Friday, May 6, 2011


The year we bought our land, in 2001, we had the cutest little doggies. Sweet, lovable lap doggies. Today, they are both in Bone Heaven. The oldest, a little brown apple-head chihuahua named "Cinnamon" and a peppy rat terrier named "Jewel" were smaller breeds, but Cinnamon weighed  a "toy/teacup" weight of only four pounds. She was so tiny, but in her mind, she was a mastiff.

Going to our land only on weekends taught me a valuable lesson about dogs. Our tiny little chihuahua loved to run around our campsite, but she always stayed relatively close by. However, one afternoon I noticed her in a nearby open area of our land and she was sniffing around, lost in her olfactory delight. I was gazing at her leisurely and thinking about how cute she a little spec. That's when I noticed the hawk overhead. It was making circles directly over Cinnamon, as if she were about to live up to her tasty name. The hawk was getting ready to swoop down and to grab my precious doggie in its vicious bird talons!!

Still weak from my illness, I tried to run toward Cinnamon. I was going to sacrificially save my dog from the carnivorous bird! My dog never noticed anything wrong, she wasn't accustomed to looking skyward for danger. The hawk circled down closer as I stumbled and ran to get my dog while waving my arms in the air and screaming "get away from here" to scare away the hawk that was -- GULP -- suddenly looking very large and intimidating.

It worked. My hysterics and flopping about while trying to run had effectively convinced Big Hawk that I was Crazy Lady. Reaching my dog, I scooped her up into my arms and held her tight as I looked into the air with suspicion. Surely there were more winged predators out there who thought my doggie would make a good Chihuahua snack. I realized that I'd need to keep her closer so I could do battle, if needed.

Later, I found that several neighbors had their Chihuahuas stolen by hawks, especially because they supposedly look like juicy rabbit meat. Sometimes, the hawk would release the dog, only to have it fall to their death.

Another lesson compliments of our future farm land...presently in its overwhelming state of wild growth. Gotta start somewhere!

In the back of my mind, I confronted the fact that having little dogs on such a big piece of property is not the most compatible combination. Complicating the situation...our land is directly across the street from the Big Thicket Preserve, so we automatically have abundant wildlife on our land. Any future pets would have to be rugged enough to do battle with a hawk, a bobcat, a wild boar or any other freaky, scary wild animal, yet intelligent enough to avoid a snake.

Little Cinnamon lived to be over 15 years old. She remained safe from the hawks and loved being on her land during our weekend visits as I remained close in tow. My little Jewel, the Rat Terrier died young in life from stomach cancer. These days, our "little ones" are gone, but my lesson remained.

Deep down, I knew that if we were to add more dogs to our family, we needed larger dogs. Not only was I concerned about predators, we had other concerns...our land also has creeks and rugged terrain not suitable for small, delicate dogs. I remember the day our little chihuahua decided to cross the creek on her own, and she ended up wading across a depth of only a few inches. She was so tiny, but a good swimmer. However, a larger dog would have glided through the air over the creek and walked away without a wet paw. Everything on the land was an obstacle for little Cinnamon, but she had great fun tackling all of it.

A few years before Cinnamon died, we were already re-considering our selection process with future dogs, After Jewel, our rat terrier, died from cancer, we were given an opportunity to rescue a dog of muscle substance; she is reportedly part Boxer and part Collie, but it's up for debate. We decided she was a "Box-Ollie" breed. Our family had NEVER owned a large dog, but she had been irresistible. She'd been mistreated and severely neglected. Even so, sweet Lyla blended in with our family perfectly well. Best of all, even after she reached 50 pounds, she let tiny four-pound Cinnamon remain the "A" dog.

Nearly two years ago, Cinnamon died peacefully at our suburban home and our rescue dog, the Box-Ollie named "Lyla" went into mourning. I never knew a dog could mourn like this! She cried for nearly three weeks and she never gave up the search to find Cinnamon in our small suburban backyard. Knowing Lyla needed a companion of her kind, we began the search.

We found this incredible puppy on a ranch in Bay City and his dad was the ranch's top working dog. This robust dog became an instant hit in our family. As a tribute to Texas A&M's traditional greeting of "Howdy!" we named our dog the same since he was enthusiastic in greeting his new family. "Howdy" is a full-blooded AKC Australian Shepherd (a Black Tri-Color).

Going backward, I never pictured myself to live with big dogs. I certainly never, ever wanted a large dog. Now I have two. But, the land prompted good reason for this changed mindset.

Once we bought our land and experienced the world of little pets in wide open spaces, I realized that I would need to occasionally turn my back on my pets to take care of whatever needs to be done. I didn't need to constantly worry about a hawk tearing my dog apart. It made me think about dog being called "Man's best-friend" and I saw the appreciation that man developed for his dog in a deeper way.

In the most practical sense, as a person does his chores on his land, he needs to be able to turn his back on the dog and on whatever else might be lurking in the shadows. A dog needs to feel the desire to protect his master and any farm animals and be physically able to do battle. A faithful dog is always on guard. A dog can effectively sound the warning alarm so you can get prepared for potential nasty business. A large dog can be a formidable opponent for other creatures and for some questionable human trespassers. If you have an expanse of land, a couple of large dogs is a necessity.

Howdy has turned out to be hugely protective. On selected weekends, we arrive to our property and he immediately begins his innate process of marking the boundaries of our campsite. He hikes a leg here. He hikes a leg there. Here, there, everywhere a hiked, hiked leg.

He makes it clear that he is present. I let him do his business because I have developed a respect for his natural calling. Frankly, I appreciate him making his "announcement" to the animal world that this area is TAKEN.

Doing his business to serve and to protect and to be relieved.
When I am acres away from my husband, Howdy stays by my side. He is constantly alert. If something makes a sound in the forest line, he stands alert, does a nose-point in the direction of his concern and sometimes issues a loud bark. Sometimes he launches into a powerful run in the direction of his concern in an aggressive manner to push the intruder away. When he barks that warning bark, it is markedly different from his other barks. I call it the "Manly" bark. It is deep and powerful, as if he is authoritatively saying, "Get out of here while you can!" If any wild animals or stray dogs decide to intrude upon our space, he is ready to do battle. Both my dogs are ready, willing and able.

So, our land has taught me dog-loving lessons. I needed to start the adaptation from little backyard to a massive yard and from little dogs to large dogs. My changed perspective shocked no one more than myself. Then again, I never thought I'd enjoy weekends without running water.

I can only imagine how the Pioneers felt toward their claimed bit of land, their back-breaking cultivation efforts; a life without power tools and without a local grocery store...all the lessons they must have learned the hard way. Then again, they didn't have distractions and their work remained steady --- each accomplishment must have been a triumph. A life of true self-sustainability.

These days, all of our family and friends own homes on small tracts in the middle of suburbia-land. Even the ones with a bit of land are living on previously cultivated, flat, tame land. No one we know has had land as wild as ours, or that is surrounded by wilderness such as ours nor with the same rugged terrain. Sometimes, we feel totally out of place. A lot of our family and friends think we are nuts to think our raw land is so beautifully enticing. But, we are addicted. Slowly, we are making our mark and learning to tame part of the land that we will eventually call "home" on a full-time basis.

No doubt, our land holds untold lessons for city-smart people. Once you start learning these lessons, you realize that you weren't near as smart as you thought you were!

Lyla and Howdy, April 2011.

Me and Howdy, April 2011.
And yes, I still wear flip flops, when I can,
but my boots are nearby.


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