So far, we have veered wildly off the path John Steinbeck took 50 years ago — the one that led to his book, “Travels with Charley,” and the one we intend to loosely follow in the months ahead.
For while Steinbeck was out to reconnect with, and take the pulse of, the country, we’re more in search of people and places that have a special connection with dogs. Though it’s one of my favorite books, by one of my favorite authors – and one I would never be so bold as to take shots at — there was never enough Charley in “Travels with Charley,” for my tastes.
Bringing the dog along was, in fact, an afterthought — a concession, in part, to his wife, who had concerns about Steinbeck’s health and safety alone on the road.
After a few weeks, as he ventured into Maine’s more northern reaches, it was Steinbeck who had concerns about Charley’s safety — mainly that his poodle might fall victim to hunters.
Steinbeck wasn’t real big on hunting, describing some sportsmen as “overweight gentlemen, primed with whiskey and armed with high powered rifles. They shoot at anything that moves or looks as though it might …”
Worried that Charley might be mistaken for a deer, Steinbeck wrapped a red kleenex around his dog’s tail, fastening it with rubber bands: “Every morning I renewed his flag, and he wore it all the way west while bullets whined and whistled around us.”
As we got back on Steinbeck’s trail, heading to the northeastern-most reaches of Maine, I borrowed his idea — not tying anything to Ace’s curly tail, but, not long after we passed Maine’s highest mountain, Mount Katahdin, replacing his brown bandana with a bright red one.
I-95, north of Bangor is a glorious stretch of road (for an Interstate) — especially at the peak of fall. It’s billboard free, and designed in such a way that you rarely see the lanes of traffic bound the other way. We followed it to Houlton, then headed north up Highway 1, through Presque Isle, Caribou and Van Buren.
Then we followed along the Canadian border, enjoying the sight of the leaves turning in two countries, and stopping for the night in Madawaska, Maine’s most northeastern town, where we checked into Martin’s Motel.
The accomodations were perfectly fine, but Ace seemed jumpy — like he is when we camp.
Something was bothering him, and I’m not sure what. Maybe he’s road-weary. Perhaps it was an upset stomach; he was flatulent during the whole drive — making it a heat-on, windows-open kind of day. He’s scratching a lot, and may need a bath and a flea treatment. Maybe he was picking up a hunting season vibe — sesning that it’s that time of year, in these parts, when testosterone rises like maple tree sap and men venture into the woods to kill animals.
The lead story in last week’s St. John Valley Times — “Teen bags moose in first 20 minutes” — recounted how Corey Daigle bagged his first moose in Madawaska. It was 1,050 pounds, with a 55 1/2-inch rack. In the photo accompanying the article, Corey is straddling the dead moose, with one hand on each antler.
Last week was first week of moose hunting for eight of Maine’s Wildlife Managment Districts, or, as they’re called in the abbreviated form, WMD’s.
All other news took a back seat to that, including the other story on the front page, about a woman in Fort Kent who hand knits mittens, hats and other winter gear receiving a small business grant from the state.
The newspaper’s police blotter, meanwhile, carried crime reports from previous weekend:
Friday, 9:04 a.m: Female called to question leash laws in town. She claims a woman walks her dog without a leash and the dog does its “business” on the lawns of everyone and owner does not pick it up… 4:51 p.m.: Female called to question: Is there a street dance. Advise didn’t know…
Saturday, 7:21 a.m:. Individual called to find out what time is parade … 8:11 a.m.: Female called regarding a missing dog … 12:56 p.m.: Individual called to report found a dog on a local road…
Sunday, 9:43 a.m.: Female called to report a lost poodle….10:43 a.m.: Vandalism to mailboxes, relay to officer … 9:01 p.m.: Male called to report a skunk with a bottle on its head…
A good half of the items on the blotter were animal related – lost dogs, mostly — and it got me to thinking about how man can pamper and pine over the loss of one animal, then go out and shoot another. There are the species we love — dog, cat, horse – and the species we love to hunt, kill, eat, and have mounted as trophies.
