THE BEST OF TRAILS

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The best of trails are lesser-known,
Ragged, rugged and overgrown,
With tangled past, with height of poem;
These paths take silent stands, alone.

The best of trails reach for the sky;
They ponder ages long gone by.
They make you tingle–can’t say why–
And soothe your soul down deep to bone.

The best of trails, like best of men,
Make you return to seek again
Their hidden treasures ’round each bend,
And leave you yearning when they’re gone.

Eric M. Vogt
Copyright 2017

A Matter of Life and Death

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MT Adams NFS Warning Sign, Airline Trail

It was the second week in September a few years ago. I spoke to a workmate who is an avid hiker and told him I wanted to climb MT Adams in the Presidential mountain range of New Hampshire, USA. My friend told me up and down how the Airline Trail was the quickest and most true way to the top, which it is. I looked at the topographic map and my guidebook and said to myself  “I can do this on a day hike. No worries.”

I don’t usually hike with other people. Do not do as I do. It’s not safe. However, to explain my unsafe, warped reasoning: it’s not that I do not like people—well, most people—it’s because I don’t want to either be unceremoniously rushed up a mountain by a quicker climber, or to be held back from my lofty goal by a slower climber. Even if they could haul a tent or run for help in case of an emergency.

But I do bring the next best thing: my Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Jack the Crackerjack Welshman. Jack is my ever-patient friend, climbing partner and personal trainer. He has short yet muscular legs and climbs in front of me like a little mountain goat for a ways. Then Jack perches himself on a rock above me and stares down, as if taunting me to reach him. When I do, he once again gets out in front of me and the life-coaching continues. If I am too slow he may even give me a bark or two until I shape up and join him.

Needless to say, my personal trainer has gotten me into fairly good shape for an old guy and has seen a lot of adventures with his owner. We have singly climbed MT Washington, MT Madison, MT Monroe, MT Eisenhower, MT Jefferson, MT Pierce and MT Jackson together. He is getting older now, along with his owner, but I am sure he will continue to be my personal trainer on the trails far into the future.

My helpful human trail advisor and work friend was half my age, however. Soon after, I got on the Airline Trail and it took me much longer than first assumed. It is a rather steep and root and boulder-pitted trail that eventually rises over scenic King’s Ravine. At one point on my journey I was looking several hundred feet down from a thin trail that hugs an almost vertical drop! I was quite exhausted when a topless, packless young man ran (yes, Ran by me, obviously with MT Washington in his sights). I gasped, being a ripe age of 55 years old, and I felt that this scene mimicked the old tale of the race between the infamous Hare and Turtle. But the Hare did not stop to take a nap in my tale.

It was a beautiful day and the Turtle stopped to enjoy the views and take numerous pics. Then the Turtle pressed on, even though he was not on his planned schedule, keen on his goal of the summit, a place that rather reminds me of walking on the moon. Not that I have ever had the pleasure of doing so. But I did see Neil Armstrong take his steps for all mankind in 1969 on a black and white T.V. set in my elementary school classroom. And believe me, it looks just like the moon on the summit.

When I reached the peak I apprehensively realized that the sun had already started to descend. Yet, because it was a wonderful, nearly cloudless day on the Presidentials, I rested a while in satisfaction with my corgi Jack and took more pics. Then a nice couple in their twenties came up with their small dog. He and Jack had fun jumping from boulder to boulder and playing King of the Hill, uh, Mountain. In the meantime, I was losing the sun. We parted, they in search of their camp site and I in search of Madison Springs AMC hut.

I had decided that I did not want to go back down the Airline and end up at the bottom of King’s Ravine in the coming dusk, so I chose a longer but much more gradual trail, the Valley Way off neighboring MT Madison. The step by step walk down the boulders was slow and tedious, the rocks still damp from a rain storm the day before. I finally got down to the hut and started down the Valley Way. I soon realized that the sun was not only going down, it was on the wrong side of MT Adams. It was going to be quite tenuous to make it down to the parking area before I totally lost daylight.

