Friday, December 9, 2011

Maclovio & the Squirrel: A Saga

As Mother to a lifetime of rescued Fur Children, I’ve learned a certain tolerance and compassion. These poor creatures often come to me in pitiable state – thin, sad-eyed and love-starved and likely to dodge a proffered hand as if it held an incipient blow. One of my life’s joys is to watch as, over weeks or months, their defenses come down, their coats become glossy and they actually seek me out for strokes.

They can be trying, as any children can be. Just this very morning, I lay in bed before dawn listening to Sophie, the cat, up-chucking in the living room, below. What a great way to greet the day! But I wasn’t annoyed with Sophie; I simply warned myself to remember that there was a pile of unpleasantness down there and not to step in it when I descended. Because there’s very little else, except absolute catastrophe, that gets your day off to a worse start than stepping barefooted into cat vomit. (As it turned out, Sophia had judiciously deposited her offering on the stone hearth, missing the Persian carpet by three inches, an aim for which I was deeply grateful.)

So, it takes quite a bit for one of the kids to ruffle my feathers. And therein lies the tale, because our newest Child, Maclovio the Chihuahuense, managed to do so, last evening. I had just gotten home from a dream group and wanted to get a walk in, before sunset. So I threw on my ancient walking shoes and, still in my professional finery, off we went, with Maclovio prancing in the lead. We had a fine ramble to the top of the mountain and turned for home. Just a couple of hundred yards from the house, Mac spotted a squirrel and raced to the chase. Usually this is a short but exhilarating contest in which Mac runs to the base of the tree up which the squirrel has briskly disappeared, and barks. This squirrel did not bound for the closest tree trunk, however. In fact, it didn’t run at all, but rather scuttled close to the ground, giving Mac plenty of time to approach it.

I was immediately concerned that the squirrel might be rabid. It was a fat, healthy-looking creature with a full winter coat and a glorious plume of tail. Yet it clearly could barely walk, let alone climb. Maybe she was sick, or possibly pregnant and about to give birth. At any rate, she was not much smaller than Maclovio and she stood up to his advance with considerable ferocity, which brought him to a standstill. Nevertheless, before I could intervene, she had scuttled down the road bank into the brush, with Mac, his nose thrust at her like a rapier, in close pursuit. No amount of whistling and calling could dislodge Mac from what had clearly become an instantaneous monomania.

I was completely frustrated. The sun was approaching the western horizon and night falls swiftly, these brief evenings before the Winter Solstice. The brush into which the protagonists had disappeared is thick and so matted as to be almost impenetrable, and grows on a very steep slope. Yet it was becoming increasingly clear that, to save Maclovio from becoming Mac the Snack to any passing nocturnal carnivore, be it fox, coyote, bobcat or mountain lion, I would have to bravely go where no Fur Child Mother had ever gone before.

I began my rescue mission by descending to an old road that, almost completely overgrown with brush and overhung with branches, still offered a better approach than a direct downhill frontal assault. Bent double, I bobbed and wove my way around the shoulder of the hill to where the road dead ends, only a hundred yards, I surmised, from where my bold pet was facing off with the squirrel. From there, I headed diagonally uphill in a roughly south-easterly direction, using occasional sharp yips from Mac as my guidance system.

My troubles commenced immediately upon leaving the road. The slope is very steep and covered in Mountain Misery, a member of the rose family that grows ankle-deep and very dense, and is like trudging through an army of small, clutching hands. On top of this were sheaves of dry pine needles brought down by the Mono winds, just days before. The combination was much like walking on grease-on-a-slant. And with every slip and slither, I was menaced by dead manzanita, barbed with spiky, iron-hard branches like a ninja throwing star. Beneath the ground cover, my blind feet were also encountering other obstacles that rolled and tripped with every step, while, throughout, I was bent double, dodging overhanging branches.

