November 1, 2014

FICTION: "THE MASTER AND HIS DOG" BY CAROL ANNE ADAMSON

Many write as do I and partly for the memories that link us to our past and partly as that stream of creativity that runs through us all.  My charities are to those who seek as do I the ethical treatment of animals worldwide.
I resided on the ranch for years but have moved into the city for a new chapter in my life.  The ranch draws me close where most of my stories are written. ~Carol Anne Adamson




THE MASTER AND HIS DOG
       

      West Texas grows some of the best sheep and goats known for the fineness of their fleeces. The desolate semi desert landscape can burst forth with an abundance of grass when rains prevail, but then it can resemble a barren land with cracks,  fissure soil and rocks alike.  Any rancher worth his due had at least one Border collie or herding dog.  Where brush can be abundant, it is the dog that helps with rounding up and moving stock from pen to pen.  He can separate out the wooly or the lame as his master rides while instinct takes the lead.  A bond is formed between man and dog, a friendship that spans into the golden years of both.

       Several cowboys surrounding the herd move slowly, knowing a wrong move could send them fleeing into the brush or worse to the backside of the pasture.   The sheep and goats are being gathered from a trap and moved into the house pasture where workers await them.  Yearling lambs and mother ewes keep to themselves as the old ewe tries to protect her lamb from man and dog alike.  The younger ewes walk with anticipation and the men horseback ride in closer bridging the gap as they holler and wave their hats cutting through the dusty air. One cowboy cracks a whip above his horse’s head and the sound hastens the sheep down the fence line and toward the pens.  The dust boils up creating a cloud of haze that slowly settles onto sheep, goat and man. Bandanas tied across their faces above their noses and covering their mouths prevent a cowboy from inhaling the dust.   Flanked each side are two herding dogs crouched close to the ground eyeing nervous stock. The dogs were always Border Collie dogs though he had owned other breeds.  Seems as one would age and grow tired, there was always a younger one waiting in the wings.  The young dogs learned from the older ones how to round up, how to cut, to hold as well as separating stock. The old dog cuts hard to his left away from the herd as he rounds a frightened runaway ewe nipping at her flank.  His ears perked up, one listening for commands from his owner who is horseback and the other catching sounds from the herd. His eyes are momentarily on the man and then right back on the ewe. He crouches low to the ground with body quivering his neck held out completely motionless and one front leg up ready to step. The ewe turns immediately back into the fold and resumes her way inside the pens.  “Good Boy Chigger”, he says making his way behind his dog and into the pens.  Yes, indeed, the old  Chigger beams with pride, for he has done his man well and helped bring in the stock.  Momentarily his work is done as he walks across the dusty pen to the water trough.  He stands drinking in his fill then suddenly bounds up and over into the water where he cools himself off.  As the stock is moved across the pen he leaps out shaking himself ever ready as he hears, “away to me go”.  Ewes are led to an alley where one cowboy stands with a gloved hand on a petition which swings between a long narrow alleyway as he swings left, allowing some to go into one pen and right separating the others into yet a different pen.   Chigger peels back his lips showing his teeth as his tail pounds the dusty ground beneath him.  “That my friend is a smiling dog and don’t he look proud”, says the man who separates lambs from ewes.  “Why, this dog ain’t living unless he’s working” says the old man.  “I do swear he sleeps with one eye open and an ear cocked to the sounds outside.”
         
     Never has work been done here without the aid of herding animals and men who ride horseback.  I suppose this is held over from many generations past and handed down from father to son.  The memories of all those old good dogs who herded and protected man and his stock are just as present today as when they once lived.  There was  Topper and Mr. Tip, Henry and Zep and Ol’ Louse. Each in his own way and for different reasons wore a badge of honor to the work he had done with the loyalty he bestowed on the old ranch and its stock. 
         
     Gathered round an old wood stove at the local Wool & Mohair in town would be various men and beside them lay their dog curled at his feet.  T’was here men would gather as they took in their clips of wool and mohair or went by for supplies they needed.  They would talk about the drought and just when it might rain.  It was a gathering of cowboys both young and old exchanging stories.  Some of the dogs were young and others old and riddled with arthritis and pain.  There they slept peaceful and sound waiting for their owner to stand and move to the door.  Some curled up under the owners’ pickup and trailer waiting, just waiting.  Their drive and ambition coupled with loyalty and the love of their work kept them ever vigilant sometimes sleeping with one eye open and an ear bent forward and flicking.  “Up, ol’ Chigger, time to work” was all it took and that dog was ready, poised and eager to serve his man. The old man pulls himself up grabbing his cane and Old Chigger is startled as he hears the wooden cane rake across the floor.  “You sure got yourself a good dog”, one man says.  “He is indeed for now he is my eyes and ears as I ain’t as I once was”. “ My Old Chigger knows when it is time to gather long before I do and mostly he brings them in himself with the help of my men”, says the old man. 
         
     Old Chigger heels left of the old man as he walks to the door and out to his pickup.  The old man doesn’t speak, but slaps the side of his truck and Old Chigger crouches deep and springs up and over into the bed of the pickup. The old man opens his door and slides into his seat where he sits somewhat bent and looking tired.  His day started at dawn and by now he is due a nap already weary from the morning work.  The lines of his face and the weathered look of his skin likened to the scrimshaw on an old bone. He put his hat on tapping the brim downward to block out the sun. He drives out of the lot and heads south to the ranch.  The miles he has traveled from the ranch to town and back are many and he feels he could drive it in his sleep.       

