Night Visitor

Last night, I took the dogs out for their final walk before bed. It was one of those winter nights when it’s so cold that the snow literally crackles and squeaks under your feet. There was no wind.

Our house is set among trees, and even though we have neighbors close at hand on either side, behind our backyard and across the road is nothing but woods. It’s wonderful to have the peace that comes with those woods as well as being able to drive five minutes and be on a main road, close to everything.

Anyway, we were outside, and I heard something running in the woods behind the house, its footsteps crunching on the dry twigs and leaves that cover the ground.

Ecko, who used to be a very timid dog, suddenly became very alert. His head went up, his tail went up, and he barked, then let loose with some of the most menacing growls I’ve ever heard come out of him. Kiefer just stood there.

The thing in the woods didn’t exactly run away, but it did run to a different spot among the trees. It was still outside our yard’s back fence, but it was definitely somewhere Ecko could either see clearly or he had its scent.

Growing up on a farm, I spent a lot of time outdoors, running around with my brothers and sisters and our animals, which were mostly goats. Hide-and-seek was one of our favorite games, and I became very good at picking out footsteps in the leaves because it meant I was about to be found or, if I was “It,” I was about to do the finding.

I learned to tell two-legged kids’ footsteps apart from four-legged kids’ steps; there’s a different rhythm and pattern. The creature in the woods tonight was definitely four-legged, and it sounded too heavy to be a coyote or other kind of dog. It had the same hoofy trot that an adult goat has, so I figure it was a deer.

Ecko stayed interested for a while, but he and kiefer finally did their peeing and we all went back inside. I wasn’t frightened by what I heard, but for the next half hour or so, I was very alert to every creak and crack of our house settling into the bitterness of a winter night.

And this morning, on our first walk of the day, there was no sign from Ecko that anything was amiss.

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2 Comments on “Night Visitor”

  1. ombudsben Says:

    PBS has re-broadcast a very good show recently on the evolution of dogs. They begin my describing the various skills a wolf employs in finding food: tracking prey, spotting it, pursuing it, catching it and making the kill. They then explained the genetics of this, and how over thousands of years as dogs have lived with us some of these traits are “turned off” by not breeding dogs that have them, while humans select for others.

    For instance, a pointer is wanted for spotting, but not pursuit.
    A retreiver nees to pursue, but not to kill and consume (it would take the hunters’ meal). So the desired traits are selected in retrievers.

    It was well done, giving various examples, especially herding dogs. Several years ago we went to a Scottish games festival and were very impressed by watching the herding dogs work a group of sheep. Full advantage is taken of thse dogs’ desire to pursue and control their prey, yet the desire to catch and kill is gone.

    I’m glad Ecko and Kiefer have enough wolf left in them to look out for you–and you’re probably glad they aren’t bringing home any prey!

  2. halfnotes Says:

    Ombudsben,

    Yes, I definitely am! Kiefer is kind of a German shepherd in a Lab’s body. He’s the one that usually makes the most noise when people knock or ring our doorbell. Ecko used to never bark, but he’s learning. Now, he’ll lay at the top of our stairs and look down where he can see out our front door. He can see when anyone’s car pulls up, and he’ll let loose with one big bark. If I go to the door, he’ll quiet down. But if I don’t, he’ll keep sounding the alarm.

    And as for prey, Ecko brought a toad in once. He’ls lucky it didn’t make him sick! Some of them are really toxic to dogs. He’d really love to catch our resident rabbit or chipmunks or moles, but so far, all he’s managed to do is scare them away and dig up our tulips.


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