The Call of the Wild

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It is Saturday, ten o’clock in the morning. I drag my lazy bones off the couch and head out for a geezer walk. Not fast, not strenuous, just something to stretch the cramped muscles and get moving. Anything can happen, or nothing can happen. If I’m lucky, once I get out of this small neighborhood and into the woods I’ll spot a ten point buck like I did a year ago.

Passing the neighbor’s house with my back now toward it, I’m walking away and suddenly hear, “Excuse me. Have you seen two bagels running around anywhere?” Stopping, I reply, “I didn’t know bagels could run.” The neighbor man says, “No, two beagles, dogs that is, must be my accent.” “How long have the dogs been gone?” I ask. He, the neighbor, who is a young man in his thirty’s, sporting a neatly trimmed black beard below his full head of hair, then hands me a flyer with a picture of the two beagle dogs, and answers, “Since seven-thirty this morning. They got away through the fence that I now realize has a gap big enough for them to escape.” “Okay,” I say, “I’ll keep an eye out for them.” Then I continue my walk up the long narrow street with modest houses on both sides. My walk, all mine, no people, no phones, no TV, no computer, just sanctuary. Or maybe not.
A quarter mile from the neighbor’s house I cross the busy street, one of only two main roads that travel all the way north and south through the Sonoma Valley. Both of these streets, or roads, or highways, whatever you want to call them, are already heavily loaded with traffic. Sometimes there are so many speeding cars I call it a freeway. Sprinting (okay, walking fast) between two cars coming from opposite directions, I make it safely to the other side of the street. “Goin’ out on the highway, listen to those rubber tires whine….”

From this side of the street the beginning of Sonoma Mountain abruptly leaves the sidewalk that I’m now walking on. The ground rises steeply and supports the vast underbrush and trees all the way to the top. It’s technically a mountain, rising quickly to a height of 2,463 feet. I have a friend from Jackson Hole, Wyoming who knows this “mountain.” When he first saw it he said, “You call that a mountain? That’s no mountain. It’s a mole hill.” And I have to admit it’s not a mountain compared to the Grand Tetons where the friend lives. Mountain or not, it beats the heck out of flat land. Whatever it is, it goes up and up, and then horizontally travels thousands of acres before it gives way to the flat land again.

Walking along the sidewalk I think, “Those dogs are long gone, or maybe they’re just hiding out in the neighborhood somewhere. Maybe they made friends and are hanging out with some other dogs having a party.” That’s when I hear barking off to my left, about thirty yards away in the old growth redwood trees. And then I see them, both of them, making their way from south to north, through the thicket, smiling and laughing, wearing their brown and white tightly fitted spotted suits. I know there is no way that they are going to come to me, a stranger, even if I get close. So I turn around and walk as fast as possible back to the owner’s house, again dodging the cars on the mini-turnpike. When the front door of the house opens I say, “I spotted them. If we get into your car I’ll show you were I last saw them.”

Reaching the spot where I last saw the beagle duo, we get out of the car and the thirty-something bearded man hands me some dog treats. The dogs are nowhere in sight, which is something that doesn’t surprise me. “Let’s go this way,” I say, and we make our way on foot through the woods, traveling the path that goes to the top of the mountain.

After about a hundred yards we hear barking, and spot the dogs making their way up the mountain along a narrow path that travels next to a slow moving “Dinky Creek.” “Here Barney, here Blossom,” the owner shouts. The dogs stop in their tracks for a moment, looking back, acknowledging and then quickly ignoring their owner. And then they keep going up, up, and up the trail along the creek bed that now gets steeper, as something calls to the dogs louder than it did before. I know the dogs can smell the treats the owner and I are now clutching in our hands, but it doesn’t matter. The dogs smell something stronger, more tempting than anything they’ve ever encountered during their short life on planet earth. And then Barney and Blossom disappear from sight.

I’m on one side of the creek, and the black bearded younger man is on the other side, on the same path as the canine duo, following and calling to the emancipated dogs. Dogs that are now constantly barking and calling to something else. Something else that is out ahead of them, not visible, not known to humans, but nevertheless is still there. The trail the owner and I are traveling upward on is getting steeper now, and the barking of the unseen dogs is fading into the distance. Then the trail gets really steep. I’m winded, breathing hard and fast. Thirty years ago I used to run up this steep trail, but that was then and this is, well, you know. The dogs’ barking is barely audible now, and I’ve lost sight of my younger hunting partner who I last saw on the other side of the downward flowing creek that makes it way past ferns, redwoods, oaks, and dog wood trees (everything is connected). “Maybe the owner turned back, it’s really steep now, heck, I’m going back down,” I reluctantly admit to myself. There was a time when I ran with the wolves, now I walk with the turtles.

Staying on flatland by myself for another hour, I turn around and walk back toward home. Out of the woods now, crossing the heavily trafficked road again, I enter back into the small tract of homes. “I don’t know how those ten month old dogs made it safely across this street without getting hit by at least one speeding car,” I say out loud as I manage a fast walk to avoid the speeding four wheeled mechanical creatures that bolt along on the asphalt with no mercy. It is a small miracle that Barney and Blossom didn’t meet their end today on this highway of pain, like the many skunks, possums, and deer have over the years. But then again you do have to consider what “dog” spelled backwards is. The so called speed limit is 35 mph on this street, but I think 99% of the drivers have dyslexia, as they speed along at 53 miles per hour and higher.

“Better stop at the owner’s house and tell his wife what is going on,” I think as I step onto his driveway for a few strides and then knock on the door. It’s been over an hour since I last saw the owner on the other side of the creek, making his way up the mountain, and I want to tell his wife where I last saw him, just in case he got lost or hurt and can’t get back. After all, the last time I saw him or heard the dogs barking, the sun was going down. “Might have to send out a search team,” is my last negative thought as the door opens.

“Hey John! Thanks for helping me find those dogs. They escaped through the fence, but now look at their new home.” Peeking into the living room I see that the dogs are in a wire cage, with frowns on their faces, even though their owner has a wide grin on his. He tells me that the dogs eventually went a mile up the mountain, and were captured close to a small lake, finally lured into their owner’s hands by the dog treats he used as bait. Barney and Blossom’s eventual hunger was their undoing (at least from their point of view).

This was Barney and Blossom’s first and most likely last escape into total freedom. They were found a hundred yards from where the author Jack London lived. You know, the Jack London who wrote, “The Call of the Wild.” And now the Jack London who is buried on this majestic land where he lived, in Jack London State Park. The beagles were most likely making their way to Jack’s grave site to say, “Thank you, I’m answering the call of the wild!” They didn’t quite make it. In the big picture it’s a good thing that they were found before the darkness surrounded them, and they became tasty appetizers for the occasionally seen mountain lions that come out at night to pounce on deer and small critters whose fate is suddenly sealed.

Walking down the street away from the now imprisoned dogs, I starting singing a line from a song that years ago I heard The Piney Creek Weasels perform on the main stage at Grass Valley, “Every time I go to town, the boys start kicking my dog around. Makes no difference if he’s a hound, you gotta quit kickin’ my dog around.” I don’t know why that song came to mind, but there is one thing I do know. Those dogs were running as fast as they could to get away from my town.

Rumor has it that Barney and Blossom will be at the 2015 Fathers’ Day Festival this June in Grass Valley, sniffing out any other CBA columnists who write stories about dogs. They will, of course, be on well secured leashes.

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