, it is physically impossible to stop her, even if I have a posse with me, as I sometimes do.  She's smarter than we are, and fast.  What she does is run along near our path but inside an overgrown area we can't get to, close enough to see us and hear us, but not close enough for one of us to grab hold of her collar.  But at least these unscheduled snacks don't take up much time.  Before we can say, "We're leaving, Zoe," she has gobbled down the dead pheasant/squirrel/bunny and is back with the pack.

She hadn't done this in a long time--not this year, and certainly not since she was diagnosed with bone cancer and became a tripod.  But this past holiday weekend, when my sister, her husband, and their dog were on a walk with us at Indian Creek Nature Center, she found something tasty and went for it.  No amount of coaxing, shouting, or cajoling would stop her.  It was snack time. 

I wish she wouldn't do this, but I still remember how, when I picked her out as a puppy, the people working at the pound also said that she was "part wolf."

Several years ago, on a walk with a student and me in early April, she found a deer leg.  Zoe ran proudly with the leg through the woods as though she were carrying the Olympic torch, only horizontally.  I could not get her to drop it, and I could not get her to leave.

(Incidentally, she knows the "leave it" command and will let me put a treat on her paw without touching it.  But somehow that rule never applies to the Great Outdoors.  In the woods, Zoe seems to think that "leave it" means "Let me leave you in peace while you adhere to the call of the wild and enjoy your carcass.")

On that day with the deer leg, I had to get my student back to a crucial meeting with one of her other professors; we had no time for this tomfoolery.  We came up with a strategy: make Zoe decide to drop the leg on her own.  We had to make her fear of abandonment kick in or we would never be able to leave until she'd eaten the entire deer leg, which was twice her size.  It would be dark soon.  Plus my husband needed the car.  I had his Subaru wagon because my car was in the shop.

Of course neither my student nor I had a cell phone.

And so we tried to trick her: I opened the back car door, hoping she'd just jump in, and started backing out slowly, shouting good-bye.  "She has her head up," my student said.  "She's stopped chewing.  She looks concerned."  I wanted to see this for myself and in the instant I turned to watch, I got us stuck in deep snow-slushy mud.

A half hour later, in twilight, Zoe had dropped the leg.  I had sent my student (who was on the track team) to run the mile and a half back to campus to her appointment.  Then I had to pretend I was leaving Zoe as I walked away from the parking lot to get help.  By the time Zoe and I had found some men at Facilities Operations on the St. Lawrence University campus to rescue the car, my student had sent over a friend with a truck and chains, and my husband, whom my student had also called, had called one of our friends.  So now here we were, three trucks revving their engines, two humans in each vehicle, the very stuck Subaru groaning as it was hoisted and hauled, with Zoe in the back seat looking supremely calm and a little bored, wondering what all the fuss was about. 

This weekend it took longer than usual for her to eat the poor dead rabbit or squirrel or quail or baby owl, but sure enough, she came running toward us on the path after we had yelled "Good-bye, Zoe" two or three times for good measure.  The next morning, she threw up, as we knew she would.  She hasn't once gotten sick from chemotherapy, but the dead critters she swallows, practically whole, are hard even for a so-called part-wolf like Zoe to get down without incident.

I couldn't be mad at her, of course.  Watching Zoe turn into a wolf is beautiful, in its way.  And watching her do it now, as a tripod, and have her outrun and out-maneuver three fairly fit humans and another dog: well, it was something I would have been proud of her for, if I wasn't so worried about her overall health.

When I surrender to Zoe in these instances, I always return to a line from Desert Solitaire, by Edward Abbey: We are kindred all of us, ... killer and victim, predator and prey, me and the sly coyote, the soaring buzzard, the elegant gopher snake, the trembling cottontail, the foul worms that feed on our entrails, all of them, all of us.”

Long live Zoe.  Long live the rabbits and squirrels and birds, and thank you, tasty critters who have already become meat.  Long live all of us human, animal, plant, and insect, indissolubly connected and implicated in the cycles of life on this nourishing, fragile earth.
Zoe looks very pleased with herself

What's in her mouth?

Zoe playing with Sadie, her "cousin"

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