I stopped to check my pack and, although I had an emergency kit for a over-nighter, I had forgotten to transfer my flashlight from my large pack to my day pack! But I, in my Hemingway-like bravado, said to myself “I can barrel down and do this.” Yet, not only was the sun on the other side of the mountain, I was also below tree line. Dusk caught me so quickly beneath the trees that I unknowingly went down a false trail on a long-abandoned path. When I started to step over downed trees I realized my mistake and decided I just had enough daylight to strike across the brush and find the true trail.

I intersected with the Valley Way just as darkness enshrouded Jack and I. I estimated we were only about halfway to the car. I laid down my poncho on a table rock in the middle of the trail, pulled out my emergency blanket, put Jack on my stomach, and laid my head on my lumpy pack—a sort of human/corgi sandwich for wild animals to feast on.

Fortunately, it was just above freezing that night. Although you can still get hypothermia in the 40’s, I was dry, well below treeline and sheltered from the wind. A week later it would have been below freezing and snowing where I made my makeshift camp. I didn’t freeze that night, but I didn’t sleep well, either.

On a side note, Jack apparently slept very well and comfortably on my paunch, because in the middle of the night some creature sniffed the emergency blanket and he didn’t stir. The creature decided we weren’t tender enough and went on its way. Of course, while I was laying on a very uncomfortable flat boulder, Jack felt like he slept on a plush king sized bed that night.

As soon as dawn began to break the next morning we started off again and made it back to the car safely.

Lessons Learned:

1. I am getting older. I cannot leap tall buildings in a single bound anymore.

2. I have designated a flashlight to both my day pack and my overnight pack, even for just a day hike. I was being cheap and you really can’t put a price on preparedness.

3. I don’t fully trust the advice of maps, guidebooks and other hikers. They do not know me personally or the unique personal and environmental conditions I will face. And topographic maps are general outlines of distances and grades. They show little detail when you are climbing on the moon. Though I always keep updated on the Mount Washington Weather Observatory’s prediction for the day, I assume it could change on a dime and go downhill quickly.

4. I am always prepared, as I was, to stay the night, even if I am just on a day hike. I could have broken a leg on the trail at one of many points. I only saw 3 people going up and none at all going down that late in the season. I have to be ready for the worst. Remember, rescuers may not come up the trail after dark, depending on conditions, even if you call for them or hit your GPS transponder (and there is little cell service below treeline anyway).

5. Heed the advice on the sign posted above. If weather conditions suddenly change for the worse, don’t be a Hemingway. Go back down. Going below tree line could save your life.

Fortunately, I had just read the book NOT WITHOUT PERIL by Nicholas Howe. It speaks of the many people who have lost their lives on this range. You can’t read that book without gaining a healthy fear of climbing up there. I reread it this winter just to remind me and I will keep rereading it periodically until I can’t hike anymore. So, fortunately that day I had an emergency kit, albeit lacking a flashlight (a grave error).

Also, recently I read a great book that just came out about a veteran climber who lost her life on MT Adams a few years ago called WHERE YOU’LL FIND ME by Ty Gagne. Read it. A sobering account which shows that just one mistake can be a fatal one up there. The weather changes on a dime. And GPS equipment is not always 100% effective to show rescuers where you are. In fact, hers was activated too late. She was already in advanced stages of hypothermia above treeline on Adams. GPS showed her, at different times, in 5 separate points impossibly far from one another. That evening rescuers could not ascend above treeline without great danger to themselves. In fact, they were adversely affected by the conditions even below treeline. There were 125+ MPH wind gusts that night and early morning! The next day several search teams had to comb Adams and Madison at great risk to themselves to find her body. Once again, READ IT if you are a hiker. A good account to keep one alert and honed with a proper respect for the often sudden and fatal conditions on these mountains.

I never travel as light as she did. Ever. I always have an emergency pack with enough food, water, layers of clothing, and equipment to stay the night and perform first aid. You should too. A few extra pounds could save your life or the life of a fellow hiker one day.

