If my battery holds out, I hope to share two more camping anecdotes. Probably won’t be near civilization to post them for at least a couple of days.
I am back in the Kern River Canyon after a 10 day hiatus during which I took some friends who were visiting from Michigan to Yosemite National Park, Sequoia National Park, and a short trip down the coast. But that is another story…
We got back here the other night and found a campsite to the east of our previous one and much closer to the Kern River. These two anecdotes both concern my 7 year old Blue Heeler, Smokey. I am not neglecting my senior Aussie, Shadow, but she is wise enough not to start fights with rattlesnakes or the other brash (foolhardy?) things which follow. If I were to write camping anecdotes about Shadow they would all be a variation of “we went for a hike, Shadow stayed close and didn’t cause any problems.”
Smokey is a cow dog, when in the car she barks at every cow she sees. Until last month she had never met a cow in person. Since she had adapted so well to our life of travel I decided to let her meet some cows as a reward. So last month I tracked down some cows in the national forest and turned her loose on them. She instantly knew what to do with them, she circled to their far side and gently pushed them to me. I circled away and she nipped at them and they turned to follow. I eventually ran away and called her along (did I mention that I am afraid of cows?) That is the background for the first anecdote.
This morning the dogs woke me up at about daybreak to let them out of the tent. Which I did and then I lay back down contented, just loving life. It wasn’t long before Shadow started growling…a rumble low down in her chest that tells me she is serious. She is 11 and this was only the forth or fifth time that I’ve heard her do it.
I grab for my glasses and the tent zipper at the same time and i hear a crashing sound from outside. I get the tent open just in time to see a half dozen cows come careening down a 30 foot sand embankment and into camp, with Smokey at their heels. Three cows, two calves and a bull. One cow lets out a bass “mew-oo” that I could feel in my bones. Evidently she had become separated from her calf. I scrambled out of the tent shouting and trying to get them out of camp while scrambling up the embankment away from them. They left out the drive and down the road, the calf-less cow continuing to call out and thankfully Smokey let them go. I am dismayed that Smokey thought it was a good idea to round up a small herd of cattle and run them through camp first thing in the morning. Incidentally, I saw the wayward calf slink around camp to join its mother about 15 minutes later.
I am blown away by how innate this behavior is in Smokey. Shadow, a sheep dog, would herd people when she was young, but without reinforcement, the behavior was extinguished by the time she was 2. The behavior has to be stored in their DNA, what other explanation could there be? It is totally amazing that Smokey would just naturally know what to do with cows. And, while I know that I am anthropomorphizing, I am certain that she had a self satisfied look on her face.
That was a frightening start to the day, but nothing compared to the fear I had for that dog late this afternoon. Like I said earlier, we are much nearer the river in our current camp. So this afternoon we bushwacked our way down to the river. It was difficult to get down to the river because much of it is cut through rock and has a 20 to 30 foot sheer rock embankment. We eventually found a spot that we could get to with about 20 feet of dirt only 2 or 3 feet above the river. Shadow generally likes the water while Smokey avoids it at all costs. I stripped and put my feet in but the river was too cold and fast to get in. Evidently too fast for Shadow too, as both dogs were hanging over the bank getting a drink. Smokey lost her footing and into the river she went. At first I laughed as that dog hates the water. But my schadenfreude was quickly replaced with fear as she was quickly carried down stream. 20 feet and there would be rock faces and she would not be able to get out. While I wasn’t afraid of her drowning, I don’t think dogs drown very easily, I was fearful that it would be difficult to find her or that she might end up on an inaccessible rock or who knows what. I was terrified for that dog. Somehow she ended up on a rock 20 feet from shore. She didn’t stay there long but made a jump for shore and swam strongly to the embankment where she couldn’t get out of the water. I scrambled over the rocks and got a hold of her collar and pulled her out of the river. She was not a happy dog and there was nothing remotely self satisfied on her face. She spent 15 minutes shaking and rolling in the sand before she wanted anything to do with me or Shadow.
I would imagine that she likes the water even less than she did before. Keep in mind that this is the same dog who canoed with me 350 miles down the Missouri River and never once got wet. Coming up from the river we had to traverse a field of poison oak, I can only hope I don’t get a full body dose of itchy rash, both dogs are covered in it and we will sleep in a pile tonight.
I both love and hate Smokey for her bravery. While I admire her heart, I fear that it will be the death of her.
I still hope to write this trip up in depth when I get access to a keyboard, tapping it out on my tablet is a serious drag.
