Travel with me — to places unknown — on a path of words and imagination.
Zoe, the Happy Hunter
The day is full of delightful smells. Old leaves rotting beneath layers of snow melt and the warm whiff of morning air that blows across the pine needle duff under the sun. I plunge my snoot into the brush again and again, inhaling the delectable aperitif in short, swift snorts. But the best scents are those pungent ones that linger on the brittle winter grasses along the path, the odor of an animal that has passed by.
I trot leisurely along a trail through ponderosa and juniper, vanilla and mint aromas, part of the old familiar. Past the heavy chain that marks a private estate along the ridge, I can hear the rushing water of the creek and the roar of car motors along the canyon road below.
This route is my favorite walk, beyond the residential edge of the neighborhood, where people and other dogs rarely venture. It’s the home of deer, fox and rabbit, bear, coyote, and mountain lion, and my nose eagerly picks up all the traces. The trail runs straight for a time, then turns a sharp corner and heads into the woods, where dark shadows hang, along with the moist remains of the previous night’s hunt.
The path has been tamped down over the years by the daily passage of mule deer, whose hooves slice into the melt and mud like cookie cutters. Each hoof print an enticing fragrance of vanished ghosts, and I follow, nose to the ground, paws patting a rhythm from one sweet scent to the next. Suddenly the hoof marks disappear over the edge and down the mountainside. I stop and stare into the direction they’ve gone, held back by the leash that ties me to my Mom.
It’s a fact of life I’ve come to accept in the passing years. As a rescue dog, I came to her as a young pup with a wild and aggressive nature. I gave up freedom to roam for the security of kibble, treats, and love, unknown pleasures in my abused puppyhood. I found my forever parents, an older couple with time and patience for me; now I’m well cared for and content. On days we go to the big meadow, Mom usually unclips my leash and lets me run and search the ground for the burrows of voles, chipmunks, and mice.
Today we’re stopping at the meadow. Are we going home already? I’ll know what’s happening by sniffing the pants she changes into. She has her soft “at home” pants that smell faintly of laundry soap and left-over people food. The others are “leaving” pants, when she’s going out somewhere. Of course, I recognize her “walking” pants, the dirty jeans she wears with an old sweatshirt – she’s wearing them now.
Oh Happy Day, our walk continues, and where the trail splits she turns up hill, a route we rarely take. I’m overjoyed with the new path, trotting happily through the dry grass in a field made by downed trees. Stumps dot the hillside and I thrust my snoot through the matted grass and dig a few exploratory pawfuls of soft earth, throwing my head up, inhaling with a snort – catching a whiff of rodent!
Mom jerks my leash, and after losing that scent I reluctantly follow. There are always new smells to tempt me, more stumps to discover, while the tall grass tickles my nose.
Again I stiffen to a halt. Like a statue with all senses alert, I prick my ears toward the ground in front of me, wrinkle my nose inhaling the scent, and sink my toe nails into the earth like little garden forks. My body lengthens into a predator crouch, my muzzle snakes into a mound of grass. I pounce with a cat’s agility and speed, grasp a small wiggling life form with my teeth and clamp my mouth around it.
Mom cries, “Noooo,” and I glance sideways at her but keep my teeth clinched. The tiny beast is tumbling around like crazy inside and I know if I open my jaws it will escape. Victory! I’ve caught my prey. But now Mom is scolding me; soon she will try to open my jaws and make me drop my precious catch – this has happened before. Today I’m not being persuaded. I clinch my teeth together – “crunch, crunch,” like eating a pretzel. I can see Mom cringe; I know her every reaction. Now she’s commanding me, “Drop it, Zoe, drop it. Yuck!” But it’s too late; I chomp a few more times and swallow with a big gulp. Licking my lips I feel proud of myself and strut around a bit.
I’m really a two meal-a-day kind of girl, but who can complain about an extra treat – mouse for lunch!
Previously published in the Mountain Connection