Saturday, January 3, 2009

Dog rivalry

I took Yukon for a walk down the gravel town road behind my property a few days ago. A little ways down the street is a house on the south side of the road, with an open field of untouched snow directly across the road on the north side.

As we approached the house, a big yellow dog started howling. It was tied up, standing in the driveway in the below-zero morning cold. It quieted down a bit while we neared, and Yukon tentatively stepped toward it (though because it was tied up on private property, I wasn't going to let them meet up close).

Just as she stepped forward, the yellow dog launched a massive barking salvo. Yukon jumped back and skittered away down the road. Here is a file photo of Yukon running:

Well, the walk was an out-and-back, so we had to pass by the house again. Right as we got to the driveway, the yellow dog started barking again. Yukon stopped, looked at the tied-up dog, and then leaped out into the open field across the street, jumping and bounding in circles through the snow in full sight of the other dog. She jumped back over the snowbank into the street where I was waiting, and we continued on our way.

It kind of seemed like an "in-your-face" moment aimed at that other dog. Maybe there is some attitude to go along with Yukon's insatiable appetite.

Friday, January 2, 2009

My own mini-"Friday the 13th"

One of the things I like about going back home to West Bend to visit is that I know my family's land and the surrounding area well enough to walk it on a dark night without a flashlight. There is a plot of about 12 acres of woods I can traverse - on or off-trail - on a moonless night, and another several hundred acres surrounding it in which I know all the trails by heart. It's something I'm quite proud of - and it's something I'm working on at my home in Duluth.

Even with all that knowledge, though, there still is a sight that puts a tinge of fear into my mind:

It's a motion-sensor light atop a shed maybe an eighth of a mile from the house, at the far end of the yard, on the edge of the woods. Its purpose is to light the way if you need to get something out of the shed at night, but every so often when I'm home alone - and it happened again while I was visiting earlier this week - the light flicks on when I'm in the house.

"It's just a deer," I always tell myself. And there is a 99.9 percent chance it is just a deer that tripped the light. But there's always that one-tenth of one percent chance that it is a homicidal maniac skulking around the woods on a dark night, or a lone mountain lion waiting to pounce should I go out to investigate.

I was never a big fan of the Friday the 13th movies, and I've only seen bits and pieces of a few, but looking out the kitchen window and seeing those bare light bulbs flick on in the distance, when I'm home alone, on a pitch-black night.... it always makes me think of those films.

Thursday, January 1, 2009


I've read stories about Great Lakes shipwrecks in the 1800s in which the cargo from the doomed vessel washed ashore, providing a windfall of loot for people living in lakeside communities. As the stranded ship broke apart on a reef offshore, residents would gather on the beach to collect whatever boxes of cargo floated in on the waves.

I visited my hometown over the holidays and was reminded of incidents from my childhood that were kind of the same. I grew up on a rural highway that curved along the shore of a lake, with houses on one side and the lake on the other. The road proved difficult to navigate for someone not paying attention or driving impaired, and a few times some unfortunate sap ran off the highway.

The biggest "incident" happened one evening at dinner time. Our kitchen table was in front of a big patio door that looked out over our yard down to the road. If you were driving west near my house, the road curved a bit to the south (to the left). If you did not make the subtle curve and went straight ahead, off the road, our small "school bus stop" shelter was dead-center.

That's exactly what happened on this summer evening. I probably was 6 or 7. We heard a crash, looked out and saw a car crashed into the rock wall of our garden down by the road, with the shattered wood remnants of the school bus stop strewn on and about the car.

To make matters worse, for us kids at least, is that during summer vacation our school bus stop was used to store all of the inflatable swimming toys for use at the lake across the road.

My memories are a bit hazy, but I remember the whole family running down to the road to see the crash scene, the sheriff coming, etc. The guy was not injured, and had either fallen asleep or was drunk (again, hazy memory). What is clear in my memory, though, is that my brothers and I picked up all kinds of auto parts off the guy's car. We each had our own boxes where we put cool stones, deer antlers Italicand other stuff found in the yard - and to those we added tail lights, bits of grille, maybe a hubcap, etc. We were kind of like those Great Lakes settlers of the 1800s - this treasure trove of cool stuff had fallen into our laps, so we gathered up all the stuff we could get.

I'm not sure what happened to the bits and pieces of wreckage from that particular incident, but when I was home earlier this week I discovered, tucked away in a corner of my room, two other random pieces of cars I had collected around the same time:

On the left is a taillight from a circa-1978 Plymouth Volare that I picked up after some kind of car-jumping or monster truck event at the local Ford dealer. It was one of the wrecks that got crushed during the event, and afterward I scrounged around and picked up the taillight. Around the age of 6 or 7 or 8, I really liked Plymouth Volares because I thought the name sounded cool: Vo - lahr - eh. That may have been just about the only reason to like a Volare.

On the right is a burned-out headlight I snagged from our family's circa-1979 Plymouth Horizon. My dad commuted 60 miles a day in it for the better part of a decade, until it was replaced with a 1988 Dodge Shadow (which years later became my first car). One cold, snowy December night, we were due to visit my great-great aunt in Milwaukee, and our van was in the shop. So, our entire family of six crammed in the Horizon for the 30-mile drive to the big city. I think I sat on the center console between the two front seats. We survived to continue our scavenging ways.