- Featured Stories
- Douglas County
- City of Ava
- General Interest
By River Stillwood
What a gift, these glorious autumn days. Each one mild and opalescent, strung together like pearls stretching from late September deep into October. I would package them up if I could. Wrap them in velvet and store them in an old tin behind the scarves in my dresser drawer. Then, when winter’s frigid grays grow old and spring is still beyond the horizon, I could pull them out and experience them all over again.
I love these days. The cool night air that softly swirls around me, sending me deeper into the blankets when I sleep. The clear mornings that break pink and then slowly melt into daytime like crystal frost slowly melting into grass. The afternoons so inviting that nothing – not chores, nor duties, nor fatigue – can keep me from venturing outside for at least a little while to spread my arms wide and breathe in the sunshine. And these evenings! These magnificent evenings! The moon glowing… The Milky Way sparkling… Stars skipping across the night sky like stones tossed by children…
I am ankle-deep in autumn and loving every minute of it.
These days are made for happiness. For laughter. For sheer unbridled outdoor fun. Just ask my dogs. The daze of summer’s sweltering heat has lifted. The allure of all-day naps in well-dug dustbowls has disappeared. With every degree of temperature drop, the dogs’ energy rises. Instead of sleeping, they now want to get up and move. They want to play tug-of-war and run through the grass and chase squirrels and splash in the muddy branch. A tall order, considering there are five of them and they range in age from two and half to eleven and differ in size from about ten pounds to ninety.
Snippet is the smallest and the youngest. She’s a little rat terrier. Of all the dogs, she is the most energetic. And the clingiest. She spent the first four months of her life in a cage and didn’t have human contact until I adopted her at a craft festival from a box marked “FREE!” Since then, she’s been my constant companion. My black and white shadow. Or Bert’s. When I was sick, Bert Scherer took care of her for me. Delightfully, Snippet considers us both “Mom.”
At eighteen pounds and five-years old, Blink is the next largest and oldest. She’s my basset-beagle mix. She’s long and short and has thick bones like a basset, but her red and white coat, ears and love of the hunt are all beagle. She, too, was a rescue dog, but whereas Snippet is shy, Blink grew up with a healthy sense of agency and independence. Of all the dogs, she’s the only one who will gladly trot away to hunt on her own.
The next biggest is Lily. She’s seven-years old and about fifty pounds. From the shoulders down, she all black lab, lean and muscular, but from the neck up she’s looks just like a blue tick hound. I didn’t get Lily until she was about six months old. By then, she’d been horribly abused. She shied away and urinated if I raised my hand too quickly or startled her. It took three years for her to really trust me. Then I got sick and had to leave her with Bert and Dean. I’ve only recently gotten her back and she’s only now really trusting me again. Like Blink, she loves to hunt. But unlike her pack sister, she won’t hunt alone. Not for long, any way, and not alone.
The largest of the bunch is Nikita. He’s a big guy and the oldest. His spotted tongue and curled tail show his Chow heritage while his beautiful golden coat tell of his retriever’s ancestry. He’s the only dog I’ve ever known who was truly reserved. As a puppy it took him a long time to warm up to others. Even now, he’s stand-offish around strangers, human and canine. Still, once he gets to know you and like you, he’ll be your friend for life.
Buddy is visiting us right now while his dad, a good friend and talented young man, settles into a new home and job on the East Coast. We’re lucky to have Buddy. He’s a great dog! Warm, friendly, agreeable. He loves to play and to be close, yet happily ventures out to see who’s coming up the lane or what the cows are doing. He’s sensitive and was more than willing to give Nikita all the space he needed until they got to know each other. Now their bosom buddies.
For the first week or two of autumn, I tried to satisfy the dogs’ increasing desire for exercise by walking them down the lane, past the old barn, and back again. Not all five of them together. Healthy as I am, I still haven’t regained that level of strength. Instead, I’d start out with Snippet, Buddy, and Lily, then bring them home and head off again with Snippet, Nikita, and Blink. (Snippet has more than enough energy to go twice).