“Somehow, the hunting process has to do with masculinity, but I don’t quite know how,” Steinbeck wrote.
I don’t, either. But I know this much: Until hunting season is over, my dog isn’t leaving my side.
(Dead moose photo: St. John Valley Times)
(Other photos by John Woestendiek)
Posted by jwoestendiek October 7th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, animals, autumn, bandana, border, canada, canadian, charley, colors, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, fall, hunters, hunting, john steinbeck, kleenex, madawaska, maine, moose, moose crossing, moose hunting, mount katahdin, northeastern, northern, pets, road trip, season, st. john valley, steinbeck, travel, traveling with dogs, travels with ace, travels with charley
Ace stepped lightly between the tombstones, paused to sniff a clump of artificial flowers, then moved on – past Flop, Train, Daisy, Black Ranger and Bear. He paused at the final resting places of Patches and Preacher and Bean Blossom Bomma, then sauntered by Smoky, Squeek and Easy Going Sam, whose rusting collar is looped over the cross marking his grave.
We were alone at the Coon Dog Cemetery in Cherokee, Alabama – except for the 215 dogs buried beneath us — on a hot and drizzly Friday, silent except for the chirps of birds and the whining hum of mosquitos sizing up my ears.
I’d long wanted to visit the Coon Dog Cemetery. We’ve featured it on this website before. But those were long distance, second hand dispatches. Being there, especially when no one else is, is another story.
Between the bursts of color provided by the fake flowers on almost every grave; the eclectic mix of memorials, ranging from engraved stone, to etched metal to carved wooden crosses, and the homey epitaphs and monikers, the cemetery is at once haunting and inspiring – a Southern icon, and a reminder of the powerful, difficult to relinquish, connection between dog and owner.
Especially when that dog and owner were hunting buddies.
Located in a grassy meadow in the wilderness of Freedom Hills, the cemetery permits only coon dogs – 215 of which are buried there, according to Susann Hamlin, executive director of the Colbert County Tourism & Convention Bureau, which now maintains the property.
The cemetery got its start when Key Underwood chose the spot – not far from where coon hunters gathered to share stories – to bury his faithful coon dog Troop. On a dreary Labor Day in 1937, Troop was wrapped in a cotton sack and buried three feet down. Underwood marked the grave with a rock from an old chimney. He used a hammer and screwdriver to chisel Troop’s name and date.
After that, other hunters started doing the same – first those from Alabama and Mississippi, later from all around the country.
We found it after driving 15 miles down a winding road through the gently rolling hills of northwest Alabama, and for an hour had it all to ourselves. Then another car pulled up, driven by Hamlin, who was escorting a photographer working on a project about Alabama for the National Archives.
Hamlin said about three dogs a year are buried at the cemetery nowadays – a reflection of the declining popularity of the sport, in which the dogs track raccoons and chase them up trees before the hunters … well, you know the rest.
How much pride those hunters took in their dogs still lingers though, in tall tales, folklore and, most of all, at the cemetery, where heartfelt tributes are hammered, carved and burned into grave markers:
“He wasn’t the best, but he was the best I ever had.”
“He was good as the best and better than the rest.”
“He was a joy to hunt with.”
Every year on Labor Day, a festival is held at the cemetery, hosted by the Tennessee Valley Coon Hunters Association. The cemetery is spruced up and decorated, and the event features bluegrass music, food and a liar’s contest.
Better yet, check it out in person. Admission is free, but the mosquitos do take up donations. I added about a dozen more bites to my ongoing collection – a small price to pay for such a big, colorful and moving sampling of southern culture.
To read all of Dog’s Country, click here.
Posted by jwoestendiek June 7th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, ace does america, alabama, animals, burial, cemetery, cherokee, coon dog cemetery, coon dogs, coonhounds, coons, death, dog, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, epitaphs, florence, ground, hunting, journey, key underwood, loss, memorials, pets, raccoons, roadtrip, tombstones, travel, trip, tuscumbia
A California man was treated and released after being shot in the back by his dog.
