Gwen Keane, the author of “Charlie’s World” was born and raised here in the Northern Neck. When she retired and returned home in 2003, she began to writing professionally. She has been writing non-fiction for the Chesapeake Style and has a column called “One of Life’s Moments.” In 2011 she published her first book “Swan Wait” a story about the eight year relationship she and her husband shared with the Mute Swans at their home on Indian Creek. You can learn more about Gwen and her book at www.swanwait.com. Gwen, an avid animal lover, writes about pets and wild creatures. Her articles for Chesapeake Style can be read online at www.ChesapeakeStyle.com. Gwen, an active member in the Northern Neck Kennel Club since joining in 2004, is currently serving her 2nd term as club secretary. She also served as Vice President, Chairperson of Training, and board member.Several years ago Gwen attended a presentation on dog fighting given by the Westmoreland Animal Control Officer and a Virginia State Trooper. Gwen says she has never been able to forget the animal cruelty, and the discovery that it exists here in the Northern Neck. That learning experience inspired Gwen to write “Charlie’s World.”
By: Gwen Keane @ Our Virginia country side with open farmland, and marshes provide easy access to the Chesapeake Bay, targeting us for illegal sports and animal cruelty. People who live a darker life, who gamble, and are armed with drugs and weapons, travel our winding country roads, in search of dogfighting where the stakes are high.
He was just a simple country guy, someone who minded his own business and tried to grow a good crop each year. No longer was he a young man, but he knew when things weren’t right, like the son of his old neighbors who moved in next door five years ago, and tried to tell him he just wanted to enjoy a quiet private life in the country. He knew that boy was up to no good, but it wasn’t any of his business. So, he just ignored the fact his neighbor was someone who didn’t fit into the local community. One day a dark green car showed up in Mr. Gallant’s yard.
“Mr. Gallant, I’m Trooper James. That’s a nice dog you got here.”
“Yes um. This is Brownie. He keeps me company and we get along just fine.”
“Mr. Gallant, I was wondering if you know your neighbor Mr. Wills, or if you have noticed anything unusual going on at his place.”
“No Maam. Jimmy grew up here. He was a troubled boy who left home at a young age. He came back when he inherited his folks’ farm. They were good people. Don’t know how they got a son like Jimmy. He was always in trouble, but nothing really big that I know of. I go to bed at 7 every night and up at 4 every morning. So if there was anything going on, I wouldn’t know about it.”
It was something in her face, that made the old man want to help her.
“Mr. Gallent, I suggest you not mention to anyone that I have been here asking questions about Mr. Wills, because if there is anything illegal going on, drugs and weapons are involved. You just call me and don’t worry about wasting my time. We want all the information we can get.” She handed him a card with her phone number.
The old man forgot about that trooper lady. It was a hot summer, but now the weather had changed. Winter was almost here. It was late Saturday night when he realized his house was cold, and he had forgotten to fire up his wood stove. For some reason tonight, he was restless, so he didn’t mind crawling out of bed and getting some wood off the front porch, where he had stacked a new pile. Brownie, who slept next to his bed got up and followed. No sooner had he picked up the first slab of wood, when he noticed car lights. The car turned into his neighbor’s lane. And then there came another car and another car. The cars just kept coming. He went back inside, but wondered why there were so many cars going to his neighbors’ house so late late at night.
“Now boy you stay inside while I go and check on things.”
He walked out the kitchen door. It was after midnight, and all of the car lights had disappeared, but on the other side of the woods tall lights shined, like those you see on football fields. In the distance men’s voices echoed, and as they got louder, bellowing screams of dogs pierced the air, followed by gunshots. The old man remembered the visit from the trooper lady, and knew he must call her. He called after breakfast. She had remembered him, and said she’d come by later that morning.
She drove up in a pretty red car. He figured nobody would suspect this was the law at his house. They talked for a while. He told her everything.
“Mr. Gallant, why didn’t you call me last night and report what you had seen and heard?”
“Well, I figured it was so late, that it could just wait til morning.”
