“No man can be condemned for owning a dog.
As long as he has a dog, he has a friend;
And the poorer he gets, the better friend he has.”
I was now sadly divorced, and pretty miserable most of the time. So I eventually started heading off on weekends to the great northwood. And, she always insisted on going with me. She was a very steadfast friend, and she was a tiny Schnauzer. Her name was Pepper.
I would get home from work on Friday evenings; throw my fishing gear in my old car; and little Pepper and I would eagerly head out. Before very long at all, we were heading out on week-long fishing trips together.
Pepper never whined or complained about anything on these fishing get-a-ways together, and I never left her at home. It was the perfect arrangement for both of us, and we always had a great time up in those wonderful, magical, soul-soothing, northern woods.
I quickly found a quaint little fishing resort up in the wilderness that was ideal for our needs. It welcomed pets; it was located on a very secluded fishing lake; and its grounds and cabins were very well maintained and peacefully quiet. We soon felt right at home up there.
Bright and early every morning, Pepper and I would now eagerly arise before dawn and stroll along the magnificent shoreline, taking in all the glorious sights and sounds of nature. Pepper soon became quite inquisitive about the resident wildlife, and she would now spend hours observing the ducks, geese, chipmunks, beavers, and ground squirrels along the rocky, pine-studded lakeshore. She never seemed intent on chasing after them, but she truly seemed to enjoy watching them from a distance.
One morning, however, she got just a tad too close for comfort to a few of the local residents, and we both soon suffered the consequences.
We were on one of our early morning strolls when little Pepper spotted some movement in the evergreen bushes along the shore. She just couldn’t resist taking a closer look. I, unfortunately, was lagging far behind her this particular morning, still taking in all the wondrous sights and sounds of the early morning.
When I heard Pepper very intently sniffing all about, I rushed ahead on the tree-lined path; but I was just a tad too late. A mother skunk had been leading her little ones down to the lake for an early morning drink of water, and little Pepper had gotten just a bit too close to her two precious little babies.
As Pepper and Momma Skunk now stood there facing each other, I tried to grab my inquisitive little dog and head the other way. Of course, I was a little too slow. Momma Skunk quickly whirled around, stuck her tail high in the air, and sprayed us both. Her aim was remarkably accurate.
Pepper immediately began whining, crying, and rolling around in the dirt, desperately attempting to get that extremely powerful musk odor off her fur. I didn’t even bother whining, crying, or rolling around – I knew it wouldn’t do any good.
Instead, I scooped Pepper up in my arms, and we marched directly into the icy-cold lake water. Pepper and I went swimming much earlier than we had planned to that day, and we spent the next several days bathing in both chilly lake water and in gobs of thick red tomato juice. The extremely amused resort owner also insisted that Pepper and I sleep outdoors for the next several nights.
But little Pepper was a very quick study; she never went near another skunk again. And she and I still enjoyed our time together at that wondrous wilderness lake.
On most mornings, we would hop into my old fishing boat and head off into the eerie early morning mist. Pepper would eagerly sit in the very front of the boat, joyously taking in the cool, invigorating morning air.
When we reached the middle of the lake, I would shut off the boat engine, and now, the two of us would very silently sit out there together, awaiting the very first wonder of the day. And, we usually didn’t have to wait very long.
Soon, the unmistakable eerie wail of a distant loon would shatter the early morning stillness, filling both of us with joy and wonder. And usually, the loon’s loving mate would soon call back to it across the lake’s vast dark distance.
Little Pepper always seemed as entranced as I was by these early morning loon calls, and quite often, sitting out there in the middle of that wilderness lake listening to them, I felt much closer to God and all His Creation than I ever had in any man-made church building.
After the loon calls finally faded into the early morning shadows, little Pepper and I would spend the next few hours very pleasantly fishing for our dinner. And the bright blue skies of the northern pine forest would always keep us company.
In the evenings, my faithful little dog and I would huddle around a blazing campfire, listening to all the wondrous sounds of the nocturnal forest, and gazing up into the vast, star-studded, northern skies.
These fishing trips with my friend, and this extremely peaceful setting in the northwood, had truly given me just the elixir that I had needed to keep going in those sad post-divorce days.
And although these trips to the wilderness always ended much too quickly for both of us, I now knew that I owed this loyal little dog of mine a debt of gratitude that I could never re-pay. She truly was this man’s best friend.
First Published in GRIT Magazine, and One of the Chapters in Curious Creatures – Wondrous Waifs, My Life With Animals.
©2011, Mr. Ed