I let Katie out for her last potty break before bed. I don’t walk her at night – one too many close calls with Yogi, the bear who visits my composter regularly, scared me off of late night strolls. Katie’s a country dog. She knows these woods better than the boys do. But tonight her bravado outpaced her brains, and we both learned a powerful lesson about life in the woods.
Katie’s nightly runs are shorter now that the weather is colder, but they usually include a last minute visit to bark goodnight to the neighbor’s dogs. She normally comes right back and barks at the window to come in. Tonight, however, the bark at the window was short and sharp.
I turned to the Big Guy, happily snoring on the recliner we lovingly call our Venus Flytrap, to see if he had heard Katie’s agitated yelp. He snored his reply, and I went to the door, hoping to get her in before anything more interesting pulled her attention back outside. But I was too late.
I opened the front door and looked left toward our wood shed. I knew instantly that something was wrong – both cats were crouched nervously on the top of the highest row of firewood. As soon as the door opened, they glanced in Katie’s direction before darting into the mudroom and then the living room. Katie was nowhere to be seen, but her barks had devolved into low growls.
Now I was nervous. I stepped out and called out to her and heard only more growling and now scurrying sounds from the brush behind the woodshed. Suddenly I saw something furry and low moving toward me. Now I yelped.
Hoping my shriek had roused the Big Guy, I skedaddled back to the door, calling for Katie as I retreated. Katie, however, was braver (or dumber) than I and came around the other side of the shed, zeroing in on her quarry. At first I thought it was a raccoon and considered rousing the Big Guy to get his gun, but, worried that it would be too late and risk hitting Katie, I instead grabbed my umbrella and charged outside.
I knew tangling with a raccoon was stupid. They’re not necessarily rabid here in the woods, but they can be ornery, and I was a little relieved when I got close enough to see that Katie’s prey was a porcupine. As far as the dog was concerned, however, the porcupine wasn’t much better.
Our last dog had a couple (very expensive) run-ins with a porcupine or two, and I knew I had to get between Katie and the terrified critter. Doing my best lion-tamer imitation, I kept the open umbrella between me and the fanned-out quills and tried to get Katie to leave off the chase.
There were a few shrieks (me) and lots of barking, and I kept hoping the Big Guy would come to my rescue. But the pull of the Venus Fly-Trap was way too strong (and our house way too sound proof), and for those few tense minutes while I soothed and disciplined Katie, I was on my own.
Katie came into the house with a few quills in her mouth and, what I’m sure will be a short-lived but painful lesson about picking her prey. My lesson will stay with me, however. It is part of a long education that has already seen a few scary tests.
Largely due to our spotty and often abysmal health insurance situation a few years ago, the Big Guy went through a series of health care issues that became crises, two of them life-threatening. One event led to a week in Intensive Care, and the second sent him to the ER with an infection that nearly cost him his leg and even his life. While he fought so did I. Once he was in recovery, however, and my adrenalin receded, I remained in crisis management mode.
I spent the next few years trying to anticipate and plan for any disaster that would leave me as the sole caretaker of two kids, and that planning often had me wondering how I would get on without my partner in crime. I now know that the constant attention to that safety net took away a lot of the joy of being with my husband, but when it became less panicked, being prepared was – and is – a source of confidence.
Now, I may be temporarily terrified when wielding my umbrella against the creatures of the forest, but I know that somewhere in there I have the mettle to overcome the fear. The fight is over, and I’m not obsessing about the next porcupine – or the next crisis. I know whatever comes – crisis or critter – I can handle it. And the foremost part of handling any of it is not to live in fear of what may come.