“Mr. Gallant. You could have been in danger. The people involved in dog fighting are big time gamblers and drug dealers. A lot of money and drugs are exchanged during dog fights. We have been suspicious of your neighbor for a long time. We have reason to believe he is involved in a dogfighting syndicate. They use internet and their own language to tell gamblers where the dogfights are going to take place. Usually the fights happen late on a Friday or Saturday night in a pit outside in an open area, or in someone’s basement. You see, the dogs are bred to fight. They starve them and then offer them small live creatures that are tied to a tree branch. This forces the starving dogs to jump and snap at the live bait. It makes them want to kill for the meat. After a dog injures or kills a dog during a fight, it is rewarded with meat. So, the behavior of killing is reinforced. The dog knows once it wins a fight, it will get fed. ”
The conversation just got to be too much for the old man. He told her he didn’t want to know any more. She asked him if some federal agents could come out to his house on Saturday night and do a stakeout. They would drive up his lane with their car lights out.
“Mr. Gallant, if you agree to help us, you need to put your lights out before dark. That is all you will have to do. The agents will investigate what is going on. We suspect there are dogs being kept close by, so an animal control officer will also come with the team of agents.”
The old man didn’t want to start any trouble, but he loved dogs, had dogs all his life, and if he thought Jimmy Wills was bringing harm to a dog, he wanted to help bring him down. Suppose old Brownie was being treated like that.
“Sure,” he said. “You bring your people back here Saturday night.”
She thanked him and said she would call later in the week to set up the time. After she left, the old man tried not to think about what had happened or may happen.
“Come on Brownie let’s go fix us some lunch.”
The winds blew hard that night against the young dog’s frail body as temperatures continued to drop. Cold weather was a new experience for Charlie, who had only known warm summer breezes and crisp autumn mornings. Overhead the geese squawked and a loud boom noise travelled through the air. Squawking geese had arrived a few weeks earlier, and although Charlie had not seen them land, like all dogs, he sensed their presence in the open field, beyond the woods, that separated him from the rest of the world. Charlie’s body quivered, not because of the wind or the cold, but because of the loud gun noise, and his loneliness. If his mother was with him, he would be calm like her, and then he too could ignore the scary sounds.
In the next county, twenty miles away, a family still grieved over the loss of their three year old American Pit Bull Terrier. Last spring she was stolen from their yard. She had been pregnant and was brought here, where Charlie was born.
Charlie, absent of his mother’s warmth listened to the strange noise in the big oak tree at the edge of the woods. Although it was too dark for him to see the owl, Charlie moved his ears, like a radar transmitter, each time he heard the serene h-o-o-t.
The bright sky tonight was filled with stars and a full moon that reminded Charlie of the lights that sometimes appeared in the distance. In the morning when the sun came up, he waited for the sound of footsteps rustling in the undergrowth, hoping the man who lived on the other side of the woods, would come and bring food. The growing young pup always wanted food and tonight was no exception. Charlie was hungry.
Next to the iron stake where Charlie was chained, there used to be another dog. The man called him “Big Dog.” Big Dog whimpered softly when he looked in Charlie’s direction. Charlie didn’t understand what this meant, but whenever he played and nipped his mother’s ears, Big Dog barked and growled at him. This made Charlie stop.
The man came and took Big Dog one afternoon and when he returned with him the next morning, Big Dog was covered in a blanket of wet blood. He lay in the dirt with his back to Charlie. The wounds continued to bleed, and by evening, the man and a stranger returned with a wagon. They threw the lifeless Big Dog in it and wheeled him away.
The next morning when the man came, he pulled up Charlie’s stake and moved him far away from the mother dog. The hungry pup watched the man, who held a paper bag in one hand. When he opened the bag, he pulled out a kitten by its’ tail. It screamed loudly and fought to be released while the man raised his arm above his head, and swung the kitten around until its’ neck broke. Then using his heavy boots, he stomped the dead kitten before he threw it over to the young pup. Charlie. While he looked down at Charlie, the man yelled, but Charlie had no idea what this human was saying.
“Don’t you want this? Don’t you crave this warm blood? Hey you---look at me. Either you eat this or you’ll have no food today. If you don’t like this fresh meat, then I’m going to make you into a “bait dog.”
His loud voice and swinging arms made Charlie fearful. After he left, the pup lowered his head to sniff the soft wet fur of the dead kitten. He had no food that day except for some dried leaves and sticks he found on the ground. Charlie lay at the edge of the woods listening to his mother’s anxious bark, while he watched the large red headed woodpecker on a dead tree trunk search for food..
That evening when the man returned, he said nothing as he pulled up Charlie’s stake, and moved him back to where the mother dog was chained. Then he filled the empty dog bowls with food he kept in the covered barrel near the woods. This same man, who took Big Dog away, came back this morning, and took Charlie’s mother. She turned and looked back at her pup as she was the dragged by a heavy chain across the field, and into the woods. Now alone, Charlie’s body continued to shake. Tonight the cars turned off the main road and travelled down Jimmy Will’s long lane. These slow moving cars, with their bright lights appeared and vanished quickly. The sound of human voices passed through the woods. To Charlie, this night was no different from other nights. Lots of humans came to the man’s house. Although Charlie never saw them, he smelled them.
Charlie sensed movement in the woods. Suddenly, more lights appeared. Charlie recalled there was a field on the other side of the woods he had walked in with his mother. There was a big hole there, and his mother had made sure he didn’t get too close. That hole smelled bad. It smelled like Big Dog, the day the man carried him away in the wagon.
The pup continued to sniff the night air, searching for his mother’s scent. Loud voices were heard after the boom sounds echoed through the trees. Charlie startled, raised a front paw, and then with both paws dug hard into the cold earth. It got quiet again, but not for long. Something was breaking through the heavy undergrowth in the woods. The pup heard the footsteps, and picked up the scent of a new human following a light.
As the light got closer, Charlie got up and wagged his tail. This new human, a rescuer, kneeled down slowly, and extended her hand to Charlie, who sniffed it, and responded with a gentle lick.
“Life will be better now” she told Charlie, as she replaced the weighted chain attached to his collar with a leash. The pup was picked up and cradled in her arms. Charlie had never been held by a human. He nuzzled his head against her chest. No longer was he shaking. This was the same feeling of comfort he had felt with his mother.
After the rescuer carried Charlie through the woods, they ended up at a truck parked near the big hole in the field. A group of humans joined them, and took turns scratching the young pup’s chin. The lights shined on the group of friendly faces, a new experience for Charlie, whose world had now changed.
The three of us have been friends for more than sixty years. We grew up in the same area. The strange thing is both of these individuals were my best friends, but never were friends with each other until the early 1990's when I introduced them.The three of us immediately clicked, there was no competition between us, only the desire to share what we had experienced in our adult lives and to be present for each other. We each brought something meaningful and wonderful to the relationship. And, that is how the trio relationship began.
In addition to several week-end jaunts and beach weeks, we also travelled to New Orleans together but never alone. In New Orleans there was a party of twelve people, including husbands. We celebrated our 50th birthdays. Gosh,can that have been so many years ago? It was a fun trip. We still talk about it and laugh at the things we saw and did. New Orleans is my soul city and I wanted to show it off to others, whom I knew could appreciate the city's charm.
For years my friend Bobbi has repeatedly reminded herself that although she married twice she still never got to honeymoon in Hawaii. Four years ago a friend gave my husband and me two weeks in her timeshare inKauai. I invited Bobbi and her husband to join us. We talked for months about the upcoming trip and then befoe it was time to go, he had heart problems. The doctor said the trip had to be cancelled. So again she never got to Kauai. I returned saying it was the most beautiful place I had ever been. I began to dream of the day when Icould take my friend Bobbi, as well as my other best friend Peg who also desired to vacation in Kauai.
Well, lucky us because the friend with the timeshare in Kauai offered it again. I immediately contacted Bobbi and Peg and thus the trip planning began. That was last July. It does get a little complicated since Bobbi lives in North Carolina and we will all three travel together, stay together the first week and then they will return home. I will remain there and be joined by my husband for the second week. Try putting together an agenda that covers all of this--- particularly the flight arrangements. After pouring through flight schedules and prices, the only decision I made was we will rent a red mustang convertible upon arrival. I also decided a one night stay over in San Francisco on the way out there would be beneficial to lessen the jet lag. I put together a tentative schedule and then I went to a travel agent. It is my hope this agent will be able to put everything together for us. The hard part is done---I provided suggestions and facts about dates and destinations!