I hope this account helps you to avoid the same pitfalls of decision-making that I and others have experienced up there, and will help you to make better decisions than we. And remember to climb with a friend. Do as I say, not as I do!

Eric M. Vogt
Copyright 2018, 2019

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View from MT Adams on that beautiful day.

They Both Had Venice

Eric M. Vogt Copyright 2012

Eric M. Vogt
Copyright 2012

The Americans were sitting at a table of a small street side cafe on the edge of a very large neighborhood square. They had been the first to arrive. It was romantic. The woman’s full focus was on the wine and the seafood in the menu. The waiter was pleasant, almost friendly, for a Venezian waiter. He was husky and had a barbershop moustache. He spoke very good English and did not look down on the couple for knowing little Italian.

The restaurante was not efficient. Even though they were the first to arrive and to order, others received their plates before them. The English couple at the next table was one of these. It did not matter, though, because the Americans wished to bathe in the ambiance while the British liked to bathe in the waiter’s blood. The Englishman was haughty, rude and demeaning, pointing out every flaw in the meal they were served first. The American felt sorry for the waiter. He would tip him better.

His girlfriend was not a girlfriend at all, but middle-aged and twice-divorced. This was her second time to Venezia. This trip was his gift to her for her successful cancer treatment. Her hair had a radiation-scorched pure white color. It just starting to grow back but was still unnaturally short for a woman. She wore a variety of hats and scarves to stave off both the sun and the stares. But sometimes she just didn’t care. As he looked at her he paused in utter amazement. He really loved her in a selfless way as pure as the color of her hair. Quite unlike him.

This trip was a gift to himself, also. He was a writer. This was his second visit to Europe, but the first time to Venezia. He soaked it in as deeply as she did. The cobblestone calles and the medieval architecture sang of a romantic time lost to the past. It inspired poetry in gushes from him each day, which he intently recorded down until, in the end, he had written an entire collection based on this vision of Venice.

She lifted up her glass of red and sipped it as one runs silk over a naked body. It was extremely seductive and it stirred a deep passion that he did not know still existed in him. He sipped his European beer to cool down. It did not bother him in the least that the cook was taking so long. As the woman did, he feasted on this little corner of time and space and light that made up the street side tables of the restaurante.

“Are you enjoying yourself?” he asked politely. He needed no answer. This was her second glass of wine. She was enjoying herself.

They pondered the other couples seated around them. A taut German pair, quite serious, sat just beyond the Englishman. As he got louder, they imperceptibly inched their wrought iron chairs away from the other couple.

Finally the Americans were served. The lady had gotten a seafood pasta dish with a clam sauce. The man had made the mistake of getting a red sauce, which turned out to be literally tomatoes. No spice, no taste. He thought real Italian food quite bland compared to the pasta in the States. He silently resolved to get pizza for the next dinner. There was another restaurante on the square that had pizza and great German beer on tap too.

“Honey?” his girlfriend said.

“Yes, dear?”

“Can we go to Murano tomorrow? I want to show you where they make the glass…” she tilted her wine glass and some more of the red silk slipped between her lips.

“Certainly, dear.”

She paused and looked intently at him. “What do you want to do? We have a whole week…”

“Write.” He blurted out. “I have never been so inspired. The canals, the streets, the plazas, the buildings…”

Her gaze pierced him and shut him down. “Thank you, ” she said, quite affectionately and even profoundly. Her demeanor had changed ninety degrees, becoming more somber and reflective. The cancer had weakened her in more ways than one. She had become more conscious of her mortality.

“It is I who should thank you. I would have never done it.”

She stared at him, eyes glistening. “Thank you for taking me. To Venice. To chemo. For taking care of the house…”

“I have enjoyed it.” He let it sit at that.

She let it sit at that, too. They had finished their meals and drinks and the sun was going down on the plaza. The light’s fade played upon the lattices of the second story windows where colorful fall flowers bloomed. It was a wonderful time to visit Venice.

