Survival Games

Noontime Tuesday. Getting hot. Deep, pale-blue, hazy sky behind sparse cumulus clouds floating soft, high and wispy over the western upland horizon.

I park next to the greenhouse, walk to the back of the truck, drop the tailgate to free the eager dogs, Chubby and Lily, the latter’s tail anxiously thumping her porta-kennel’s east wall. She’s 14, old for an English springer spaniel. I sure hope to have her enthusiasm in old age.

I open the wire-cage door and they both spring to the ground full of energy and enthusiasm. Oh, how they love to roam through fragrant, waist-high hayfields, noses always working, bounding off their hind legs to get above the cover for airborne scents. Chubby’s out ahead, Lily trailing behind, both quartering, looking for scent to investigate and pursue.

Down toward the end of the first leg of our daily romp along a tree-line border, I notice Chubby on full alert. He races around the corner and stops abruptly, nose into the warm western breeze, before bouncing on all fours into the wind and flushing a vociferous hen turkey.

“Putt, putt, putt,” screams the turkey as it partially flushes, lands and runs in feigned-broken-wing retreat down a short, temporary, double-rutted service road leading to a brush pile deposited over the edge of a 15- or 20-foot escarpment overlooking the Green River. She bangs a U-ie and races back into the large hay field. Chub-Chub, who loves and excels at the flush-and-retrieve game, is right on her trail. I know the drill. The hen is with young and wants to distract my dog from her brood, be they nestlings or fledglings, and she does a exemplary job of it, teasing Chub-Chub by running just ahead of him before going into low, slow flight. Concerned that Chubby may catch her by the tail, it doesn’t happen.

As I watch the scene play out, it’s clear that hen knows precisely what she’s doing, does it well, and the defensive tactic works to perfection. By initiating the chase, she had drawn a potential canine predator all of 200 yards south and far away from her vulnerable young, who probably give off less scent than an adult.

Chubby? Oh, how he lives for such rambunctious chases. He had himself a blast. Out of sight, I give him a happy whistle and soon see  him in the distance, racing back toward me at full joyful throttle. He passes me, races down the dirt road to Sunken Meadow, takes a left down a deer run to the river, enters the water and takes a refreshing, slurping swim before returning and racing off to find more action in the lower, waist-high fields.

It’s funny. Just last week the vet demanded that before I could buy monthly heartworm medicine, I must test both of my dogs for the  disease. Plus, as a bonus, the blood sample would also test for Lyme and another tick-borne disease that starts with A. Well, go figure, the blood work  revealed that the dogs were heartworm-free but carrying both tick-borne diseases. Hmmmmm? Maybe so, but they’re sure not showing even a faint trace of sickness in their daily activities. If and when they start displaying the lethargy, lameness or diminished appetite I’ve read about, then I’ll medicate them. If not, I’ll suspect their immune system is successfully battling it. But, please, don’t tell Aunt Millie about my approach to pet care. As she carries her obese, overfed lap-dog up stairs it can’t scale, she’ll scream bloody murder that I’m an abusive dog owner. Oh my! The world of veterinary medicine has gone mad.

By the way, how do you suppose coyotes and foxes and rabbits and woodchucks and you name it survive and appear healthy without Lyme-disease medicine? Just curious. Pondering the diagnosis internally, I mentioned the tick-borne disease issue to four friends and fellow dog owners. All of their dogs had been similarly diagnosed and medicated despite never displaying discernible symptoms. What gives? Is this medicine for pets or cash flow? You have to wonder. It’s getting to a point where only the rich can own pets or farm animals.

But why digress? Back to my neighborhood turkey brood.

Next day, Wednesday before noon, I was hesitant to retrace my tracks out of fear that the hen had been protecting nestlings that would still be in the same place. But no, I figured, given her routine, probably not nestlings. More likely fledglings that will soon gain flight as an escape option. On a wet Monday I had noticed Chubby light up in the same spot and sprint 100 yards along the edge of the steep escarpment before coming to an abrupt halt at an aluminum gate barring the road down to the flood plain. There, he spun around and sprinted back toward me, soon passing as he back-tracked the scent line. From the way he was acting, I suspected turkeys but wasn’t certain. Then the Tuesday incident confirmed my suspicion. The little ones in that hen’s brood are likely still grounded, thus their mother’s protective antics. As she went into her act, her little ones had probably crouched down and froze motionless, hoping danger would pass. It did and they were nowhere to be found Wednesday. Had they been nestlings, Chub-Chub would have reflushed that hen Wednesday, an outcome I was hoping not to encounter, fearing that he’d find a nestful of helpless little birds.

Anyway, I would guess I have not seen the last of that brood. Soon the hayfield will be scalped and the little ones will have their wings. Then they’ll be up to the task of escaping danger by flushing into a hardwood tree, perching high and safe, curiously cocking their heads at the gawkers below. That I have also witnessed many times with many different gundogs.

I can honestly say that never once have I experiencing the unfortunate outcome of a dog catching a poult. I hope it never happens. It wouldn’t be an easy task to step in and calm the feather-flying storm before bad things happen.


Moving to another topic from the same terrain, I am right now wearing two tick bites, the fresher one above my left hip, the other slowly disappearing at the outer base of my right calf muscle. Though I have had other tick bites over the years that I have always discovered well before the 72-hour incubation period for Lyme disease, I never ignore them. Instead, I scrub them with rubbing alcohol after showers and randomly at other times of the day while monitoring the site for an expanding rash.

An internist friend and an orthopedic surgeon both told me at different times that a tick must be imbedded for 72 hours for a human to contract Lyme disease. More recently, an old Vietnam triage nurse who went on to become a nurse-practitioner and neurological surgical assistant at Boston’s prestigious Massachusetts General Hospital, told me her doctor informed her that she was safe if she removed the tick within 24 hours.

So, which is it? Seventy-two of 24? Always cognizant, I can’t imagine an embedded tick lasting anywhere on my body for more than a day. I typically feel an itch or irritation, inspect it with my hand and know what to look or feel for. Knock on wood, it has always worked for me and I have never gotten ill. If I happen to run out of luck and display early symptoms of Lyme disease, well, then and only then will I go to the doctor for antibiotics. I’m from the school of thought that’s reluctant to overuse antibiotics, which can eventually sting you hard when you really need them but they’re rendered ineffective by overuse.

And remember: I watched two sons die in hospitals of antibiotic-resistant hospital infection, a demise I would not wish upon even my most mortal enemy. Well … hating to speak in absolutes, I suppose there could be a rare exception.


Oh yeah. One more thing before I scoot. I see where the first Connecticut River Atlantic salmon was spotted in recent days passing the Holyoke dam. Last year the total return was 20. It seems unlikely that we’ll approach that number this year. As for American shad, the Wednesday report showed nearly 231,000 through Holyoke thus far, with fish coming through at a rate of about 10,000 per day. Thus, it appears to be more than a longshot that we’ll reach last year’s figure of more than 537,000. If I as a longtime observer were I to venture a guess, I’d say we’ll end up with more than 300,000 and less than 400,000. Salmon? Today 1, soon none — a poet and I didn’t know it.

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