Tom Clyde: Kicking off the summer with a disappearing ground squirrel
“Elmer ate a potgut.”
That stands out as the strangest phone message of the summer, but the season is young. Elmer is my dog, a fat lab. Most of the time he doesn’t show a whole lot of ambition, and is pretty content to sit on the porch. Over the weekend, a lot of the family was around, so he was busier than usual. Somewhere in the middle of a Frisbee golf game out in the pasture, he chased a bunch of ground squirrels and, according to the reports from several witnesses, ate a potgut, whole, in a single swallow. Didn’t bother chewing. They thought I should know about it.
So for the next couple of days, I kept an eye on him. He acted like the guy in that old Alka-Seltzer commercial who, with great discomfort, moaned, “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing.” If he so much as twitched, I rushed him outside in case the potgut was about to reappear, like Jonah from the belly of the whale. But there doesn’t appear to have been any ill effects, and he either ejected it on his own somewhere outside, or happily digested it. A whole potgut is a more natural diet for a dog than the dry dog food he usually gets. And compared to some of the dead stuff he finds, it had to be better. His coyote cousins thrive on them, so I guess it shouldn’t have been reason for concern. But still, swallowing it whole seemed like there would be unpleasant repercussions.
So with that, summer is off and running. I start each day with a long list of things that need to get done. By 8:30 or, on a really good day, 9:00, a completely new and different list of more urgent demands will have presented itself and I’m off in a completely different direction.
For a month I’ve been trying to get somebody with a mini-excavator to come and clean out a pile of dead willows. They got pushed out of the way when I rebuilt a fence last year. The plan had been to burn them in place last winter, but the pile ended up so big that I didn’t feel safe burning it there. I was having no luck finding somebody to haul it away, and it was so tangled that moving it by hand wasn’t an option. And then a mini-excavator shows up on a neighbor’s yard. The guy finished that job sooner than expected, and was frustrated that he was going to lose the afternoon’s work. He was more than happy to pick up my little job.
The cows are home from their winter on the desert. It took a couple of them less than an hour to stage a jailbreak. They were in a pasture with deep lush grass, the best they had seen in months. But that wasn’t good enough. Two of them jumped the fence and made a beeline into the neighboring cabin subdivision. The destination was one particular lot. They knew exactly where they were going. They know which of the cabin owners will be most upset when they move in, and went right there, fertilizing generously before shading up on the front porch. There are 50 cabins in the area, and 49 of them were unscathed. The cows didn’t touch a blade of grass or poop on any of them on their way to Mrs. G.’s lot.
From the look of things, they had been planning their raid for days, holding back since before they got on the truck to come home, just waiting for the chance to befoul Mrs. G.’s lot, feast on her annuals, and nap on her porch. They followed her lot lines as if they had a survey. I suggested she should feel special because they clearly had selected her for a reason, while rejecting all of her neighbors. She was not amused.
Another neighbor called to report, with great alarm, that all of the cows had been facing west in the morning, and were now all facing east in the afternoon. Something was wrong. There were a lot of possible explanations. The sun was in their eyes; the wind was blowing in their faces so they turned around. Maybe there was a moose in the woods and they were all focused on that. I told him the cattle always turned toward Mecca at that time of day. That, combined with the attack on Mrs. G.’s yard, put him on red alert. I’m assuming the FBI will be out soon to investigate this bovine sleeper cell.
The river has already dropped to mid-July levels. Most years, in June, I’m worried about too much water. This year it’s already a challenge keeping the irrigation flowing. Meanwhile, Elmer is on the hunt.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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