The British couple paid for their meal and left a paltry tip for the waiter. The American remembered to put an extra couple of euros on the table.

“Let’s go for a walk around the calles,” she suggested.

“Let’s,” he agreed, getting up. She took his arm. She wore a sweater and light coat, but she still shivered and tightened her hold on his arm. The chemo had made her more sensitive.

They strolled arm in arm down a sloping narrow calle where small shops were still open and strands of tourists milled peacefully. It was a quiet part of the city and they both loved where their flat was situated. They would make the sweetest love that night in the Italian brass bed of their room.

But for now they paced like they had forever at their feet, slowly, deliberately taking everything into their senses.

Within a single month it would all be over. It would be his fault, of course. Writers are not normal. They do not perceive the real world, nor do they move around in it elegantly. They live too much in the past and in futures never held to nurture the present time that lays within their hands.

But for this beautiful fall evening, they both had Venice.

Eric M. Vogt

Copyright 2014

THE GRAND CANAL AND THE CARABINIERI

Venezia was a wonderful city that night. The fall air was crisp and the merchants’ lights reflected off of the Grand Canal as large public water buses and the smaller water taxis made ripples in its fabric. The sparkles of the ripples seemed to merge as one and drift off after the boats. I held her hand and we strolled away from and just below the Rialto Bridge. It was bathed in strings of lights and romance and we wanted to touch its magic as we walked down the calle beside the Canal.

We wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle and find a quiet gem within the treasure of the night. So we left the sounds of the crowds behind us and the street became darker and darker. The canal lights became fewer, of the sort that told the water craft what to avoid. They gave off an eerie glow, a ghostly finger that directed us to our next adventure.

I loved her. She had taken me to this new land, her number one destination in Europe and her dream. If it were up to me, I would have rented a car and toured Italy, Germany and France, traveling our time away. But I loved her. She wished to go to Venezia for the week and I was a writer and a romantic and a man, therefore at times like these an utter fool. But I loved her and love brings men to do things they wouldn’t normally but should. So here we were. I wrote a book of poetry in Venezia that week. It inspired me beyond my simple girth.

I held her hand as we strolled down the cobblestone calle, into the depths of its unknown and the alluring darkness. But then there were blue flashes and a speeding boat and—-the carabinieri landed like the United States Marines.

You did not see them often in Venezia, the Italian military police who were virtually invisible. But you saw the signs to their stations. Occasionally they would run down a Nigerian black marketeer trying to sell knock off Venetian t-shirts in the tourist areas like San Marcos. But this was like an invasion.

One carabiniere, uniformed in dress blue and white and wearing the white hat of their service jumped off the boat and his partner quickly followed. I saw the flash of his lanyard and his pistol come out of the holster. The unmistakable metallic sound of a fresh round being chambered into an automatic pistol struck my ears.

I knew this sound. I had been trained since my youth in the United States Army Military Police and later in federal law enforcement to chamber a round and to run toward danger. At the end of my career I had helped fellow officers learn how to respond to terrorist attacks. And now I was retired and strolling through a foreign land without the customary automatic pistol in the small of my back. It took every fiber of my body to hold her hand firmly and turn in the exact opposite direction, leading her from this danger. She responded. We quickly ran around the corner of an ancient building in the dim yellow light of a water marker and waited. The seconds seemed like hours. The policemen’s footfalls drifted down another calle and soon were heard no more.

After we shared the vacant silence for some moments, we turned back when we were sure there would not be a gunshot or explosion to break the peace. But the peace had already been broken. We were a bit shaken out the fairy tale, but I managed to bring her further around the block, away from the now lost footfalls, and back into the lights of the busy city again. We calmed and strolled up the merchants’ alley to the Rialto Bridge and crossed, regaining our composure.

“Let’s have dinner,” I whispered. She agreed and we found a nice romantic café on the other side of the canal from the carabinieri.

