Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Nascar Enlightenment

    My decision to move southward was a swift, abrupt choice.  My best friend, Heals, had moved to Charlotte, NC a few years ago.  As we do practically everything together, I assumed that one day, I would follow her like I have followed so many of her random whims.  One such whim prepared me for southern life better than any other, her instance that I be present for a Nascar race in Watkins Glen, NY.  Understand, dear reader, that this was my pre-hunting days.  I had dabbled here and there in the outdoors but this was pre-Writing Huntress, hence I loved all things camo, cowboyhatted and country but had not dedicated myself to the life of a deer-killing, duck-eating, goose-hating huntress that I would eventually embody.  And as quick as I am to bring up hunting when meeting a new southerner, if I drag my solitary Nascar experience in with it, I’m immediately accepted for the southern-spirited girl I just happen to be.

   The whole saga began months prior to the race.  I was attending college over an hour away from home so Heals and I communicated mainly through quarter-hourly texts.  This was the greatest deviation we had ever faced as we acted like sisters for years.  Heals and I met young while playing hockey for the same team.  After years of sharing tears over lost games, bear hugs after reigning victorious and living less than 5 miles from one another, we were not ready to be so far apart (this conditioned us when Heals moved to NC, abandoning me by leaving me alone, surrounded by Yankees who looked at me weird each time I stepped from my abode clad in cammo.).  That’s why our Summers were key for our young lives.  We ritualistically took 6-hour long road trips to a lake 45-minutes away, went to the only beach in Rochester (a beach where no one actually swims), and frequented skate and shoots (essentially open hockey that not only kept our bodies in shape but our hockey-playing attitudes as well) practically every weekend.  It was after one of these hockey sessions that I stopped by Heals’ house.  Her dad, Poppa Heals, had over-imbibed and was under the curious impression that I was the pizza girl.  Wearing my old crimson life-guarding hoodie, I understood his initial lack of understanding but the fact that he, after fully becoming aware of my identity which had been essentially living at his house for years, continued to call me Pizza Hut was a little concerning.  The hour become late and I went to retreat to my homestead, my narcoleptic mother at home, surely sleeping away my curfew.  As I left, Poppa Heals asked if I wanted to come to Watkins Glen with them for the race, I nodded in the affirmative then left.

   I had figured that Poppa Heals has forgotten about the invitation until the day Heals informed me that the tickets were here and we had to prepare for the race.  At the time, I did not understand fully why people loved Nascar so much.  There are a bunch of cars that go in circles for 5 hours, some crash and some go fast; but they all find themselves on the receiving ends of extremely quick oil and tire changes. Intrigued I was; prepared I was not.

   Heals and I have had a lot of signs in life that we should cease whatever activity we find ourselves engaged in and swiftly run away. (The most startling one occurred with a stolen Camden Military Sign and the silly boy who stole said sign.  He left us alone with the sign after telling us not to take pictures with it.  Of course we did and one of many, many memorable nights ensued) However, not once in our relationship have we ever taken this divine advice.  Our heavenly sign came in the form of an 18-wheeler that was overturned in the highway, blocking any way into the Glen.  We looked at one another then at Heals’ teal Saturn, the epitome of an anti-off-roading vehicle, and decided that we should go down winding gravel roads until we eventually find our way. An hour later, we emerged from the dusty road, the old Saturn visibly angry with having to brave the rocky conditions.  We entered the Glen and then it happened, the moment where the course of the movie changes, the mood goes from somber to electrified; we had arrived. 

    Being as late as it was, Heals and I were ready to join in on the fun going on at the camp ground.  Surely as we set up shop within Poppa Heal’s camper, the party came to us.  The details from the night are fuzzy but I remember thinking that Nascar was awesome when I caught sight of a man wearing a confederate flag as a cape, running laps around the campsite like a crack-addled greyhound.  The night turned more interesting when we grew bored of our immediate surroundings and ventured out.  As we met rednecks and country folk of all kinds, I grew more smitten.  Sometime during the night we met a man who we called (and still call) “Canadian Husband”.  Canadian Husband was just that, a man from the way north who, for reasons unknown, kept telling people that we were engaged.  I’m assuming I egged this on at some point because I vaguely remember meeting his family, a lovely group of Canadians who seemed happy with their son’s quick decision to marry outside of their nationality.  I found this entire situation puzzling but who was I to challenge wedding proposals from men who I’d met only an hour previously, surrounded by Nascar-loving, beer-drinking partying individuals?