My mood was rapidly descending from frustration to indignation, when I spotted him. Maclovio stood with all four legs spread wide, a stance of indomitable determination, his exophthalmic brown eyes riveted on what appeared to be a severed squirrel tail. “Oh no!” cried I. “You didn’t kill it, did you?” Mac paid me not the slightest heed, as I slogged as rapidly as possible up the hill in the failing light, expecting a blood bath. Only to discover that the squirrel’s tail was still nicely attached to its owner, who lay beneath the Mountain Misery, muttering in helpless aggravation.

In one swoop, I plucked Maclovio from his vigil and, tucking him into my left armpit like a football and uttering a brief apology to the squirrel, who stared at me with all the awe that should be accorded the epiphany of a rescuing, avenging goddess, I turned uphill toward home. I was only about a hundred yards below the road where this entire fiasco commenced but it felt like a mile. I slipped and slithered and backslid about halfway, until I met a solid wall of brush through which it was impossible to proceed in any fashion except on all fours – which were actually all threes, due to my grip on Maclovio.

It would probably be amusing to note my attire for this pursuit, it being composed of a hip-length black velvet shirt, clasped at the neck by an antique cameo the size of a small bar of soap, topped with a black faux-mink vest. My hair, because it is very curly, is always greedily claiming for itself, under the best of circumstances, bits of passing foliage. So I leave it to your imagination what it collected during that uphill crawl. Suffice it to say that, later that evening when I bent gratefully over my dinner plate, a small shower of leaves and twigs fell into my mashed potatoes.

Throughout our tortured ascent, Maclovio remained remarkably passive, although possibly he was suffering slight asphyxia from the clamp my elbow held on him. Finally, we arrived at the last barrier, the almost vertical road bank, 10 feet high and covered in Mountain Misery. By this time, frustration and indignation had given way to pure pique which has, I found, a marvelous propulsive power. I dug my feet into the dirt, gripped what I hoped was a substantial handful of undergrowth in my free hand and, snarling imprecations against all manner of unrelated people, places and things, clawed my way to the top. With one final, giant step, during which my knee was higher than my head, I pulled myself up onto the road bed and, without missing a beat, headed for home, my errant Child still tucked into my armpit.

I assure you, Army Rangers would be impressed by the terrain I navigated, last night. All that was missing, as I wormed my way through the thicket, was live ammo streaking over my head. And how many special forces maneuvers include packing along a live dog?

When we finally got home, and with Mac still tucked under my arm, I immediately blockaded the dog door. Just as I imagined, the minute his feet hit the floor, Mac was headed for his door, to return to the scene of glory. That squirrel was the biggest quarry he’d ever brought to ground and, by God, he was not going to let it go lightly. Frustrated in his attempts to get out, he spent the remaining evening uttering anguished little gurgles meant, I’m sure, to express how unfair, unkind and how utterly lacking in compassion David and I were, to deny him this ultimate pleasure.

At last, worn out by our exertions, we both headed for the third floor and bed. Now, Mac weighs only 13 pounds so it is a mystery how this delightful little dog can turn into an ingot of pure pig iron, just by closing his eyes. In sleep he magically assumes a specific gravity approaching that dense cosmic material one cubic centimeter of which, if placed on the surface of the earth, would pass right through it and out the other side. No amount of hip thrusts or full body rolls can dislodge him in the night and, once he has positioned himself, the blankets are immovably fixed until morning. David, who could sleep through the Apocalypse, is no help whatsoever. So I spent a restless night, half-uncovered, while they both snoozed blissfully the whole night through. When I finally did doze off, just before dawn, it was only to be almost immediately awakened by Sophia’s digestive upset.

This started out as a recommendation for rescued Fur Children. But then I diverged. Nevertheless, I stick by my original assertion: Fur Children are a joy. I’m not sure how that follows from the story I’ve just told you. You’ll have to work that part out for yourself, because I just spotted Maclovio pensively destroying David’s favorite pencil. Or maybe he’s starting his memoirs. Or writing a letter of complaint to the Humane Society. Anyway, I’ve got to go now. Have a joyful day!

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