The atmosphere was perfect. Candles flickered, passing over her face and revealing her beauty in its slivers. A young muslim couple was seated at the table next to us. I felt it was wonderful as they spoke to one another in Arabic with a romance that belonged to Venezia. They got their meal and the woman’s disposition changed. Her tone of voice became sharp and the man shriveled into the shadows beyond their candle.

When we finally got out plates, the veal marsala was disappointing. It lacked mushrooms and life of taste of the marsala in America. But soon our fairy tale was restored with a glass of wine. The Arabic couple left and I could see it would not be a happy night in bed for the husband.

I turned to my date. And I knew I loved her. I wrote a book of the most romantic Venezian-inspired poetry that week.

When we returned to America we lost our duty free Italian wine at an American T.S.A. checkpoint. The vacation was over. Back home, the pistol once again embraced the small of my back, concealed in my spine.

We never loved again. It was all my doing. It was always my doing. Women can never read a man. When he is angry, he hides much sorrow. When he is sad, he hides such strength.

Eric M. Vogt
Copyright 2014

A Yielding of our Youth

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The M-16’s stock nestled, no, burrowed almost painfully, into the soft pocket of his shoulder. His head tipped to the right, chin folded and pressed into the side of the stock. His entire body leaned forward, reaching ever-closer for the rear sight. Its circle at first lay frigid, unresponsive. His face came closer, melding as one with the weapon. The opening responded, relaxing, expanding, panting for his eye, fully dilating to reveal the angled branches parting around the front sight. Their legs were fully extended toward the sky and held equally within them was that firm, erect post that brought both pleasure and sadness. This is where his eye stopped and focused, clear and true. The form of a man beyond was blurry and indistinct. Its center mass was his entire concern in life. He slowly let out his last breath and the target stilled. The fullness of his life exhaled with it, perfection reaching the front post. He slowly squeezed the trigger with the very tip of his finger. The .223 round sped to the target and penetrated. He barely felt the recoil, a spring buried deep within, unseen, bearing the blow. Fully spent, he lay in the brush in stillness, finally and completely content. He relocated.

Eric M. Vogt
Copyright 2014

A GRASPING AT STARS

 

When I was a young teen, Star Trek and the Space Shuttle were the focus of every boy’s dreams. I wanted to be a scientist and astronaut. So did my closest pal Joe. We would read science fiction novels, make Estes model rockets, and shoot them to the moon.

We had sent up all sorts of brave astronauts, including insects, fish and frogs, but the bravest of these was the trio of field mice caught alive for a very scientific mission. The payload section was especially padded for safety and the countdown commenced.

Ten… We had scrupulously written our observations of all missions in a bound booklet for future use. All preparations, details of flight and after-flight effects upon astronauts were meticulously written down. We were like the Lewis and Clarks of a new age of space adventurers. Some of the Estes models were superior and adequate for “manned” flight. Others were just downright dangerous and could have taken down a small Cesna aircraft. We were bound and determined to take any risks necessary to launch our new age of star adventures.

Nine… The rocket itself had three of the largest chemical rocket charges ever built by teen. It would be deemed a dangerous explosive today. On school property even. Don’t attempt this yourself, kids. We were professionals. And they would call you a terrorist today and ship you off to reform school or Gitmo for teens or worse.

Eight… We never named an astronaut. It was a good policy. Not only was the work inherently dangerous, but it would have interfered with our impartiality as scientists. Don’t want to get too close to an astronaut. Might induce one to pack too much padding.

Seven… We were limited as to who could be chosen as an astronaut by the size of our rockets. Some had very small payload compartments. Only one subject at a time was usually allowed. A fish was the most challenging occupant we sent up, and the most rewarding information we documented was gleaned by the first fishonauts. The very first flight, the fishonaut was sealed with enough oxygen for the entire flight and any time required to chase down the parachute, which sometimes was close to a mile away. Yes, we had learned in chemistry class that the O in water’s scientific symbol stood for oxygen. A handy thing for a scientist to know before sending a fish up. They actually survive the flight quite well. One of the side effects we noted after flight was that a fish will swim upside down for about an hour. Apparently it loses all sense of time and space and gravity. Or it is swallowed by a wormhole and has PTSD.