Each of us has the assignment to decide what one special thing we want to do while in Kauai. Peg has told me she wants to take the helicopter ride. I did not have the heart to say I am contemplating something a bit more relaxing, like a spa day at the Grand Hyatt. Bobbi hasn't planned that far ahead. She just prays each day she will be able to go with us.
So when will all of this happen? August 16th. Lots to do and decisions to make between now and then. And, o f course, there will be memories we create, that we talk about for the next twenty years. After that who knows, we may be planning another jaunt, or we may just have to survive with memories of the past, sometimes thinking it is all happening in the present. Oh well, can it get any better than that?
Mama says "Yes" and I go up the road with Daddy. What a special day! I am dressed for the occasion in my Roy Rogeers cowgirl dress, a Davey Crockett raccon hat and the red cowboy boots Daddy gave me on my 5th birthday.
Eager to go, I climb into the front seat of Daddy's 1950 blue Buick, and settle in, surrounded by stale cigarette smoke, and other lifeless odors. Loud noises emerge from under the car hood. The revved up engine is an indicator of Daddy's impatience. I am slow to close the car door.
"Now honey, our first stop is the Log Cabin and I want you to promise your old Daddy that you will not go home and tell your Mama where I took you today."
"No Daddy, I won't tell."
Daddy, who always likes to drive fast, approaches each curve with one foot pressed hard to the gas pedal, while he puffs on his cagarette and rests his arm on the open window sill, while clutching the steering wheel with his other hand.
Seated next to him on the passenger side, I begin to slide back and forth, in motion with the car as it bounces in and out of the deep pot holes in the dirt parking lot we have just entered. This is fun. I feel like I am on a carnival ride.
I now know we are at the Log Cabin and I can hear Grandma say, "No one of good raising goes to that Log Cabin. It's nothing but a "joint." Daddy, who did have "good raising," never listens to Grandma, or anyone else. He is his own person and what others think or expect doesn't bother him at all.
Inside the Log Cabin under the shadow of a bright green medal hanging light is a pool table. Across the back wall a long bar welcomes us. In front of the bar are chrome barstools, with red vinyl covers. I touch one and make it spin.
"Come on girl. Get up here."
Now I can see Mr. Winstead, the "joint" owner, leaning over from behind the bar.
"Whatcha gonna have Paul?
"Oh give me a beer and go easy on the head."
"And how about your little girl here. Whatcha want to get for her?
"Ah hell, give her a cup of coffee, but make sure it has lots of sugar and cream.
Mr. Winstead smiles and begins to fill the order.
Bored, I start to twirl around on the stool, and kick the toes of my new red boots against the front of the bar.
I listen to Mr. Winstead talk---Something about bad weather and how it hurts fishing. How could bad weather hurt fishing? I fished in the rain with my Grandparents on Sunday, and we caught lots of spot and flounder.
When Daddy finishes his beer, he gets down off the stool.
"Come on girl. We've got places to go and people to see."
Once we are outside of town, Daddy turns off the main road, and speeds down a long dirt lane that takes us to what looks like an abandoned house. When the car stops, I notice the chickens in the yard and know this must be where that Aunt Janie lives. Daddy had said he was taking me to see her but I am not sure who "Aunt Janie" is, because neither Grandma, nor Mama ever spoke of an Aunt Janie.
Daddy opens his car door, and shouts for me to come with him. I hesitate when I see that big rooster but decide to just follow Daddy, who bravely walks right past all those chickens and the rooster.
The front door opens slowly and a black woman's head peeps out. We walk towards the house. I hear her say, "Come in here Paul. Come in and bring that youngun with you."
Once inside, I can see that the old woman leaning against a stick, is bent over. There is a rag wrapped around her head and she is smoking something that looks like a corncob.
"No. I decide it must be a pipe."
"Aunt Janie, this is little Gwen."
