Fog rolls through the early morning woods as it often does on these cool late summer mornings. Even from this ridge top, filled with steep valleys holding forests below, I have no distant views. To be sure I treasure great vistas on clear days but on these mornings when views are no longer than a few hundred yards it makes me focus on what is immediately in front of me. Dew dropping off leaves makes a “plip plop” noise on the first few dry leaves that have fallen to the ground. Leaves, once green, are already morphing to bright yellows, reds, and oranges. Still no where near the full color of Autumn, I am surprised by the changing colors that will deepen as the cold weather moves in from the north over the next month.
On this day I am accompanied by my two dogs. They are both red bloodhounds. The male, who we refer to as Cooper (after James Fenimore Cooper who wrote The Last of the Mohicans ) has a black mask that covers his nose and the area below his drooping eyes. Adaia (pronounced A-dye-a), the female bloodhound in our pack, is all red save a white star on her chest from which she gets her Abenaki name which means “dog star”. Adaia is on a leash held by my right hand. Like many bloodhounds she will take off at the first hot trail. It makes no difference if it is human or animal, she stays on the trail until she catches up with the object of her olfactory obsession. This isn’t a problem if it’s an animal that hides in a hole or climbs a tree. She can easily be located by her baying which can be heard for miles. But if she catches the trail of a deer or coyote the chase could go on for miles. This is not a good scene for wildlife or for me, so she stays on a leash while we are in the woods. Cooper, on the other hand, is content to stick close by. He shows interest in hot trails but seems to have more will power when it comes to staying close to his pack mates. He has been known to stay with Adaia on a long chase however, and the result might then be two lost dogs. Although Adaia has never understood why Cooper is allowed to be free of the leash while in the woods she is still happy and content to enjoy walks in the woods and appreciates all of the associated smells.
As we approach an area of outcropped bedrock Adaia puts her nose to the ground, sweeps the area with her nose in the fallen leaves, whimpers and starts to pull ferociously on the leash. Her 120 pound muscled frame pulling with all four legs is formidable even for a large person like myself. I resist the strong tug but follow along to see what she is interested in. Cooper takes notice, puts his nose to the ground and all of the loose skin on his head flies forward. Bloodhounds are famous for their wrinkly skin and this feature is just one of the physical attributes that catches sent and keeps it in place for the bloodhound to consider. The long ears also sweep the ground and help to hold scents in place. The fact is that a bloodhound can smell far better than any other dog. It has olfactory capabilities that are tens of thousands of times those of the human nose. They literally smell a world that humans never experience. Copper runs a bit ahead and goes behind the bedrock outcrop. He bays as only bloodhounds can do, sort of a howl and bark combined, and I know he is close to the item of his affections. Then there is a loud yelp.
Adaia and I move at full speed to catch up to Cooper. His yelp was loud, serious, and a sure distress signal. Adaia has the hair lifted along her spine and she charges in with me in tow to defend her pack mate. We turn the corner and their stands Cooper, head down, like he is being scolded for bad behavior. Adaia rushes past him and right to the base of a small hemlock. There, scurrying up the lower part of the trunk is a large porcupine. My first thought is “oh no” and I turn to look at Cooper expecting to see a face full of quills. Adaia has a different idea and is trying to climb the tree. She is still attached to my right arm I have to pull with all my might to get her off the tree. She lunges again, this time just missing the extended quills of the porcupine. I pull back again, and this time I grab her collar with my left hand. The porcupine has now climbed out of reach and I know I can release Adaia and she will stand at the base of the tree holding the porky in place for hours, if necessary. I turn to Cooper, who still sits there with his head hanging down. I pull his chin up to get a better look, and to my surprise there is not one quill stuck in his loose skin. Cooper is not an aggressive chap, in fact you might say he is a shy but gregarious dog in most cases. We once witnessed Cooper surrounding a mouse in our house. He laid his 135 pound body down next to the tiny rodent, paws on both sides of the frightened little fellow and tried to lick it. The mouse jumped at Cooper and he responded by jumping up in fear! To this day Cooper avoids mice.
Relieved that Cooper had not taken a face full of quills I refocus my attention on Adaia. She is fully upright, standing on her hind legs with her front paws pressed against the trunk of the hemlock. She barks, bays, and whines. The poor porcupine climbs out on to the very tip of a branch and looks about for an escape route. There is none and so I pull and tug on Adaia’s leash until I get her away from the tree. It takes some effort to drag this female hound away from her excitement, and as I struggle Cooper runs ahead. He can’t get away from the porcupine fast enough. His tail is between his legs as he rus at full gait and finally stops about 100 yards away where again he hangs his head. Somehow I get the impression he is ashamed of himself.
When I finally managed to drag Adaia over to where Cooper is positioned she takes one smell of his nose and licks a small area on the left hand side of the muzzle. When Adaia pulls away I see a little nick on the side of his nose. It is the tiniest of wounds. It occurs to me that Cooper may have had his head down, furrows of skin covering his golden eyes, because he was sad. Like the mouse, the porcupine was not interested in being his friend. This was a very unhappy event from Cooper’s perspective.
After getting Adaia’s attention focused on her present surroundings we walk to the east. The fog is lifting but still obscurs distant objects. Cooper stays close to Adaia and me, occasionally lifting his leg on a rock or sapling to mark his territory. I laugh to myself as this seemed like an odd behavior for such an unaggressive hound. We hike over to a spot that has a 60 foot ledge. Cooper stays about 15 feet away from the sharp drop off while I pull on Adaia’s leash to keep her away from the very edge of the steep precipice. I find a mossy log and sit down to rest my weary legs. Cooper comes over and put his head in my lap. Adaia smells the air for new clues as to the presence of strangers in this dark forest. In the distance, the lone howl of a coyote shatters the silence. Cooper quivers and pulls his huge dog body against mine. Adaia lunges for the edge of the cliff and bays back at the lonely wail in the distance.
Originally written for the Heath Herald in September 2010.