Just to add, I was only gone from here for 10 days but during that time Spring ended and full on Summer started. The flowers are gone and the grasses are dying. It is 15 degrees warmer and we will have to move further up into the mountains soon.
I am coming up on 6 weeks of off and on camping and each day I feel less like returning to the bay area. I am so over traffic and the hectic lifestyle and the opulence and poverty that exist side by side. The chorus for a song that I recently wrote begins: “This concrete ain’t no jungle, it’s a prison don’t you see.”
Generally I don’t swear when writing, but here I’m attempting to capture the moment. If you have sensitive ears you may want to read elsewhere. You’ve been warned.
Background: I am currently camping down in the Mojave Nature Preserve, tapping this post on my tablet. I won’t have Internet to post this for a few days.
I was hiking a wash at the edge of the Cinder Cone Lava Bed. I was hiking the wash because the lava bed is hard on the dog’s feet. Shadow (my senior Aussie) was earning her name faithfully at my heels. Smokey (my feisty Blue Heeler) , as is her wont, was 30 feet out on my flank looking for jack rabbits.
Most of my hiking is early in the day or late in the afternoon to avoid the heat. But today was different as we had been to town for supplies and Internet. So it was a hot sunny hike. I had just found a desert tortoise shell and stopped to photograph it, wishing I was on BLM land so that I could take it with me. Shortly after resuming our hike, Smokey started barking. I called for her to come, but her bark became more shrill, more insistent, more a yip then a bark. I scrambled up the wash’s bank to see what her problem was, I could partially see her behind some scrub creosote. As I rounded the bush I saw that she had something cornered at the base of a mesquite tree. Just as it registered that it was a coiled snake, the snake struck. Smokey pulled back and still yipping went back after it.
“Holey Shit! Did that snake just bite her? ” Running now, I close the last few feet and grab her by the back haunches and jerk her away. My mind was racing, ” fuck, how long do I have?” 2 miles back to the car and a solid 80 miles to the nearest vet in Barstow. The snake is coiled and rattling as I back away with Smokey in my arms. The snake was green! Who ever heard of a green rattlesnake?
As I ran from the snake with Smokey in my arms, Shadow noticed the snake and went to investigate. I frantically call her away and thankfully she listens. I run maybe 50 yards down the wash, somehow sure the snake was chasing me. Once safely away, I knelt and searched Smokey for signs of a bite. She has a double layer coat and even though I could find no sign of a bite, I couldn’t be sure. I decided to carry her back to camp, keep her heart rate low and watch for symptoms once back at the car. I used to carry a snake bite kit in my back pack but it had long since dry rotted and been discarded. Not that the suction cup would work on a hairy beast. I think cutting the bite to suck out the venom only works in the movies.
I set out jogging… and remembering. Before I had left on this trip I had mentioned to a friend that I have seen a bunch of rattlesnakes in my life, but had never run into one when the dogs were with me. Did I jinx myself? I don’t believe in magic, only coincidence. And what is up with a green rattlesnake? I’ve seen Western Diamondbacks in the Western deserts and Timber Rattlers in Appalachia, but never heard of a green rattlesnake.
My luck changed as I neared camp. I ran into a naturalist studying the desert flowers. She asked what was wrong with the dog, and I explained between huffs as I fought to get air into my lungs. She advised that it was a Mojave Rattlesnake and that they are indeed green. She had me put Smokey down and asked how long it had been. I told her 20 minutes or half an hour. She laughed and told me to quit worrying, had Smokey been bit she would be showing signs by now. She went on to explain that the Mojave Rattler is the most aggressive and deadly of the rattlesnakes (it wasn’t clear if she meant all rattlesnakes or just the three species that reside in the Mojave desert.)
I gave that dog a hug and she growled at me and I knew all was right. Freaked out by the experience, I was seeing snakes in every shadow. We packed up and moved camp 5 miles north.
Moral of the story is to keep a better eye on that dog.
|From Drop Box|
Turtle Dog’s real name was Myrtle…she was a great little dog. My dad got her as a puppy and her and Smokey grew up together. We haven’t seen as much of her since she moved to Missouri (the above picture was taken in Death Valley, Xmas 2007.) Turtle was born with a bad heart and she was never what one would call healthy, but she had a good life despite her health. She never let her bad heart prevent her from throwing down with Smokey, she was always ready to defend her toys or her favorite spot… She will be missed.
Mike writes up a better eulogy for the Turtle Dog.