"Lordy, Lordy Paul. Ain't she a pretty thing? Just look at those big brown eyes. Come here child. Come let Aunt Janie give you a good look."
I am slow to leave my Daddy's side, but choose to walk towards the old black woman dressed in layers of tattered clothing. Once I am close, I see her shoes are a pair of men's work boots, minus shoelaces. Aunt Janie looks down at me and grabs my shoulder. "My sight ain't too good youngun. I knows you was pretty because your Mama is a pretty thing. God knows you don't take after this hard headed rascal."
With money in hand, Daddy walks towards us. Aunt Janie releases my shoulder and reaches for the paper money. She closes her fingers and forms a tight fist.
"Come on youngin. I got somethin here to show you."
I follow the old woman into her bedroom and as I stand at the foot of her bed, she lifts the mattress corner and stuffs the money into a hole. "Youngin, this here is my secret place where nobody can get my money. It's safe here because I can watch it and sleep on it."
Daddy, who was left in the hallway, now hollows, "What are you two doing back there? Come on Aunt Janie. I don't have all day."
Aunt Janie pats my head and gently strokes the fur on my raccon hat.
"We need to go now and don't you let Aunt Janie down and go tell nobody about my hiding spot."
Daddy and I follow Aunt Janie, as she leads us through a dark entrance to the cellar. On the last step I jump off, and land on a dirt floor. Aunt Janie has found the table in the middle of the room and lights the oil lamp. The lamp make her wrinkled face glow and like a scene from a scary movie, she looks over at us and says "Sit down, sit down." After we are seated, Daddy and I wait for Aunt Janie to come in with three glasses she has removed from a corner cupboard. On her second trip she brings two jugs.
"Oh youngin, I have got somethin good here for you. This here is my homemade peach brandy. It's soooo good it makes you want to crow like that damn old rooster out yonder." I watch Aunt Janie's long bony fingers pick up a jug and pour brandy into a glass. I accept her offer and lift the glass to my lips. It smells good. "Peaches, I love peaches." Then I taste it.
"What you think youngin? You like old Aunt Janie's drink?" I nod. "Yes, ma'm." Aunt Janie chuckles as she pours a drink from the other jug and gives it jto Daddy. Afterwards, she pours herself a glass of peach brandy. Daddy, who wastes no time in emptying his glass, decides it is now time for us to go. We climb the cellar stairs followed by Aunt Janie who stops at the front door and leans against her cane. We leave and get in the car. Daddy turns on the engine.
"Hold on baby. You gonna see some chickens fly."
I watch him throw the gear into reverse, and slam his boot on the brake as he then shifts the gear into first and speeds off, with no attention paid to the frightened chickens that try to move away from the speeding car. I turn and look back. Aunt Janie is still standing at the door. She stomps her feet, and bends over in laughter. Then she waves goodbye to the rising dust.
After we leave Aunt Janie's, Daddy turns onto Route 200. We stop in at Walter Harris' house, where Mr. Walter, as I was taught to call my elders, is in the yard with his old workhorse, Sadie.
"Hey Paul. What you been up to?"
Daddy begins to answer when Mr. Walter's wife, Miss Fidelia, appears at the back door.
"You all come on in."
"Let's go baby. Fidelia hasn't seen you in a long time."
Mr. Walter tells us to go on while he puts Sadie away.
I follow Daddy.
Miss Fidelia, who has been cooking, is at the open door and begins to wipe away the sweat from her forehead, using the bottom corner of her apron.
"My goodness Paul, this here youngin has grown. And look at those fancy red cowboy boots and that raccon hat. Ain't them somethin else? Now Paul, you shouldn't keep this youngin away so long. How you been Paul?
"Oh Fidelia, I've been fine, but right now I sure could use a cold beer and some of your piano playing."
"Ok. Just give me a minute."
Miss Fidelia dissappears into the kitchen and returns with a beer for daddy, and a sweetened iced tea for me. On the far side of the room, in front of the picture window, is a piano. When the large black woman steps towards the piano, the floor vibrates. At the piano bench she sits with her butt hanging over the edge and when she starts to pound that keyboard, I soon forget the weakened floor that might swallow up this gigantic jolly woman. These are the happiest sounds I have ever heard. Mr. Walter, then joins us on the sofa. Our legs flop, and our toes tap, as we try to keep up with Miss Fidelia's music. When the music stops, Daddy dutifully announces it is time for us to go.