  The night passed by in a haze.  Morning happily greeted us with a glorious sunrise that tore through the camper like laser beams, searing the inside of my dehydrated head like a perfectly caramelized pork loin.  We staggered to the bathroom, begging passerby for aspirin or the equivalent.  We cleaned ourselves up and spent the hours till the Saturday race guzzling down as much water as we possibly could. When I figured that I could not possibly have more fun than the night previous, reality smacked me across the face as we entered the race.  The vendors shouted from the outskirts of their respective hollers, pushing wares on the masses, hoping that an Earnhardt Jr. fan would miraculously transform into a Kahne groupie just through the purchase of a hat.  We watched the cars fly by, their engines filling my ears with the sounds of more horsepower I had ever heard, connecting me to the race in a way unanticipated.

     By the time that night rolled around, I was a fully-fledged redneck, Nascar lover.  It seemed that all those interesting, back-woods individuals who never frequent any watering whole in which we’d ever happen to meet all come out en masse during a race.   We met the “Mayor of Watkins Glen”, a drunk, aging man who bequeathed orders upon his loyal subjects, directing his peons to drink more beer or start a BORIS-SAID chant.  A very nice, also inebriated man wielding a cowbell made our acquaintance and performed his chosen instrument whenever demanded.  We had the pleasure of befriending a Boris impersonator and the “Brooklyn Cowboy”, a poor boy whose passion for Nascar and all other things country (ie- cowboy hats and torn-in-half beer cans) made him an outcast in the first order back in New York City.   Interesting person after interesting person passed, a conga-line of people who I would never meet had I not turned away from my previous preconceived notions of Nascar-lovers and embraced my inner, backwoods, country self. 

    As we left the race that Sunday, I didn’t want to leave.  I felt as if I had left a big part of myself back there, a place where I could be myself without criticism.  As I grew into my huntress self, I wore more camo and became an advocate for hunting but in New York, the platitudes fell on deaf, dumb ears.  It was only when I moved to North Carolina that I found my Watkins Glen self, full of life and vigor, surrounded by people who were themselves, unencumbered by societal conventions.  Here, I wear my camo, shoot my guns without a backward glance and write freely of the wonders of the outdoors. 

I found my voice here. But that never would have happened had I not been open to experience life outside of all I knew; back in Watkins Glen, my own brand of Nascar Enlightenment.

To check out more pictures of our time in Watkin’s Glen, Like HLYH on Facebook!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Pit Bulls and Peanut Butter

     Every time I bring it up, I always get the same reaction. People’s eyes twitch, their mouths turn from a smile into a thin line or an uncomfortable cheshire-cat smile. I get asked whenever I meet new people or start a job.  It generally starts out positive but by the time that I get to the crucial last part, my audience’s attitude goes from interested to disgusted in about three seconds.  The quandary is the same with all but only those with negative, preconceived notions are the ones who truly do not understand.  I’m talking of course, about pit bulls.

    For a second there, you may have thought that I was going to say something along the lines of more negative hunter perception, and you would be correct, partially at least.  Pit bulls suffer the same sort of negative connotation as hunters in the 21st century.  Funnily enough, the pair also are only working from the natural instructions that predated them far before people began being dumb enough to leave 7-day old babies alone with wild animals. Those who do not see the ritualistic beauty of hunting see hunters as deadly, malicious, mean, and bloodthirsty trophy seekers (especially by PETA and the like). In the same token, pit bulls are seen as nasty, baby-eating, monsters who love to fight to the death.  Of course, just like the majority of senseless stereotypes, both are untrue.

    Hunting, as we’re all well aware, began early.  In order to live, people had to hunt and kill what was around them in order to sustain their family.  There were hunters, and there were gatherers.  Sometime in the past, there was a divergence between the two and hunters began being seen as the monsters perceived above.  This might be around the time PETA began propaganda against fishermen, telling children that the poor fishies don’t like being dinner, but I digress.   But, there has always been a natural instinct that calls to a hunter or huntress, telling them that home is in the woods, by a pond, or in the ocean; searching for food that God’s hands produced.   Hence, when someone cannot understand why I hunt, the answer is easy, it’s in my DNA.

