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It is May in New England. The weather alternates between meltingly pretty days, cold windy afternoons under theatrically dark skies (with accompanying rain, lightening, thunder and hail), misty mornings, and rain, rain, rain. He has never, the farmer says, seen such a cold wet spring. The corn isnít growing and heís decided to leave the petunias in the greenhouse until it clears up or people buy them, which they arenít because itís too cold to be out gardening. There are tomatoes in the greenhouse but they wonít grow because itís too cold. Every spring we have these conversations.
Meanwhile, the mockingbird wakes me at five in the morning and there are goldfinches (well one, anyway) on the bird feeder, the farmer saw a kingfisher fly across the field last week, blue jays are screaming melodiously at each other, the geese are in the field across the street eating the young kale, and the farmer and Sara the dog are off to chase them.
The bedroom window is open now at night. Ghost dogs run in the dark fields. The farm is haunted by dogs, all the dogs we have known and loved and put up with. Cinnamon and Klute and Rocky and Star, Higgins, Mollie the Collie and Sashie the Terrible, run and howl and chase skunks and raccoons and possums and thumb their ghostly noses at the recently-arrived coyotes and foxes. Many dogs walk past the farm in the morning and evening, sedate, civilized dogs on leashes, taking their constitutionals with owners in tow, but our dogs are farm dogs, and they are free.
They were an assortment of diverse personalities and breeds, acquired for different reasons and at different times, by members of the family or the farm community, now (with the exception of Higgins, who was foreign and is buried under English skies) they hunt and howl in the darkness under the moon (at least when the wind blows) in one rapscallion pack and, without doubt, under the leadership of Sashie the Siberian Husky, neither the biggest nor the strongest of all, but certainly the cleverest.
(Mollie was a border collie who pined to work on the farm, but having no sheep to care for she took up car-chasing instead. This unfortunate proclivity combined with a distinct aversion to other dogs made her an outsider during her life, but she is buried on the farm and I feel strongly that she has become one of the pack.)
Sashie it was who led sweet stupid Star, a lumbering Labrador-great Dane cross, on hunting expeditions for raccoons, where Star was the muscle and Sashie was the brains. They came home many times with honorable scars from these hunts, sometimes requiring a visit to the vet and stitches, but always with quarry. One memorable morning in winter we awoke to find a whole raccoon family, mother and three babies, frozen in the snow outside the front door.
Star succumbed to a passing car on our busy street, and was replaced by Rocky, a doberman-black Labrador mix who was girl-crazy and used to break into peopleís houses to get at the women until he was
finally surgically tranquilized. Sashie barely came up to his shoulder, but she stood no nonsense and he became her new hunting partner and slave after one growl and one look. Their most memorable experience, at least for their owners, was the time they ate dead rats which had been rat-poisoned on the farm and became terribly ill, having to be rushed to the vet in the family car and throwing up gobbets of dead rat before, during and after the journey, in the car and on the farmerís wife, who drove them.
Life has become considerably calmer since the passing of Sashie and company, but Sara the collie-golden Lab cross who currently inhabits our house and holds our hearts, has had her moments, including nearly dying of rat poison (three blood transfusions and four days in the intensive care unit). The farmer wishes me to be quite clear that it was not his rat poison. She also had major surgery to replace both knee tendons in her rear legs; this was due to sports injuries, one while playing with another dog and one while trying to catch and, I am sure, herd, a chicken. Sara went through a glass door to get at it, and nearly bled to death from cuts. She had 21 stitches. The chicken died of a heart attack.
Sara is not a hunter, but a herder and a retriever; she herds anything available, and once brought a baby bird, alive, in her mouth to the farmer, who replaced in the nest whence it had fallen. She chases cats and squirrels, but never catches them and I suspect she wouldnít know what to do with them if she did. She cornered a frog once, which terrified her by jumping at her. She eats bumble bees.
Sara is old, getting on for twelve, and someday she will be gone. Then Iíll open the window on spring evenings when the wind is wild, and smell the rain and know that she is out there with the rest of them, running and panting and leaping and barking and having a hell of a time. Have fun, dogs.