The unidentified 53-year-old man was hunting in Merced County when he set the safety on his loaded shotgun and put it on the ground while he grabbed his decoy ducks, according to the Fresno Bee.
Merced County sheriff’s officials say the hunter’s black Lab stepped on the loaded shotgun, causing the safety to release and the gun to fire.
Posted by jwoestendiek February 1st, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: accident, animals, back, bizarre, black lab, california, dog, dogs, ducks, game, hunt, hunter, hunting, lab, labrador retriever, merced, news, pets, sheriff, shoots, shot, shotgun, weird
For some reason, even though I’m in Baltimore, I’m feeling a bit of unease about Ridgefield, Connecticut’s plan to allow deer hunting on the Ridgefield Golf Course.
True, nobody’s playing golf there in the winter — so, thankfully, we don’t have to worry about hunters getting hit with golf balls.
But given the course is a popular place for sledders, snow-shoers and cross-country skiers in the winter, the plan to allow bow-hunting seems a little ill-advised.
The managed deer hunt – designed to reduce the herd — extends only into the wooded areas, and it’s only on weekdays, and only for three weeks, and there will be signs posted at all the course’s entry points warning the public about the hunt, according to the News-Times in Danbury.
“The hunt will take place in the woods, in swampland,” said Tony Steger, the course’s superintendent. “The people who come to the course in winter are out in the middle of the fairways.”
Surely there will be no risk for those enjoying snow sports — given arrows, like golf balls, always go where they are intended.
And, if not, well … FORE!
Posted by jwoestendiek January 9th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: arrows, bow and arrow, bow hunting, connecticut, deer, fore, golf, golf course, herd, hunt, hunters, hunting, managed, population, recreation, restricted, ridgefield, ridgefield golf course, snow, sports, winter
On a dreary Labor Day in 1937, Key Underwood wrapped his faithful hunting companion of 15 years in a cotton sack, buried him in a three-foot deep grave in a meadow in northwest Alabama and used a hammer and a screwdriver to chisel his dog’s name into a rock: Troop.
Since then, 184 more hunting dogs from across the U.S. have been laid to rest in the remote wilderness of Freedom Hills — all of them coonhounds.
The Key Underwood Coon Dog Memorial Graveyard is, according to its website, the only cemetery in the U.S. that allows only coonhounds.
The burial spot was a popular hunting camp “where coon hunters from miles around gathered to plot their hunting strategies, tell tall tales, chew tobacco and compare coon hounds. Those comparisons usually began and ended with Troop … He was the best around.”
Troop, who was half redbone coonhound and half birdsong, was known throughout the region as the best, according to the website, and after his burial, other hunters started burying their favorite coon dogs at the same site.
The coonhound cemetery’s headstones are crafted of wood, rock and sometimes sheet metal, and they pay homage to dogs with names like Patches, Preacher, Smoky, Bean Blossom Bomma and Night Ranger. Often, etched along with the names, are brief tributes such as one that reads: ”He wasn’t the best, but he was the best I ever had.”
In a 1985 interview, Underwood said he once received a letter from a woman in California, asking why other breeds couldn’t be buried there. “You must not know much about coon hunters and their dogs,” he responded, “if you think we would contaminate this burial place with poodles and lap dogs.”
To qualify for burial in the cemetery, the dog’s owner must claim their pet is an authentic coon dog, a witness must testify to the same, and a member of the local coonhunters’ organization must be allowed to view the coonhound to confirm its breed.
“We have stipulations on this thing,” says the cemetery’s caretaker, William O. Bolton, secretary/treasurer of the Tennessee Valley Coon Hunters Association. “A dog can’t run no deer, possum — nothing like that. He’s got to be a straight coon dog, and he’s got to be full hound. Couldn’t be a mixed up breed dog, a house dog.”
Posted by jwoestendiek December 31st, 2009 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: alabama, animals, breeds, burial, bury, cemetery, coon dogs, coon hounds, coon hunters, coondogs, coonhound, coonhounds, death, dog, freedom hills, hunting, hunting dogs, key underwood, pets, troop, video