On the way home Daddy doesn't drive fast, nor does he seem to be in a hurry to return me to Mama. When the car stops, I jump out, running towards the house and I yell, "Mama, Mama, you'll never guess where Daddy took me today."
NOTE: This is an excerpt from my the book I am writing entitled "Local Color" ----days spent growing up here in the Northern Neck1950's-1970's.
WHY SWAN WAIT?
August 18, 2011
The preview copies of my book "Swan Wait" have arrived. It's quite a feeling of accomplishment to look at something that was five years in the making. As I say in the book, when I grew up here in the Northern Neck we had no swans. Swans were something you saw in movies. The first day the three swans swam into our creek, the moment seemed mystical. Frankly, I could hardly believe my eyes. And when they responded to my call, I forgot I was a human being interacting with wildlife. I didn't feel threatened when they came to our dock. I felt privileged and anxious to understand these creatures.
Today I am absent of swans, yet, I continue to wait. One day they will return but I am not sure what that will mean. When the swans began coming to our home, our life was peaceful and enoyable. The presence of the swans made us more aware of the surrounding beauty and solitude. We are pet lovers and in 2004 we adopted a throw away pup, that turned out to be a Northern Neck Black dog we named Augie. The pup was with us 24/7 and was raised with our cats, our Maltese Isadora and our old declining Shit-shu Gus. Yes life was fabulous and we were settling in to the place I'd always called home. We had retired and left the busy hassles of city life in Washington, D.C. We ended careers and relocated to rural Viginina, here in the Northern Neck. We built our dream home on the water and began to settle in to our new life. Augie was my husband's dog and they went on daily long walks. Our home is in a development but each owner has more than an acre of land. We have almost four acres. Yes, we truly felt like we were living in the country. And then, on the property line that borders our development, a young man moved into his grandparent's fishing cabin. He had spent most of his childhood on that land and our land too----when it was a farm and used freely by anyone who wanted to hunt. The young man also enjoyed fishing. He had the tendency to create large wakes with his boat when he left the creek. Surges washed against our dock and banks. We asked him several times to slow down and each time he became more angry and threatening. So we made it a point to stay clear of this person. Yet, when my husband had Augie out on long walks he sometimes saw this fellow---walking up the road, dressed in camo and carrying a weapon. Three weeks before Augie's death, my husband was on a walk with Augie and they saw this fellow on the other side of the road. My husband asked if Augie could come over to him and meet him. He said yes. Augie went over to him and got petted. In all honesty, because I knew this fellow had a temper and an attraction to guns, I felt threatened. I tried not to think about it, but that was impossible because he openly walked the road with a gun and hour after hour shot 200 yards from our property, creating the noise made by bullets as they vibrate off an old washing machine.
On a spring morning I left my house with Isadora to go to town to pick flowers for a garden club show. As I left the house Augie wanted to go with us. I said "No boy. You stay here because your Daddy is going to take you for a walk." I went to town and as I headed back home, I saw my husband speeding through town. I stopped. He back up and yelled "Augie's been shot. Call the vet and let them know Im on my way." That morning my husband had Augie out with him in our field. He was checking the grass to see if it was dry enough to mow. Augie saw something move in the bushes and ran over to investigate. My husband heard the shot and a second shot. He ran towards the noise and saw the fellow standing there with a pistol in one hand and his cell phone in the other. Augie had run and lay dying on our bank. Augie died at the vet's. His chest had exploded from the gun shot. The rest of the events and our fight to get the law clarified so that other pet owners will not suffer as we have is another story.
I have had years of nightmares, depression, and grieved over the loss of Augie. I have lost pets before and after, but it's different when someone intentionly kills your innocent annimal and you know badly it suffered. Here was a dog that thought this person was a friend and his friend betrayed him. Why? The only reasonable explanation I have come up with is this fellow hates us enough to have planned Augie's death because hewanted us to stop asking him to act responsibly on the water. Augie was 16 months old. He was a dog that anyone who met him immediately liked. The day I saw him when he had been abandoned and I decided to bring him home, I knew he was a special dog but I didn't know how my decision would impact our lives forever. His loss continues to tug at my heart.