     Ol’ Chigger sits atop woolsacks for packing the old man’s wool clip.  There are mineral blocks, salt, and tecole which is a mixture of pine tar oil, kerosene, and sometimes a powder used as a blood stopper. The bed of his pickup is littered with wire, a shovel and broom.  Old worn out inner tubes cut into pieces lay scattered about.  These are sometimes used for patching old broken water lines. There is an axe and fencing pliers and ropes. One rope is stiff and new, the other no longer used in roping stock lies carelessly under pieces of hay in the bed of his truck.  Bottles of drench and a drenching gun tucked into the corner near the cab of the truck. An old steel trap rattles in the bed of his truck as it lurches forward.
       
     Tomorrow he would be marking lambs, which involved docking their tails, castration, vaccinating for sore mouth, drenching, and ear tagging them.  Once that work was done they would allow the sheep and lambs into a larger pen to be held overnight. The ewes and lambs were allowed to pair back up before being let out into the pasture once again.
The old man had lost count of the times he had either sheared or marked livestock for he was old now and had been doing this since he himself was a young boy working for his father.  It was the same ranch indeed passed down from one generation to the next and for him it would be as well.
       
     Years ago his son had left for the city seeking out a life he thought more fulfilling.  The old man wondered if his son would ever return. This ranch work was all he had known and for sure it was good enough for him, why not his son.  Had he somehow worked him too young knowing by age five he was horseback and rounding up right alongside himself. The old man was at home in the saddle, reins in hand and chaps on his legs. He had taught the boy to rope, to weld and to judge livestock. Many were their days together just the two of them riding fence or gathering.
       
     Now it was just the old man and his wife tending the ranch with the help of several Mexican men who lived there as well.  There was Benito and Salvador who had been loyal for so many years.  Fidencio and Lupe seemed to be proving themselves as well. 
       
     There stood the old rock ranch house and the barn lay just below it.  A good set of working pens joined the south side of the barn reaching out into the flat. This life had been enough for the old man and afforded him all that he could ever want.  He questioned the city life, the hustle and bustle of crowds and traffic.  Here he was at home rarely venturing beyond the next town for supplies or groceries.  The pastures and the hills became his church where he would speak out to the Lord.  Seemed his lips spoke that same ol’ prayer these days, “Lord ain’t you ever going to let it rain?”
       
     Twenty Nine miles of blacktop followed by seven miles of dirt road and several bump gates before he rounded the bend and arrived home.  Old Chigger having slept in the bed of the truck on the way home rises and stands where his nose catches those familiar scents.  The old man pulls up past the house and drives down to the barn.  He knows for sure the good wife has an early dinner with plenty of iced tea waiting on the table for him.  The younger dogs hear his truck as he drives over the cattle guard and Fidencio is there to greet him at the barn.  Together they unload supplies as he counsels the Mexican on plans for tomorrow. 
       
     He sends Fidencio on his way planning to take out his count book and record the number gathered that morning.  Normally Old Chigger would bound his way up through the yard and into the house but he stood close to the old man for some reason not wanting to leave his side.  “Go on, old dog, Maw has vittles for you inside,” he says.  Old Chigger stands motionless.  From first light until the darkness of the sky met with the earth Old Chigger was at his side.  He was the old man’s dog loyal, devoted and true.
       
     Wind had blown into the barn spreading hay and feed sacks.  Possibly rain had been forecasted and the clouds hung ominous and low on his drive home.  In an instant the barn glowed as lightning cracked just outside.  The old man steadied himself with his cane and walked the length of the barn toward the big double doors.  Old Chigger stood at the old man’s side gazing up at him, his eyes following the old man’s moves.  Normally as they closed up the barn each night either a chicken would race through or one of the barn cats, which tormented Old Chigger would have been reason for a good chase.  Two tomcats stood on posts just inside the hospital pen used for holding sick animals.  There was a stillness inside the barn even amid the wind that whirled about outside and the flashes of lightning. Ol’ Chigger stood next to the old man never taking his eyes off him.
        
     A heavy metal strip slipped up and over into a wooden notch carved into both doors.  The old man pulled both doors shut and reached to drop the metal strip into the notches securing everything for the night.  As he raise his arm and looked over at Old Chigger who was almost touching him, he went down falling to his knees.  His left arm came up clutching at his chest as he took his last breath. His eyes were glazed with fear as life slipped from his body. It was Old Chigger there nose to nose with him licking the old man’s face and pawing at his coat.
        
     At the center of the old man’s life was Old Chigger, a heart so pure and a soul completely unblemished, innocent and sweet.  His love was unconditional and his forgiveness instantaneous.  Just as he mastered his four legged spirit he met with the old man and he was bound until death.
        
     The skies opened up and pelted the parched earth with rain as Old Chigger drew nearer to the old man.  Through the arms of death one soul departed while yet another stood guard as should be.  There would be yet one more round-up and Old Chigger knew it but for now he lay curled at his master’s side.  Was he serving him in death?  I know so~

~Carol  Anne Adamson
   
   

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