Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Stinky's Good Friday Moment

I love the transition seasons.  In spring and fall the earth changes its mind about the weather and things start to either warm up or cool down.  These transitions bring storms because the earth doesn’t change her mind without a fight.

I love these seasons because the air outdoors becomes a more neutral temperature.  If you time it right and watch the forecast, you can sleep in comfort outside without being too hot or too cold.  Fifty-five degrees is the lowest I will go and 75 is my high. Anything more extreme takes me indoors.

Well, Glory Hallelujah, last week I was able to get the tent out and have about four nights nestled in the bosom of Mother Earth before she went back to winter for a spell.

In celebration of tent season I set up house in the field about 50 yards from our house.  I get out the air mattress and sleeping bag.  Then I take in a battery powered lantern and a folding chair. I tie the lantern to the highest point in the tent and can read in the chair if I want. I add a can of bug spray because once in a while I will get a stray something flying around that will drive me nuts so just a tiny spritz of bug juice and the problem goes away.  I take a bottle of water but no food.  I’m not going to feed all the insects and critters.

And that’s about all I need. Oh—and a suitcase of  electronics.  OK, this may be a small lapse in my intention to get back to nature. I take my phone with me so I can watch the weather radar or listen to some music when the birds go to sleep.  During the first part of the night the birds tell each other goodnight then there is a long period of silence until the morning when they wake me up.  I also take the ipad in case the perfect paragraph comes to mind and I want to write it down.  My Nook is almost a requirement because I can read in the dark lying flat on my back, something impossible with a conventional book.

John Muir might disapprove but I am a citizen of the new millennium and there will be no turning the clock back.

The phone is also a safety precaution because I know there are dangerous things out there. 

I know for a fact we have feral hogs on our land because I’ve seen their calling card.  Rooting for snacks, they sometimes leave our north pasture looking like we had plowed it.  I know we also have wolves and wild dogs because I’ve seen them. I know we have raccoons and possums because I’ve seen them.  And I know we have armadillos because I've seen them stagger around near-sighted and focused on finding grubs, sometimes almost bumping into me before they know there’s a human around.
                                                                                   
And I know they’re not creatures out of a Disney movie because I saw the raccoon with my chicken in its mouth climbing out of the chicken yard.  I had a possum hiss at me because we had locked her babies in our barn and when I tried to shoo her away from the closed door she wouldn’t budge. I think of all the creatures God made, the opossum has to be the ugliest least attractive. But apparently, they are great mothers.

Likewise, I’ve seen snakes in our pond and our cat got bit by one. It’s taken a month for his paw to heal.  For the longest time we didn’t know what it was until the swelling went down and you could see the two fang marks. Thankfully, it wasn’t a water moccasin or he wouldn’t have made it.

So I know that the crisp and clean night air holds animals that can kill you.  I know the grim reality of the woods. We’ve had bright nights this week because the moon is full.  And with the full moon, I knew there would be predators in the woods.

Lately, my favorite part of sleeping out is taking Stinky with me.  We’ve had custody of the neighborhood dog for about a year now.  We share him with the family next door. He generally goes over to play with his friends during the day, returning tired and dirty.   He always comes back to our house at night because Beaven serves primo dog food and lots of it.  



We’ve always had a dog or two but Stinky is the first dog I’ve ever doted on. Aside from being just plain old adorable, he's escaped most of the major neediness and food issues that our strays have had. Weighing in at an even 15 pounds, he's small enough to play with the cats as a equal.  I can bathe him anytime he needs it, which is practically every day, especially hot days when he jumps into the pond to cool off.  He’s a smart little dog, too.  He loves to play tug of war with an old sock.  And he sleeps with me when I spend the night in the tent. Most tent nights start out fine but get colder as the night moves on.  So Stinky slips into the sleeping bag to warm both of us up.  Sometimes when he runs he’ll just bounce in the air with all four feet off the ground at once. He’s in love with life and I love him for his innocence. 

With or without a dog, sleeping outside at night is one of the most spiritual things you can do, in my opinion.  There are no barriers.  The tent walls provide only the barest of protection from rain.  It’s just you and God out there.  Plus a bunch of critters God created; some of them good and some bad.  God doesn’t apologize for the bad critters.  We got the “assorted” pack of co-habitants when God issued us our fellow travelers.

Vulnerability is an uncomfortable feeling but I think also a great faith-builder.  When the wind is whipping the sides of the tent you get a better understand your own fragility and the power of God.  

Saturday night Stinky started barking around midnight and wouldn’t stop.  I never know what it is he’s barking at because I can’t hear or smell as good as he can. The birds were silent by this time and the dog was the only thing breaking the silence.  I finally got tired of listening to him and unzipped the tent to let him out.  He ran off to investigate. I went back to sleep.

I don’t know how much time passed but I woke to the sound of a struggle and the most ungodly screams—half bark/growl and half shriek.  Then a sharp cry and a whimper.  Immediately, I was on my feet unzipping the tent and calling out Stinky’s name.  Just as I stepped out to run toward the sounds I saw him running toward the tent from the woods.  I got him inside and felt through his fur for blood or painful places.  I turned the light on to look him over better.  He didn’t have a mark on him, only a few broken leaves from the woods.  When I didn’t see anything I took him inside the sleeping bag with me and zipped us up together.

He was shaking like a leaf.  Whatever it was, in spite of no physical harm done, Stinky was scared to death.  It took him almost an hour to stop shaking and feel secure.

In that hour, as I felt my little dog shaking, I came to understand the dangers of the wild.  They run by a different set of rules.  It’s not always pretty and serene. The reality of life is that in the survival of the fittest sometimes horrible things happen to the vulnerable.  When we bump into these moments it scares us.  And we run for comfort shaking with fear.

In that hour, as I felt my innocent little dog shaking against my body, I came to understand what Good Friday must have felt like to Jesus. 

Easter is not just new dresses and colorful eggs hidden in green grass.  Sometimes the world is a brutal and ugly place. And there’s no better time to understand this than Holy Week. We don’t get to Easter Sunday without traveling through Good Friday.

No comments: