White Oak Mountain Ranger: Rhythms And Old Dogs

  • Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Of Flannery O’Conner, Roy Blount Jr. writes, “Sometimes I’ll just be sitting around thinking idly about final things and a line from one of her stories will pop into my head - - -“The monks of old slept in their coffins,” “Jesus thrown everything off balance,” “Shut up Bobby Lee, it’s no real pleasure in life" - - - and I’ll feel chastened, but better.”


When the timing belt on one’s circadian rhythm slips out of whack there’s not really a whole lot you seem to be able to do about it.

It takes a while to overcome this sort of mechanical nightmare. Search the web-o-sphere as you might, not even Amazon sells these kinds of replacement timing belts.


You never really can figure out why the timing belt decides to go bad when it goes bad. It just goes.


Maybe it’s another sign that the seasons are about to change. Time to sleep a little less in preparation for new early morning trips into some wilderness. Maybe it’s the moon or way too much aiming fluid. Suppose it’s the dreaded black dog of creeping old age. Maybe it’s the 89 year old neighbor’s cow-calf operation.


The neighbor doesn’t like to take his young bovines to the sale barn unless they’re weaned. He claims that a balling calf, complaining about the lack of his momma’s udder, no matter how good he looks, makes even a bunch of scraggly “Pen Hookers” nervous.


So, he separates the calves from the cows, which immediately sets off days worth of loud and long winded, sad sounding discussions between young orphans and old, tired mommas.


After years of trying to sleep through this sort of preparation for going to a new pasture, it’s pretty easy to pick up the nuances of the lonely calf’s conversation. “FEED ME! Momma I can hear you but I can’t see you!” comes across loud and clear on a cool August night, long before the sun slides over the mountain.


I suspect that the old cows are just trying to reassure the fat calf that It’s all going to be just fine.


But, somehow I’ve also deduced that the old cows are additionally saying under their breath, “Man I’m kinda glad that’s over with for a while.”


You have to wonder if all this cow talk is not all that dissimilar to the feelings Mothers discuss after sending their first born kids off to some far away college or kindergarten.


It’s not too difficult to think that you can decipher cow talk, but it definitely can affect your best sleep habits. Is it possible that unhappy calves can actually somehow damage the timing belt on sleep rhythms?


More research is definitely called for before this can be considered to be a scientifically appropriate hypothesis. The next batch of unhappy young bovines could potentially provide the answer. We’ll just have to wait and see. Maybe it’s the August moon. Maybe it’s Mother Earth tilting on her axis ever so slightly.


I find myself clutching a hot cup of yesterdays coffee, wondering about in the space where the garden has generally been cleared of the dying silver queen. Two handing the hot ceramic vessel soothes the stiff and aching knuckles damaged by yesterday’s chores.


The stalks of brown corn are stacked in what the kids call, ‘corn tepees’. They say that the tepees and the small gourds remind them that halloween is not far over the horizon. The okra is still blooming and it’s getting closer to time for disking the whole mess and plant sweet clover.


At the end of the garden, where the tough roots of the big hickory is beginning to drop nuts, I start to talk with the dogs. The bird dog stops with me, trying to pick up the scent in the dew left by a lucky squirrel that dropped the nuts from the high branches of the stately old monarch.


We both silently survey the spot where the bones of the other dogs lay. There’s a low, smoky haze over the pasture. The impending morning is eerily still and serene except for the gaggle of small birds warming up to search the dew covered world of bugs and seed.


There’s no markers here, no collars on the fence, no marker of any kind between the roots of the big hickory. It’s just their spot, the dog’s last home before travels on to the happy hunting grounds. Springers, Brittanys, a Griffon, a triple of good German dogs and one or two dogs that were just fine dogs. We were never exactly sure who their fathers were. Fine dogs who’s parents didn’t have much of a moral compass.


I talk to the dogs about things that make sense to you when you drift back to the time they were in their prime. A time when each dog did things that you never thought you’d see a dog do. I can still vividly see the spark in each one’s eye the day, that very glorious day, that they  performed feats that were just magic. Each one of those beautiful animals performed wondrous acts of magic for me. Magic that I probably didn’t really deserve.


Maybe it’s the lack of sleep from the damn cows, but I’m convinced we are all communicating again.


We laugh, smile, jump, twist, freeze and point like we’ve seen a dead snake there in the cool of the predawn garden, just beneath the big nut tree. I watch each one burst through the pasture, glad to be free to burst again. A piece of the moon shines on us while we’re standing there smiling.


I remember an old top 40 song there in the dampness and cool of the August garden watching the old dogs frolic; “Rooty toot toot for the moon. It’s the biggest star I’ve ever seen. It’s a pearl of wisdom, a slice of green cheese, burning just like kerosene.”


There is another similar spot that I occasionally frequent before the sun creeps over White Oak Mountain. I don’t find myself talking with the old horses as often as I probably should. They were fine animals too, but maybe our sporadic conversation is rooted in the fact that on more than one occasion I was a little worried that they might just decide to roll over me while I was still in the saddle.


I never held that against them. I just figured it was all part of being on the back of some huge animal that wasn’t really born to carry people around on their backs. In some strange way, that distorted logic may explain why we don’t talk as much as we really should.


In this part of the pasture our conversation is often a little more subdued and thoughtful. Maybe I’m thinking of the time one kicked my hat off my head when I was thinking of something else, and how I missed massive head trauma by less than a tenth of a whisker. Maybe it was my fault and I deserved to be decapitated for saddle usage. But, I never forgot how close we were that morning. I witnessed magic from the horses. They could do magic too. I just don’t know what it is about talking with them a little less often than I talk with the dogs. But, it is what it is.


Should we lament that we live longer than dogs and horses? Or should we find wealth in the dogs and horses that have so enriched our existence?


I know folks that gave up on dogs and horses after that favorite, “One-of-a-kind” was final. The loss of that family member was so intense that they decided ‘no more, can’t take it!’. My free advice was always, “Get back in the saddle. They’re all one-of-a-kind.”


These conversations in the garden always seem to be helpful when sleep depravation shows it’s ugly side. When the timing belt of old habits goes off kilter a little. Especially in the cool of an August morning, when the cool mist hangs low in the field, before the sun rises and the birds are beginning to stir hungry.


Like Mr. Blount says; “Maybe it’s the idle thinking about final things. I feel chastened. But better.”


WOMR Note: Apparently more than a few readers have also retained the services of a “camo closet” and they tell me that they have been recently rummaging desperately through their “best stuff” in their August garages. Tom from Hooverville, said he stumbled on a vintage box of Winchester 7-1/2s with a $3.75 price tag. He moaned that the cheapest of imitations are now on sale for $9.99 a box. He even did the math for us and that’s a tragic and almost evil 166% price increase! Maybe there’s an upside to inflation, maybe dove fields will all be a little less crowded opening day. That would be more than fine with me too.


Another long time and valued reader provided me with a kind and soft lesson in the use of spell checkers and word usage, which I truly appreciated. I never pegged a “leatherneck” to be as good an English teacher as he is a gentleman. He also gently pointed out that I misspelled his wife’s home town of Fyffe. Allow me to officially apologize to this Good Lady from Alabama again for my clumsiness at repeatedly failing English 101 on numerous occasions, early in my attempts at educational wanderings.


Keep the comments coming. I sincerely enjoy everyone’s thoughts and ideas on this stuff even when I mess it up.


As to my continued and confused battles with inappropriate English and attempts at thorough proofreading, It’s like Garrison Keillor says about Lake Wobegon’s motto; “It could be worse.”


Maybe it’s the aiming fluid.



Send comments to whiteoakmtnranger@gmail.com

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