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Sunday, July 19, 2009

GROUNDHOG DOG



Today I saw a crow pick up an apple slice in its beak, walk to a place where a small cluster of mown grass was lying. The crow dropped the apple slice to the ground and, one at a time, picked up three tufts of the grass and dropped them on the apple slice to hide it. Five minutes or so later another crow marching about the lawn found it. In one swipe of the beak, the crow removed the small pile of mown grass, picked up the apple slice and flew away. The funny part is the crow that hid the apple slice will never return to it, will never know it was swiped.


My first dog here in the mountains, Sadie, killed groundhogs buried them. Early on, she killed a groundhog and left it under the house, a safe place. First I was seeing big blue-bottle flies swarming from under the house. Next came the scent of dead groundhog, which is distinctively groundhog. I didn't know that then, but this was one of the early learning experiences to teach me that particular scent. I had to crawl under the house with a rake and pull the nasty corpse out, flies buzzing all around, pick it up in a shovel and take it to a place to bury it. Sadie watched the whole time to see what I was doing with her prize. I dug a hole, put it in the hole and covered it with dirt. From then on, every time she killed a groundhog, she carried it with her teeth to a place she knew the ground to be soft, dug a hole with her front claws, pushed the groundhog into the hole with her nose, and pushed the dirt on top of the groundhog with her nose.


I liked to watch her when she was stalking one. It was sport in the wild. There was a groundhog that had a hole by the fence to the pasture behind the house. She found the groundhog out one day about 30 feet from the hole. She hunkered down close to the ground and crept slow like a cat toward the hole. When she was about the same distance from the hole as the groundhog, she took off running full speed toward the hole. The groundhog, from another direction, ran to the hole as fast as it could go. A couple feet from the hole, dog hit groundhog in the side with her nose, sending the groundhog rolling a few times. Groundhog scrambled back to its feet while dog was slowing down from full speed, turned and was at the groundhog as soon as it could stand up on its back feet.

Dog lunged in at groundhog's face barking once, groundhog clicking its teeth, snapped in the direction of the dog. Their two front teeth are razor sharp like a beaver's. Dog lunged again barking at groundhog's face. Groundhog lunged at dog with teeth clicking. Dog jumped back and lunged forward again. She went around the groundhog, lunging in with a bark at the groundhog and the groundhog snapped at dog's nose, clicking teeth. Every time she jumped back from the lunge forward, it was a few feet to her right and she'd lunge again, circling the groundhog, making it turn to face the dog every lunge. Every time dog attacked, the groundhog attacked too, with clicking teeth. Turning all the time and snapping at dog's nose eventually disoriented the ground and wore it out until the first time groundhog failed to snap at dog, dog moved in, took the groundhog by the neck, shook it one time and groundhog went limp in her teeth. With the charged energy of a warrior's victory, she held her head high carrying the groundhog to where she knew the ground was soft enough to dig. She put the groundhog on the ground, dug a hole, put the groundhog in and covered the hole.


When Tom saw her catch a groundhog one day, he turned proud of her and acted toward her like she was a dog worth her keep. He even bragged to men he knew about her. When somebody asked me what kindof dog she was, I'd say, "Groundhog dog." Everyone knew what that meant, that she was a pet that happened to kill groundhogs, and regarded her respectfully. Once, a couple of fellers leaning on a pickup asked me if that dog hunted. I said, "Yeah, all the time." I added she was a groundhog dog and they looked at her in admiration. She was half fox dog, the half that showed the most, the reason I was frequently asked about the dog. The other half was Airedale, according to vet, Nash Williams.


One time out on the tactor mowing, I saw a short-stripe polecat, or skunk, walking over the meadow in daytime. That didn't seem right, but what do I know about how a polecat thinks? I do know how they stink, but not think. Here came Sadie. She made a pass at the skunk and it jumped up on its back feet, sitting straight up like a groundhog. Skunk showed its ten claws that were more exaggerated than a cat's, and its mouthful of sharp, pointed teeth. It growled like a small bear. I stopped the tractor and watched.


Saide did the same thing as with a groundhog. She danced around the skunk, keeping it turning, attempting to wear it down, but the skunk didn't wear down. He stayed right up, snapping every time the dog jumped in to bark at its face. The skunk showed fierceness that is the difference between a wild animal and a pet. The dance went on for quite awhile until dog got it that the skunk was not going to miss a beat. Dog settled down and walked away. The skunk went back about its business of passing through the meadow. One time I asked John Lee Phipps, a dairy farmer in Piney Creek, if he knew why so many skunks get run over. He thought a moment and said, "I reckon a polecat's kind of independent."





1 comment:

  1. We have a recurring groundhog hole under the porch over at Bear Bottom. Sure wish old Sadie was still around and you could loan her out to me for a day or so. Loved reading about her. Thanks for making my day.

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