Dogs (and Cats)

As a boy I had a springer spaniel- cocker spaniel mutt from the pound. I called him Freckles. We hiked everywhere together near Mill Valley where I lived. We rarely took the road to town. We would either follow the creek where the blackberries and wild plums grew, crossing over several times, or the trail above the road where the wild hazelnuts grew. One day at the Old Mill park, my friend and I (we were 8) were playing a “game” with some older boys that filled us with fear. We were tied to a tree and threatened with a whipping if we tried to escape. While they were gone, we got loose and quickly climbed a steep atrial ending at some prominent rocks overlooking the park. From here, we naively called own to our assailant’s friend, “Tell Steve we don’t want to play anymore!” His shout “Steve, they’re at the Lion’s Chair!” filled us with panic. We were in a place they knew well. “Let’s get our of here,” I shouted and started down the steep dirt track, missing the turn to the left and arriving a few feet ahead at the edge of a fifty-foot cliff.

Realizing my mistake, I started to turn, when my friend slipped, slid down the steep dirt, collided with me and pushed me off the edge. My last memory was grabbing a clump of grass which broke in my hand as I fainted and fell. I awoke lying on the ground, my dog’s paws on my chest, licking my face. Then I heard a man asking if I was alright. My dog had taken one look and jumped after me. We had both cleared the rocks and landed on tall pliant Scotch broom. Like a waiting parent, the broom had absorbed my fall and laid me gently on the ground with just a sore bump on my head. The man, a doctor, was driving through the park, when he looked up and saw me fall. He drove me home. The story made it into the small town paper. People would walk up to me and ask “Are you the boy who fell off the cliff?” My mom claimed that my appetite changed, from a small kid who ate like a bird, to a hearty growing appetite from that day on.

I’ve had two long haired black cats, both husky and muscular. Spooks, the first, used to follow me like a dog on my walks around the block. Instead of using the sidewalk, she would go through all the little yards, up and over the fences separating them, darting across the patios and through the flower beds. When I moved away from home, she moved in with Six-pack Pete, the retired fisherman who lived across the alley.

The second cat, Midnight, was born on my farm, the kitten we kept from Oats, our long-haired calico gopher hunter. Like her mother, Midnight was a farm famous gopher cat. I would massage her front legs and marvel at their muscular strength. Often, I would dig open a run and she would stake it out for hours, quietly waiting for her prize to appear. One day, though, she refused to come to the runs I was opening in the strawberry beds. Instead she was fixated on a spot in the adjacent field where no mounds showed at all. Finally, I came over, spade in hand, and opened a foot square hole in the scythed field. This was not easy – her body was filled with electric excitement – her paws right at the sharpened edge of the spade. Holding her back with one hand, I cleared the soil from the opening of a gopher run. She jumped into the hole, buried one arm clear to the shoulder down the tunnel, and pulled out a large gopher hooked with two claws. Quickly, chomping its neck with her teeth, she walked off to eat her prey.

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