That worked really well. For about ten days. Then, they wanted more. More speed. More distance. More exploration. I tried to give it to them. I walked faster, farther, down new trails, into the lower pastures. But, by the end of the second week, I was worn out. I just couldn’t go fast enough, far enough to wear them out.
That’s when I discovered the Mule. The Kawasaki Mule. What a thing of beauty! Of fun! Of joy! Oh my goodness!
The Mule is like an ATV four-wheeler, only it has a bench seat and a pick-up back. It’s small and gas powered and can hit a top speed of twenty-five miles per hour – even when fully loaded with one homesteader and five dogs. Really!
The first time I climbed on it and started the engine, I had visions of the dogs jogging happily alongside while I puttered down the lane, then up into the pastures and down the hillside back to the farmhouse again. Which is exactly what happened for the first quarter mile or so. Then Buddy suddenly leaped into the Mule. Not into the back, but onto the seat beside me. He wasn’t worn out. He just wanted to ride. Before I could come to a complete stop, he’d seated himself and was ready to go.
Next to jump in was Snippet. She made it about a half-mile then, while running slower and slower, began looking mournfully at me. I stopped the Mule and she climbed into my lap.
Then came Blink. I must say, I was amazed she made it as far as she did: all the way up to the top pasture, then to the back pasture, and almost to the gate into the south pasture. By then, her tongue was hanging out and her quick run had become a trot and her trot was quickly becoming a fast walk. I had to stop twice before she was willing to get into the Mule, but finally, she did, squeezing in front of Snippet so she could stand on my legs.
A few minutes later, at the farthest corner of that pasture, Nikita threw in the towel and, with the aid of a rotting stump, climbed happily, wearily in the back.
The last to give out was Lily. She’s a runner. Always has been. But, when I reached the top of the long slope down to the lane, even she was worn out. As soon as I stopped, she leapt into the back, clearly happy to try riding for awhile.
And so, there we were, at the crest of the long slope down to the bottom of the holler. All six of us in the Mule. Me in the front, with Snippet in my lap, Blink on my legs, Buddy at my side, and Nikita and Lily standing up in the back, each with their head thrust out.
I tapped the accelerator and the Mule started to role. Downhill. It gained speed. The wheels bumped and bounced. The Mule went faster. The dogs dug in their toenails, hung on. We gained more speed. My hair caught and the dogs’ ears flapped as a crisp wind hit our faces. The Mule went faster. We bounced and bumped. The grass blurred. Buddy barked. I clutched Snippet and Blink. We whizzed down the hillside. Flung walnuts out of our path. Snapped unseen twigs. We hit the small rise, one wheel spun then re-caught the ground. We hurled forward. The gold, scarlet, orange leaves bled into a wall of color to our side. My leg flew out of the Mule, then back in. Blink hung on. I started laughing. The faster we went, the more I laughed. It was hysterical, this thing we were doing. The speed. The dogs grinning into the wind. The magnificent autumn light.
Then the slope lessened. We slowed. I steered the Mule into a long swooping curve, then stopped. I looked at the dogs. They looked at me. Their eyes were bright. Their tales were wagging. Snippet barked once. Blink repositioned herself so that she had a more stable stance on my legs. Buddy licked my face. I glanced back. Lily and Nikita where still there, still thrusting their heads out. Snippet barked again.
With childlike glee I yelled, “Let’s do it again!” I hit the accelerator and we headed uphill.
Just about every afternoon now, I gather the dogs for a good run followed by several trips zipping down the long hillside. We’re like kids with a great big sled. We can’t get enough. I don’t know about them, but it’s been a long time since I’ve felt so carefree. What a surprise. What a joy. To be fifty and still thrilled with autumn. Still thrilled with the ride.
Does life get any better?