   Pit bulls, like hunters, are a product of their upbringing.  The canine was used in times of yore as hog hunters.  With their aggressive personalities and tough hide, the dogs were perfect for bringing large beasts down.  However, just like with hunters, there became a time when people began taking advantage of this and making the dogs so mean that they would rip one another apart without a backward glance.  Before we knew it, pit bulls were being put down for acting how they were raised to act while the people who instructed them in their destructive ways are allowed to walk free, making millions in football.  These sort of instances disgust me, that dogs who had a hard upbringing are abused simply because they did what their nature told them to do. 

   Fortunately, for pit bulls and the humans that adore them, times are looking better.  I’ve noticed so many “My Pit Bull is Smarter Than Your Honor Student” stickers on cars and even more charities to help abused pit-bills.  But, while some people are open to thinking that pit bulls are just like any other dog, the negative perception remains.

   Oscar, a fantastic 9-year old albino pit bull came into my life unexpectedly. When DU and I went on our first date, I met Oscar and immediately fell in love with him.  DU had warned me before I stepped into his house that Oscar smiled, and that his smile looks like he’s trying to bite your face off, but he’s just extremely happy.  My future beloved informed me that Oscar had vet-diagnosed OCD; that the canine cannot help but smile.  Normal dogs wag their tails when they get excited; Oscar smiles.  Ever since that day, I’ve told anyone who asks that I’m a proud mother to three fantastic pooches, a black lab, a pit-boxer mix, and an albino pit bull.  Sure, Oscar has his little natural tendencies, he barks at deer in our back yard and has an aversion to some people he doesn’t know (as he was brutally beaten when a robber decided to break into DU's home).  But he’s loyal as they come, especially when it comes to his momma. He has been known to sit three centimeters from me at any given time and refuse to leave the bedroom when I lay myself down for my 9pm bedtime.

    For those of you who have been curious about Oscar’s smiling tendencies, I took this quick video this morning. Every dawn without fail, at least 2 of the dogs wait outside the bedroom door.  They absolutely flip out with happiness when I come into view, as if they were taking bets as to when I would appear.  Oscar waits, smiles, snarfs then smiles again as much as he can in order gain access to the bedroom and his sleeping father therein. I have to apologize quickly for the quality of the video. The black smudge is on the lens and given that it was 6am, I forgot that I have no idea how to rotate video.  So, get ready to tilt.  

    If you aren’t aware of the natural tendencies of hunters and pit bulls, then you may be unaware that peanut butter is crack for dogs.  The mere mention of the nutty stuff causes our brood to battle one another over the first morsel. Oscar, upon hearing the container of homemade peanut butter being unhinged, (yes, it is home made.  My mother has made our peanut butter for as long as I can remember, store-bought stuff tastes like cardboard.) will do anything and everything to get just a little taste. 

    When I become Queen of the world, I will incarcerate for life any who force dogs to fight or maltreat them in anyway.  I will pull all meat from the shelves of stores, supply every man, woman, and child with weapons, and tell them they must live off the land.  Then, maybe we’ll all understand one another a little bit better.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Metamorphosis of a Duck Dog

  I have always wanted to own a dog that loves water more than peeing on every bush in the neighborhood or humping anything within a four inch radius.  Watching Dock Dog competitions make me want to run out and cheer the athletes on, their little legs kicking ferociously against the tide just to bring whatever it is that his master has thrown back.  When we hunted with buddies who had true-blue hunting dogs, I loved watching the canines throw themselves into freezing water all for the love of the sport.  Avery, our rescued black lab, been looking less and less like a duck dog everyday.  She won’t retrieve, she won’t swim, she continually sleeps in the blind and does not seem to understand why other dogs chase whatever it is that falls out of the sky after mom shoots.  I figure this is some type of karma, directly related to a dog who has gone to the happy hunting ground.

   My childhood dog was a retired greyhound named Howie whose favorite pastimes included sleeping, ignoring our family and eating pasta.  Howie ran into our lives after his race days were long behind him.   After his last round the track came to an end, he became a blood donor dog.  This stint also ceased and Howie found himself in a peculiar spot; he couldn’t race anymore, nor could he be of service to transfusion-needing fellow pooches.  Where he ended up was a rescue society for aged greyhounds looking for a good home.  What Howie received could, in some cases, be argued as a good home while some may classify it as boarding on psychotic.