Six… The ignition system was quite dangerous in and of itself. It consisted of a 12 volt battery, two strands of wiring attached to the switch, a key that, when removed from the switch, rendered it inoperable and safe (theoretically), and positive and negative end wires leading to two very small brass alligator clips. These clips would be attached to each end of an ignition wire shoved up the tail end of the chemical propellent engine. When the whole very unreliable electronic apparatus was assembled correctly and the key was inserted, a red light on the switch showed a good connection and all one had to do was push the red button to ignite the engine and send the destructive craft to its destiny in the sky with its unwilling passenger(s). When I went through U.S. Army basic training I soon realized that the manufacturers of Estes ignition systems must also supply a similar system for the Claymore land mine. Only the best for our troops.

Five… Yes, in 1969 as elementary students, both Joe and I were forced to endure Walter Cronkite’s memorable commentary on the first live moon landing mission of Neil Armstrong and crew. Although it would inspire the three-mouse flight much later in our lives, Joe and I harbored doubts that the moon landing was real as it occurred on the black and white T.V. in our classroom. After all, Captain James T. Kirk didn’t need The Eagle to land on the moon, just a transporter beam and a space suit. So Cronkite’s tale was suspect.

Four… Although we still in general felt that girls were just boys that hit harder, puberty had recently set in with me. Every time I visited Joe I wished I could look upon the scraggly tomboy who lived next door named Lynn. Lynn could milk her father’s cows, shoot a BB gun and hold her own in a wrestling match, but one day when I was at Joe’s in his pool, she came over in a white bikini and changed my view of her and all womankind forever. We usually had playful tussles and splashing as we teased the female race, but as she and I both went for the beach ball at the same time and tugged at one another as usual, a sudden realization came to me. She was different. Her anatomy was blossoming. I didn’t know how to handle it, so I did what any red-blooded American boy would do. I made fun of her. Yet the crush continued to interrupt my scientific reasoning. The day of the launch, we had invited her and a friend to come watch. She seemed very interested, but it filled my mind with sensual ponderings unnamed as I wondered if she would come to look at my rocket.

Three… All three brave mouseonauts were chosen for their inability to escape us no matter how hard they tried. Joe’s dad was a blue collar worker who smoked cigars. Joe had one of his empty cigar boxes with holes forked in its top for air flow. A side note: Always fork the holes in the top of the box BEFORE astronauts are placed inside.

Two… Lynn and her cute friend showed up at the last moment, almost jarring my thoughts to the point of setting off the rocket in Joe’s face. Fortunately for his face (which already had too many red freckles on it), Joe noticed my error and with a little bit of loud irritated discussion put his scientific colleague back on track.

One… The rocket itself was a scale model of the Nazi V-2 rocket that terrorized the English populace in World War II. Supreme irony that both the United States and Estes brought it to this country to terrorize man and mouse alike. Even with three large engines, it was a big, lumbering craft, quite unlike the payload rockets I had built in the past. The payload section was the entire plastic nose cone, more than large enough to house three mouseonauts. I assured Lynn that they were perfectly safe in the part of the V-2 that normally housed the warhead.

Zero… My thumb pressed down on the red button that no President had pressed in all the modern history of the United States. Yet, the safety of the Free World was at stake. The Rushkies couldn’t be allowed to send up three mice before our illustrious nation.

Liftoff… The V-2 rocket finally ignited, and slowly, methodically, the pig of a missile went up, up, up, to about two or three hundred feet, pitiful for an Estes rocket. The engines discharged, which should have blown both the nose cone with our faithful travelers in it and its extra large parachute out. But there was a malfunction. The three engines did not eject the nose cone, and the V-2 plunged to the earth, reminding one of its role in the Blitz many years before. Lynn and her friend let out a gasp of terror as it fell to earth. Major Tom to Ground Control: We have a misfire, Houston.

