Friday, December 19, 2008

Winter Games

"Use the light!", I tell myself. If you have outdoor errands in winter Alaska, It's best to plan if you want to avoid providing your own lumens. So I bundled, and went out with the dog, who has his own errands to attend to. His business seems to go much better if I can toss the frisbee a few times so he can lunge through eighteen inches of snow, snap the disc from the air, and charge back to ask if he can do it again... and again. After several throws, you can see it wash over him, his business. He gently sets the frisbee in the snow, then walks stiffly to his private place behind the spruce, and after a while emerges all waggly to bounce back to his frisbee. There have been times I wished he could throw the frisbee for me when my business was bound, but alas, he has no thumbs.
This day, we had a bit of snow, and I don't know where the frisbee is. He'll have to find it himself, because while he has no thumbs, his nose is terrific, and much closer to the ground than mine. He understands this and forgives my weaknesses as I forgive his, and starts the sweep search immediately. I'm not outside but a few seconds when I'm distracted by a gravelly screech from the wildlife tree. The day we moved into this house a LARGE bull moose was chewing on the scraggly willow that hangs over the woodpile just outside our dining room window. Since then, every squirrel, chickadee, and grosbeak that drops by, stops first at the 'wildlife' tree to scan, then funnels into the feeders or the garden. Today it was the Stellar Jays demanding a peanut. The jays in Valdez would eat from our hand, but these jays-of-the-hood aren't as talented at training humans. Now I know that somewhere in this house is a peanut stash for just such an occasion, but it is too well hidden for me. Joey's nose is busy, and I'm not letting the jays in to find it themselves. Yes, I looked in the bird seed drawer, but that would be the logical answer, which seldom works here. I did find some stale cashews (WHO buys cashews for wild birds??), tasted a couple, spit them out, and put a few on the splitting block while I renewed the peanut hunt inside. I finally picked a handful of peanuts out of our parrot's tin and started for the door.
I stopped though, because I didn't want to interrupt what was transpiring outside. The dog had found the frisbee (of course), and was carrying it folded like a snow packed taco . He was alert, body tensed, ears as perked as a flop-eared dog can get them, watching the jay. The jay was squawking, twostepping among the cashews, tossing his mohawk like a trash talking athlete. The cat was pressed to the window, chattering at the jay. The dog dropped his ears, turned his head away for an instant, glared out of the corner of his eye, and SPRUNG! The bird let him bound a couple of times and then effortlessly fluttered the six feet to a fence post. The dog snarled his most menacing snarl and shook his frisbee violently at the bird. The cat stood on his hind legs and pawed the window. "Ol' Stellar" just sat there, watching. When the dog seemed satisfied that his threat was communicated, he pranced away, watching over his shoulder. He didn't get far when the jay popped back onto stump and cocked his head. The dog froze. He turned slowly toward his mocker, and gently set the toy down. "Uh oh", I thought. This time his ears were flat, and he was focused, inching toward the deck and the better traction it provided for his lunge. The cat had settled with his paws tucked, black-eyed and still.
My dog is not a hunting dog, and I've never seen him do it before, but he pointed! Perfectly still in the classic pose, his paw lifted and tail straight, he waited until the jay turned sideways. Then the dog shot like lightning across the deck. He was much closer this time to getting a mouthful of blue feathers, but the bird on the fence was nonplussed. This time the dog hovered over the cashews and let one short indignant snort.
He turned away, took two nonchalant steps away from the stump, then wheeled back around as the bird was floating his direction. It was like a crocodile snap of jaws. The bird had almost lighted when the dog spun, but changed direction and narrowly averted a drooly death. This time, the bird flew well up the tree branch, and was visibly ruffled.
"Thats it!!", I yelled, even though I was the only English speaker present, "Game over!" I opened the door and called the dog, thinking how badly I'd feel if the bird got chomped or, worse, the dog took a beak in the eye and I earned a big vet bill. The cat, of course, wanted a turn and tried to sneak out the door, but his dash was blocked by my boot.
I would expect, like you probably do, that that would be the end of the story; but what happened next still has me wondering at the thinking capacity of critters. That bird flew down to the window in the closed slider where the dog had just entered, just inches from the glass, looking right past the panicky helpless cat like he didn't exist. I don't know if he was watching me watching him waiting for peanuts, or he was looking for the dog who was off on a different adventure, like searching for the bottom of the food bowl. What I do know is he stayed there until the cat let out a painful yowl and I opened the door again to serve up the second hand parrot peanuts. I placed them lightly on a foot of fluffy snow on the woodpile to see how he coped. He had no problem, settling into the powder like a duck on water, floating with his entire wings and body, plucking the peanuts and stashing them around the yard until they were all gone, then sqawking off into the forest by the river. I sat listening to him in the distance, then I wrote about it, and now it's dark and I've got to rig up a light if I'm to accomplish anything at all.

1 comment:

kkryno said...

That was really a remarkable encounter. I loved reading about it, and can just see Joey and The Smudgester working tandem (if we'd allow it!)

I just don't know what I'm going to do with all of you! All my training has gone out the window!