   By the time that we adopted our boney, huge pup, he was ready for a good rest.  He had been beaten (and had the racing scars to prove it), abused and forced to run in circles to increase the bank accounts of greedy drunks at the track, for which he received nothing in return.  Howie gave his blood to help out his brethren then placed in a foreign shelter all by the time he reached 6 years of age.  Hence, it was perfectly understandable that he yearned to spend the rest of his days surrounded by people who love watching him sleep. Howie never knew a real home so I assume he loved ours, even if we were a little eccentric in his upbringing. He could be found easily in our house, either in the kitchen playing a convincing vacuum or slumbering near his monstrous bed. 

   If there is one thing that Howie did not do, it was fetch.  Obviously, he was not bred to do such a degrading activity and one could see his attitude towards the dog pastime anytime a ball was thrown in his general direction.  Instead, he ran. Mostly he ran in the backyard but more often than not, he ran from us. I believe I’m leading you to conclude that he was abused in some way by our family but that is certainly not the case.  We did little things, like dressing him up in wigs and dresses that made him look like a terribly skinny, long-nosed, extremely unattractive woman.  Given his unnatural affinity for pasta, Wednesday spaghetti nights were Howie’s favorite.  Besides being allowed to pull the tendrils of pasta from the strainer, our poor pooch also engaged in an activity we lovingly called “Throwing Pasta at the Fridge and Watch Howie Try to Pry it Off”.  We also played “Put Peanut Butter on Howie’s Nose and Watch him lick if Off” and the classic, “Tie a Balloon on Howie’s Harness and Watch him Try to Evade It”.  Our decrepit greyhound went along with our shenanigans as a rescue dog does, seeing them as ridiculous habits of the weird people who fed him.  Howie never barked, growled, or bit at any of us.  He simply loved his life and the insane people in it, even if we put Christmas ornaments on his ears or wrapped him up in blankets like a gigantic burrito.

   Howie passed away when we were both 14.  In his advanced age, Howie could no longer function and the day came when his legs refused to comply with the directions of his brain.  My mom cried for days and the house felt too empty.  He was the greatest dog ever, even though he didn’t fetch, swim, or respond to any command, except to come for food.  While some may see that as a useless dog, I found him to be the greatest companion who listened to my adolescent whining, no matter what.  In the years since his passing, I’ve thought about how the retired greyhound saw his life.  I haven’t come up with any conclusions but I know how I saw him, as an unconditional tissue, ever present to shoulder the burden of a teenager's woes .

    Years later, Howie’s spirit seems to have infiltrated Avery’s little brain. She loves sleeping, eating and playing, which is to be expected with a puppy.  But just like her racing predecessor, she won’t fetch.  I’ve worked with her tirelessly, thinking that if I believed it enough, Avery would begin to shape herself as the duck dog I hoped she would turn into.  She shows small, brief explosions of greatness when she brings a dead trainer back or respond to a simple snap of the fingers but she refuses to swim.  Granted, she will walk to where the water gets deep, but she just will not pass the threshold of the black abyss.

    Two weeks ago started like any training day with Avery; nothing much happening except her small self, chasing whatever passed by her black nose.   I had just gotten a writing job with an amazing company so even her initial reluctance to act like a duck dog did not deter my efforts.  I brought her over to a small creek that joins our two equally small ponds.  Figuring she’d feel a bit safer with more land outlets to fall back on, I picked up a stick and threw it. What happened next defies explanation:

   It seems that all of the sudden, her puppy brain made some deep connection with her natural instinct and she realized, fetching is fun.  Not only fun, but mom freaks out every time I bring her a stick!  (If you haven't realized yet, DU and I subscribe to the belief that excessive praise is seriously excessive.)

   Howie was on the receiving end of an interesting hand.  He was fast, so he raced.  He was healthy, so he helped. And when he was in need, we were there.  While we may have had some fun with him but, we loved him for the dog that he was.  Avery seems to be walking in the paw prints of her predecessor, with a couple of differences. Howie wasn't given the chance to have a life filled with people who loved him until he was almost too old to enjoy it.  Avery, on the other hand, was rescued early and seems to be turning into a duck dog before our very eyes.