Crash… The three brave mouseonauts did not survive. But, according to our meticulous notes, they evidently did not know what hit them, nor what they hit. All three back bones were instantly broken on impact, their short, but brave careers ended forever. The space race would never be the same again.

We buried them at the edge of Joe’s field with full military honors rivaling Mr. Spock’s ceremony in the Star Trek movie, but without the photon torpedo and without the Genesis effect and subsequent incomprehensible resurrection. Lynn attended, teary-eyed, and a ban on use of mouseonauts was instituted from that moment forward. A cinder block memorial was the only marker to show the tomb of the three brave souls that shall remain forever in the hearts and minds of boys, mice and men.

 

Eric M. Vogt

Copyright 2014

Bears and Aussies in the North Country and Other Reflections

Buddy, likely a direct descendant of the salty dog who once belonged to the Dread Pirate Roberts of PRINCESS BRIDE fame.

 

Looks like the weather is changing in the North Country. 60s and 70s for the next week. A couple of rainy days but mostly dry. I was hoping we would skip mud season this year. Has happened once before since I moved here. Insects are out but no sign of the dreaded black flies yet. They’re worse than mosquitoes. Kind of like a gnat. Fly in clouds and get into your eyes, ears, nose and orifice known to man and woman. But they sting. Nasty little things that mostly die out when it dries up here.

 

My faithful dogs, Jack and Buddy, are right at this very minute outside guarding the trash can. Jack is a Pembroke Welsh Corgi. Like the Queen’s, before she had to put her last one to sleep. I am still in mourning over hers passing, and over the passing of Jack’s half-sister Sissy last year. Miss her terribly. Jack is a loyal guard dog. Don’t let his size fool you. Those muscular legs have taken him up MT Washington and MT Adams, the two tallest peaks in New England.

 

Haven’t seen signs of black bears yet up here but I’m sure they are out of hibernation now.  And they are HUNGRY when they first come out! Bird feeders should be brought in and trash not put outside until right before collection. Otherwise you are tempting the bears——and fate. If they find some food they will be back and back and back again.

I just don’t understand the people who own chickens up here. You have to lock down the coop like Fort Knox to keep the bears, weasels, coyotes, foxes and other hungry critters out of there. The woods is Definitely not the place for chickens!

Believe it or not, the people in town see more bears than we do in the country. The primary reasons? Open dumpsters. And bird feeders. And people who feed them like they’re pets.

Annually, we have bear hunting season up in the North Country to minimize over-population. But I think that, about this time of year, they should have bear-feeding human open season. Just to cull the herd. Sort of like Darwin’s Natural Selection season for Homo sapiens. All those who own chickens or have bird feeders out or garbage out or dumpsters wide open all week should be on the menu. And a week after it’s over we can start Those Humans Who Feed Deer season. I’ll have to bring that up at the next Town Meeting. Have to keep the human species sharper than the wild animal species, after all…

As you can probably sense, I really like wild animals and look at them as having their natural place in God’s Order in the woods. But I don’t much like the two-legged variety of wild animal, though. Which is why I live in the woods, away from those beer bellied predators (and I’m not referring to Big Foot—- he’s a good friend of mine who lives in a cabin down the road).

Speaking of mindless predators, trying to train Buddy, my crazy miniature Aussie, is kind of like trying to train someone in the early stages of Old-Timer’s (which I am in, by the way…). There are good days and bad days. You think they’ve got it today and by dinner they’ve forgotten it (does this sound like Your hubby, ladies?). Buddy has the hardest head known to dogdom. If I put a couple of fake horns on him we could have a bull fight. But it would be more like the running of the horned canines at Pamplona, I think.

I finally had to put a shock collar on Buddy to train him. I really prefer positive reinforcement. I truly do. But I had to when he wouldn’t respond to the most positive of reinforcement. Otherwise the peace of the wooded community would be affected. You see, Buddy watches Jack very closely for his bad traits. And does not emulate his good ones at all. Jack barks at squirrels. And runs after them, chasing them off the property and thus preventing them from chewing on the wiring under the cabin. One bad trait. One good trait. They even out.