The swans continued to come after Augie was killed. Our relationship grew stronger. I had a new focus---the swans. I also worried that they would be shot and killed too. I felt total fear when I stepped from my door. Yet seeing the swans in the creek made me go outside. The swans coached me through years of shedding unhappiness and grief. I owe my healing process to our swan experience. They are creatures of intelligence as well as beauty. They are wild and although we had an intense relationship, where I knew they understood me and wanted to comfort me, I always knew they would never become tame. And that is how "Swan Wait" was born. My sadness was attacked by creatures in the wild----the Mute Swans I now call "The Come Here Swans."
My introduction to wild animals happened early in my life. I had seen raccoons around my Grandfathers seafood plant. Sometimes I walked underneath the plant that was built up on pilings. Oyster shells covered the surface and way back in the darkness a set of eyes looked back at me. I knew they belonged to raccoons. I told my Daddy I would like to have a pet raccoon. One day he called me to come down on the shore. I do not know how Daddy had gotten the small raccoon in the crabpot but there he sat. I looked at those almost human like paws and the destressed look on his face. He was frightened. He was not injured. It was not an orphan. This raccoon had been raised to live in the wild. My Daddy had wanted to please me, to give me the gift I had asked for. But, instinctively I knew this was wrong. "Daddy, let him go. He's not mine to keep." And, Daddy did so. I wonder if Daddy ever intended to allow me to keep the raccoon. Maybe he knew me well enough to challenge what I had been taught. If an animal is not hurt, hungry, or abandoned, then it must stay in its habitat. I am a human. The animal is not. Sometimes its hard to ignore an opportunity to capture a creatue. However, its a necessary part of living with nature. My role is that of observer. I can no longer visit zoos because the idea of keeping something in captivity bothers my soul. My father used to say if you love something enough you let be free. I think Daddy compared himself to an animal that should live freey.
I spent a lot of time with my Grandmother when I was a little girl. On Summer evenings we sat on the screened in porch. My Grandmother loved nature and all creatures. An adult skunk began to show up on our front yard at dusk. Soon she brought her four babies with her. Silently we watched the mother skunk and her young. One morning my grandmother told me something was wrong because the mother skunk was under the cherry tree and she did not see any babies. This was strange behavior because normally skunks do not come out in daylight. Grandma told me to stay on the porch while she went out to investigate. The mother skunk moved slowly away as Grandma approached her. Grandma knew there was a deep hole that held a water spiket close to where the mother skunk had been. She looked down into that hole. There lay the four baby skunks. Grandma yelled for me to bring a saucer of milk and white bread. I ran to where Grandma stood. She got down on the ground and reached her bare hand into the hole. Out she tossed one baby. My instructions were to dip their heads in the saucer of milk and bread. She kept tossing me the baby skunks. Finally we had all four and they were drinking from the saucer. We left and returned to the porch where we sat quietly and waited. The mother skunk had not gone far and she returned to her babies. She sniffed them and got them all lined up. Then she lead with all four following behind. Each time I see a skunk today I think back on what I learned from my Grandmother that day.
My love for the swans has never declined. Now I wonder if there will be a new love in my life. A friend called two days ago and said four baby mallard ducklings needed a home. He assured me I can just let them lose in the creek. But I wonder, can I? I am not sure the ducklings will be coming to me because he knew I was hesitant to take on another commitment. Yet I did agree. Years ago Jane Stouffer wrote an adorable book called Super Duck. She told the story of raising a tiny duckling until the day he flew off with a group of wild ducks. The similarity in that story and Swan Wait is these creatures belong to the wild. Four little ducks arriving here at the Grand Finale will result in me over cuddling and caring for them. In fact, I recall when we went on a trip to Denmark and saw duck houses in a pond. It was so cute! I said then I would like to have a duck house for some ducks. Well--------that just might happen. Gwen
Attending Iowa Writing Festival June 18-28th 2011
Looking forward to the Festival.