Monday, December 21, 2009

The back hills of Alabama

Winter Solstice
December 21, 2009

Disclaimer: In the second half of this missive a conversation is relayed that may be upsetting to animal lovers.

From our camper nestled in the friendly southern forest of tall pines trees, I walked along the edge of this magnificent lake. My dog, Tina, and I were en route to the campground office to pay for another day and night of state park camping in these here mountains of Northern Alabama where many beautiful white tailed deer roam freely, seemingly unphased by noisy humans--and even kind of friendly.

The sudden squawking of a great blue heron startles me as it takes flight across the water from its perch on the frosty pier that we approach, maybe even annoyed by our sudden presence. Last night Keith and I heard the sound of loons and this morning for the first time we watched a whole flock of pileated woodpeckers. Some were pecking so laboriously on one particular pine tree that they sent hand-sized chunks of pine tree bark flying. These birds depend on dead trees for their livelihood, both for food and nesting. The park rangers were busy at work felling dead trees while admiring the birds with me. Go figure. One ranger told me he’d seen a bald eagle today and I told him that Keith saw one dip into the lake and return to flight with a fish in its beak.

I asked the ranger about the duck-like birds that hang in large flocks on the water and rarely fly. He told me they’re Kooches. At first I thought he was pulling my leg, and then he said, “If you see them look like they’re huddling together and flapping their wings, you can bet it was an eagle. Eagles will swoop right down and take one off for dinner”. (Must be a local name for those birds speckled on the lake’s horizon, ‘cus I could not find ‘em online!)

At the camp office, I looked for a pot scrubber, found a basic green one, and browsed over the various sundry camping supplies, picking out a little souvenir for my niece whom we will see this week. Back outside, the office lady came out to smoke a cigarette with a tall, plump young man who makes smoking look downright good. Tina, as she so often is, was the catalyst for friendly conversation.

“That’s a real pretty dog,” the lady said as she extinguished her cigarette with her fingers.

“Thank you. She’s a good girl, a real trooper for an old gal of 14 years. Made it up the mountain and back yesterday”, I volunteered.

“Mine is 16 and got attacked by a German Sheppard on Thanksgiving Day. She was hurt real bad. The dog had her whole head in her mouth and wouldn’t let go.”

“Oh my God, how awful. Is she okay?”

“Well, she sits by the fire and I have to carry her in and out of the house. And she drools all out the side of her mouth when she eats and drinks.” she said, gesturing towards her mouth with her hands.

“How traumatic for both of you.”

“Yeah, then I had to shoot the Shepherd—and I am an animal lover, mind you. But she had pups and killed two of ‘em and then tried to kill ‘em all. So after she near killed Beauty, I grabbed my daddy’s gun and went out back. It took a few bullets to bring her down and she just wouldn’t die, so my daughter brought her gun and shot a full round in her. I swear that dog had the devil in her. She just wouldn’t die! That was really hard. And I am an animal lover".

“Of course it was hard. I am so sorry. You did what you had to do.”

The young man interjected, “If she woulda told me, I woulda done it. She was my dog after all, but she weren’t right, that dog had somethin’ seriously wrong with it alright.”

This is when I told the woman about Rescue Remedy for both her and Beauty, pulling the little vial out of my purse to show her, explaining how it works the best I could. She was determined to get some from a health food store and try it. I talked a little about post partum depression and psychosis in people and how some dogs can get that too, but she still swore it was the devil in that dog.

I walked away imagining that poor beast’s pitiful death and her old dog’s stapled up head which just made me feel plum sad. I also left our chat with an odd respect for how some people take such life and death matters into their own hands. Too bad the lady didn’t think it through better and call on one of her park ranger buddies to handle the dog in a more humane way. Makes me wonder if it is legal to shoot your pets in this state 'cus you sure can't pull an "Old Yeller" in Massachusetts.

Nothing like a good mountain hike with cascading falls, a cave to explore and rocky streams to cross to clear my head of this memory that I put aside for this evening’s blog post. This shortest day of the year ends with a gorgeous sunset over Lake Gunterville and the fragrant smells of Keith’s cooking. As for Alabama, I knew the place had character and a dark past, but I had not known there was such beauty to behold. I should have known better—and now I do.

Speaking of the former, some fellow campers just drove in, circling our camper in a frenzy of loud jeeps and trucks, brandishing confederate flags, and making me grateful for the fair color of my skin. But as the campers settle in and their benevolent sounding laughter rises up with their camp fire, they play guitars, sing Led Zepplin songs, and thankfully not Lynyrd Synyrd, so I reckon I'll let 'em stay. ;) Now, that's the Christmas spirit, eh? Never-the-less, I am feeling particularly grateful for Neil Young and Martin Luther King, Jr. down here in Alabama. Here's an apropos song which I played for my sanity after the hunters rallied in with their flags:

May we all enjoy the returning of the light and the many longer days to come!



  1. and here's a stab at humoring the confederate flag:

  2. Mary,
    I'm so sorry you had to hear that from that woman. A bunch of years ago, I took in a Shepherd as a pup who had been abandoned and most likely abused.. I loved Sadie so much. But as she got older, she became more agressive. She killed a feral kitty I had gained its trust (it came into the yard) and Sadie killed it like a rag doll. Then one time she almost killed my Clem (dog). At that point, I could no longer trust that if she got loose, she wouldn't go after a kid. I had to make the decision to put her down. It was the hardest thing I ever did in my life. even my vet cried, but in my heart, I couldn't take anymore chances. I hope someday, Sadie will forgive me when we meet at the Rainbow Bridge.