However, Buddy sees this and in his Teflon coated cranium he says “I think I will bark all the time at Jack.” Then he ignores the squirrels and other varmints which should stay in the woods, not under the cabin. One bad trait——impressed in Buddy’s mind. One good trait——-totally ignored. That is, until the shock collar comes into play.

For example, now I hear Buddy yapping outside. I look. No bears. No squirrels. Just Buddy yapping at Jack. So I press the Warning Button on the collar’s controller.

The Warning Button has a picture of a little flashlight above it. I think it signifies that when an errant dog hears the collar’s loud beep, a light bulb should come on in the deviant canine’s hard-packed brain matter. It should tell the dog: “Hey! Whatever you are doing, stop doing it!”

It all could end at that Beep, but Buddy won’t let it. Now, I am a Master who has been highly influenced by baseball ever since the Amazing Mets won the World Series in 1969. It was an improbable, almost impossible, occurrence that happens once every few centuries in the baseball world. Almost as improbable as the premise that Buddy will stop his illicit activity on the First Beep. He’s just got too hard of a cranium for that.

I believe with all of my heart that this is because Australian Shepherds like Buddy are direct descendants of the dogs of the original criminals sentenced by the British Crown to spend the rest of their days on a big kangaroo-filled island halfway ‘cross the globe. They were kicked out of Britain because they were incorrigible. And their shepherding dogs were kicked out with them. For much the same reason. Since I have met Buddy, that is my Grand Theory of Aussie Butt-Headedness, and I’m sticking to it until a better hypothesis shows itself to the scientific world.

But back to baseball’s influence on shock collars and me. The First Beep is generally ignored totally by Buddy. Its purpose is to send a shot across the bow of the Australian Prison Barge. As this first pitch is thrown across Buddy’s home plate, the little umpire that Should be (but unfortunately isn’t) in his head yells “Strike One!”

However, as the inappropriate behavior continues despite the First Strike Beep, a Second Beep is initiated. The Second Beep’s signal to the canine brain is : “Yes, that First Beep was a shot across the bow. This is the Second and Final Warning. Stop it Now.”

In other words, “Strike Two!”

Inevitably, however, Buddy’s little criminal Australian cranium says “He’s just bluffing.” So he continues his game with the same tactic, namely, “Do What You Want To Do, because it’s A Dog’s Game, not a Human’s…”

The inevitability of Strike Three is a sure Law of the Aussie Universe, as sure as “Gravity Makes An Aussie See If He Can Survive a Jump Off A Hill”, or “Energy=Brain Matter times the Canine’s Butt-headedness Squared”, or “1+1+1=2”.

The button right below the Warning Button on the collar’s controller is signified by a bolt of lightning. It travels as fast as lightning, too. Above it on the top of the controller is a dial with tick marks, starting at 1 (an insignificant tingle) and ending at 10 (the bolt of lightning).

I have tried level 1, 2, 3 and on up. But the combination of thick fur, thick skin, and thick brain matter makes 1-9 ineffective on an Aussie such as Buddy. I believe he is the direct biological descendant of the original salty dog who belonged to the Dread Pirate Roberts, of Princess Bride fame. That’s my 2nd Theory of Aussie Hardheadedness, and I’m sticking to it. I’m about to have Buddy lick a swab to send in to Ancestry.com to prove it. I’ll let my readers know if the hypothesis is proven or not.

Anyway, after the Third and Final button push, it gives Buddy electroshock therapy which resets both his cranium and his disposition. If I had bought it on Amazon, I would have given it 5 Stars, and completely recommended it to all owners of criminal Aussie descendants.

I hope this exposition has revealed to you the low state which I have sunk to in the woods of the North Country of New Hampshire. I think that I, too, have contracted Old-Timers disease. I believe that I will undoubtedly have to order a shock collar for myself soon, to remind me where I left my car keys. And my car, for that matter. Will let you know how it all works out.

 

Eric M. Vogt

Copyright 2018