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Spring cometh, and it bringeth a dirty dog

Unhinged Alaska

Posted: Sunday, May 13, 2007

I meditate a lot. Sometimes up to several seconds at once. Last Thursday was one of my deeper days and I had just started to mull over whether breakup had actually started, when spring exploded in front of the kitchen window. It was Phil, our resident wild pheasant, along with six of his brothers and sisters. They were all in afterburner and headed for the deep pucker brush just north of the cabin. I knew that my dog Howard couldn’t have spooked them because he had just eaten the equivalent of a moose hindquarter and couldn’t have mustered the energy to pass gas without taking a significant nap.

What had provoked the birds into acting like they had fully engaged anal booster rockets was a hawk dead set on turning one of them into an airborne Happy Meal.

I considered the return of this migratory hawk a sure sign of spring. Phil, on the other hand, couldn’t care less what the raptor’s sudden appearance portended other than he had now been added to someone else’s all-you-can-eat menu. Fortunately, he managed to crash land into some heavy toolies and the hawk ended up with talons full of dry weeds and a butt feather. The rest of Phil’s family had earlier veered away from the chase when they realized that their big bro was the target. I figured that there was going to be an old-fashion claw whackin’ when Phil caught up with his bug-out buds later on in the evening.

Another definite harbinger of spring breakup is my dog Howard. He turns into a mud ball that is 90 percent oozing clay, 5 percent basic crud, topped off with varying percentages of congealed bio masses and winter-kill parts that he manages to roll in during his beach forays. It’s not too bad if there’s some subsequent overnight freezing because I can whack him with a sledgehammer in the morning and the stuff calves off like frontage on a retreating glacier. When it stays warm, all I can do is hope for a mini drought and some high winds before I’m able to recognize which end to feed. The way the mutt wallows, he’s gotta be part hippo and Russian boar.

There are other signs, of course. The newspaper lady starts leaving the daily tabloid at the far end of our access because of her lack of a tank to negotiate the road. A temporary lake forms in a growing depression in the back yard, giving migrating ducks a rest stop and navigational landmark until things dry up. That particular dent in the turf is getting so deep that, if it’s a wet spring and summer, I’ll have to use a dredge line to cut the grass.

Unfortunately, this is also the time I realize that it’s a tad bit too late to get my studded tires installed. Bummer. Fortunately, I haven’t procrastinated on one very important seasonal option. I’ve already mounted outrigger wheels on my little Dodge rust truck so it won’t tumble into some of the local potholes and become fill material. Wild Willie lost his beloved beater that way a few years ago, along with his girlfriend, Willamena, who he forgot was catching some z’s back in the camper shell. He’s still wearing a black armband. He was really attached to that pickup.

There are positives to breakup, of course. I no longer need a flashlight, ice ax and steel-spiked boots to crawl from the front door out to our rigs just to fire them up in the morning. And I can squirrel away the flamethrower I use to thaw the vehicles’ windows and frozen doors that sneakily seal themselves after a night of wind, freezing rain and snow squalls. Also, the moose have ceased moving through the hood in “gangsta” crews committing gnaw-bys on innocent mountain ash and landscaping that cost more than a dressed-out Harley.

I cannot end this without mentioning my favorite part of breakup. No, it’s not that I’m finally able to locate my yard tools that somehow ended up hibernating in the berry patch and under the smokehouse. It’s that my backup truck starts smelling different. Yep, just the other day I noticed the ambrosia of old dried salmon eggs wafting up from the bed. And, I think I detected an odiferous whiff of a long-forgotten piece of bait herring under the spare tire.

Methinks it’s time to terminate this tome and oil some fishing gear. Then, I’ll cautiously open my main tackle box and let Howard snuffle out what I forgot to remove last fall. Last year there was one hell of a fight when something lurking under a reel put a serious stomp on his proboscis. It should be fun.

Nick C. Varney can be reached at ncvarney@gmail.com if he’s not getting his mutt hosed off by the local volunteer fire department.



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