Sophie and a Buck Square Off
Like most mammals our dog Sophie is brave, if sporadically so. When the deer, fox, turkeys and coyotes that share our hayfield turn tail and flee, she chases them with theatrical flourish, right to the edge of the woodlot.
She never ventures into the forest primevil. Catching the critters, even if she could, clearly is not in her script. When my neighbor put a Styrofoam deer in his yard for bow-hunting practice, the inert quadruped stopped Sophie in her passive-aggressive tracks. To be fair, she did dispatch a careless woodchuck once and has managed to get skunked a time or two. And once she went nose to nose with a somewhat bold coyote that, thankfully, blinked first.
Walking one fall afternoon down by the Eightmile River, which bounds our property, I heard Sophie well ahead of me in high dungeon. She was yelping at something substantial, for sure, and my only concern was that it might be another skunk. Rounding a bend, I saw her perched atop the riverbank, as well as the object of her apoplexy: a twelve-point buck powerfully plying the rain-swollen current. I stopped, unseen, to watch the farce. The deer was retreating, right on cue, but there was all that angry brown water to contend with, not to mention those impressive antlers. So Sophie stood her ground and did what she does best, made an inordinate amount of noise.
The buck soon gained the far shore, turned while still knee-deep in water, shook himself, and with studied deliberation lowered his head so that the business end of his antlers was pointing directly at the rumpus. Forgive my anthropomorphism, but here was a Robert DiNero or Clint Eastwood moment: “You talking to me?” Or perhaps: “Feeling lucky, mongrel?”
The yelping immediately trailed off to intermittent yips, followed closely by what can only be described as the odd whimper. Not wanting to confront the steely eyes and bristling rack a mere forty feet away, Sophie’s gaze wandered until she spied me downriver. This buoyed her resolve, and she cranked up the noise machine again, like a political talk show host with a rabid audience. She checked back with me periodically to see if I was duly impressed. The buck eventually turned to see what it was, exactly, that this silly dog was looking at.
I don’t know precisely what the buck was thinking as our eyes met, but it was almost certainly along these lines, “Well, isn’t this just great, there’s one of them, too, homeowner erectus. I best be on my merry way.”
The bank behind the deer was quite steep, so he plunged back into the river and began swimming – occasionally walking along shallower stretches – upstream. Sophie, a barely passable flat-water swimmer, mistook good fortune for personal achievement and belly-flopped into the fall freshet.
It was an exceeding rash, quasi-brave act. She could have followed her quarry easily enough along the shore, but strategy is not her strong suit. While the buck made steady progress, Sophie was going nowhere fast, with riffles assailing her chilly nose. I had drawn even with her on the bank, and she was looking to me for answers. I shook my head, trying not to laugh, and began calling her to shore.
As she turned to swim to safety, the current swept her away at an alarming clip. She started to panic, clawing at the water with exaggerated strokes. I raced after her wondering if I would be called upon to perform an act of bravery for a change. Thankfully, the river bowed conveniently to the left, and she clambered up the bank, wheezing and sopping wet as all get out, the absolute spit and image of defeat and humiliation. It was not kind, but I burst out laughing, mostly from relief.
Head down and tail dragging along the grass, Sophie made a beeline for home. Animals know when the battle is over. Well upstream, a good hundred yards or so, the buck was continuing his odyssey against the current. He eventually emerged, shook himself, and headed into the woods without glancing in my direction.