PETS AND CRITTERS
“You sit on him, hold his legs, just do something,” wailed Anna Marie.
Jean pushed the hair from her eyes, took a deep breath and put her arms around a big we, struggling dog. Duke, his nose full of porcupine quills, gave a sigh and rolled over. He had been through this ordeal before. Always in command, Jean told Anna Marie to run and get Father. He’d know what to do. Anna Marie found Father behind the ice house chopping and splitting kindling he had gathered as driftwood from along the lakeshore.
“Hurry, he’s hurt. We need your help!” Anna Marie said excitedly.
Father instructed Anna Marie to find a pair of pliers; in fact, to bring several. She headed for the tool chest kept in the small building housing the light plant.
“Hey, old boy. Got yourself into some trouble?” Father asked after he’d approached the stricken dog.
The family and Duke had been through other ordeals: Being lost at night in Duluth; a few fights with other dogs; skunk attacks; and now this, a face full of quills. Duke rolled his eyes at Father and slowly sat up on his haunches. Anna Marie handed the pliers to her father. One by one Father worked the quills out of the dog’s nose, jowls and mouth. There was blood. Anna Marie held her breath. It was awful. Her pal, his big brown eyes full of hurt, was being so brave. Soon it was all over. A big pile of quills lay on the ground. Jean gently washed the dog’s face with cool water. Mother found him a special treat. Duke curled up in his favorite napping place, a hole dug in the cool earth under the cabin. All in a dog’s life.
Duke was half golden retriever and half Chesapeake. A strong swimmer, at times he could be spotted all the way across the bay from the resort methodically swimming after deer who, on hot summer days, had come down to the lakeshore to drink water and escape insects. Though he could easily swim a quarter of a mile, the muscles in his shoulders rolling as he paddled along, the shouts and antics of swimmers off the dock seemed to make him nervous. He would run up and down the dock barking at the swimmers.
Mother always kept a supply of large cans of tomato juice handy for bathing Duke after a skunk encounter. Jena and Anna would don swimming suits, gather up cans of tomato juice, a bar of soap and an old blanket before heading for the beach. Duke was utterly miserable after being sprayed by a skunk. He’d retreat to his hole under the cabin. The girls tempted him out of his hiding place with a bone or a scrap of food.
Mother usually had big soup bones, carrots, a few potatoes and a little celery which she cooked into a dog stew. This was added to Duke’s dry dog food. In the spring when the family was busy cleaning cabins and raking trails Duke would appear at the cabin door proudly carrying an old smelly bone he had buried the summer before. He was so proud of himself standing on the porch of the cabin peering in the screen door as if to say: “See what I found!”
Three dogs shared the journey at the resort. First, Colonel Jean’s small toy Boston bulldog. Then, Duke the hunter, stalker of squirrels and wanderer. Last Randy, the pest who followed you everywhere, who shared bed space and feasted on blueberries from the very bush you were trying to pick.
One day in early summer Anna Marie decided to go into business for herself. The frog business. Father fastened a wire and screen contraption used for storing minnows to a tree so it wouldn’t drift away. The box had a secure screen cover ideal for keeping frogs. Anna Marie got busy catching frogs and stuffing them into a small minnow bucket. When the bucket was half full of the wiggly amphibians the contents were transferred to the holding pen. Jean helped print signs that read:
Frogs-25 cents small ones, 50 cents big ones. Contact Anna Marie.
The signs were neatly colored and hung all over the resort in hopes that the tourists would become customers. But first, the frogs needed to be washed, or so Anna Marie thought. She asked Mother for a small brush and some soap. Mother didn’t ask what for. Anna Marie then proceeded to scrub each frog sitting in the pen. There was soap and lather everywhere. Job completed, she waited for customers. Alas, many frogs turned bowlegs up. Others stayed alive floating in the soapy water. Several were rescued by tourists who bought the frogs and later, when Anna wasn’t watching they let the frogs go. The business venture lasted two days. Unfortunately most of the merchandise did not.
When the resort was first built and Jean and Anna Marie were still playing with dolls, they had a four legged living doll. It was Colonel, Jean’s small black and white brindle toy Boston bulldog. Colonel endured with some patience being forced into doll clothes but he hated wearing bonnets and long dresses. One day Anna Marie got him dressed and settled into a doll buggy covered with a blanket and ready for a ride. It was hard to push the doll buggy over the bumpy dirt trails. Colonel would often escape and Father, in the process of raking trails, would lean on his rake and laugh as Colonel streaked by a doll bonnet over one eye and two young girls chasing him. The girls finally gave up on the doll clothes. Instead, Jean painted Colonel’s toenails with flaming red nail polish. Poor Colonel. He was so ugly, he was cute! A few years later, he was given to Grandpa John and spent his retirement years chasing Grandpa’s ducks and chickens.
Years later, a car door opened. A light brown streak leapt out of the car. The streak was Randy, small reddish gold cocker spaniel ready to do battle with every squirrel and chipmunk at the resort. What Randy lacked in stature he made up for in courage.
One night, during a violent summer thunder storm, a small bolt of lightning hit the metal bed where Jean and Anna Marie slept. Randy was sleeping with his body tucked against the bed frame. When the thunder clapped and the lightning blazed Jean let out a cry: “I smell something ishy!” The smell was coming from the dog. Randy’s hair had been singed by the lightning bolt. A small patch of hair about the size of a quarter fell off the dog the next morning.
Another time, a hot still summer afternoon Anna Marie and Randy were headed up the trail to the cabin. Everyone else was down at the dock sitting in lawn chairs or swimming. Mother had hung an old bacon slab in a tree by the cabin’s back door. Randy stopped dead in his tracks. The hair on his neck stood up. Anna Marie absent-mindedly wandered on nearly walking into a bear cub standing upright trying to swat the bacon slab out of the tree. Randy took one sniff and bolted. Anna Marie ran into the cabin and slammed the door. She was shaking. And of course the size of the bear grew with each retelling of the story!
Randy’s days at the resort were spent running from tree to tree barking at squirrels and chipmunks who chattered from the tree tops. Once in a while Randy would allow you to rock him to sleep. He would lay flat on his back all four paws in the air eyes half closed a rumble deep in his throat like that of a purring cat. Randy died after eating rat poison someone in the neighborhood back in Duluth had carelessly left out. Mother was terribly upset, fearing that children would get into the poison. Anna Marie and Jean cried. Mother vowed “no more dogs.” And Father agreed.
On a shady sloping hill behind the resort covered with birch trees Anna and Jean created a pet cemetery. Whatever was found dead or whatever died from too much TLC (tender loving care) ended up a resident of the cemetery. There were tiny furry bunnies, black moles, baby squirrels and birds with broken wings. The girls weren’t too successful at bandaging critters or playing doctor. Mother provided the bandages and advice. When Father was around he showed them how to splint and bandage. Years before while working at the Miller Mine in Aurora he was required to take a first aid course. As a consequence he had infinite patience with the critters and the “nurses”.
On her way to Ely one day Mother found several baby skunks running back and forth across Highway 12. The mother skunk had been killed by a passing car. Somehow Mother was able to capture two babies and bring them back to the resort, the skunks riding on the seat next to her as she drove. This was years before the rabies scare. They were so tiny, like new born kittens and needed to be fed with a doll bottle. The girls named them Salt and Pepper. When Father arrived at the resort for the weekend he quietly headed to town to find a vet.
“How soon can we fix them? What do they eat? Are they safe as pets? Can you come out, say tomorrow? I’m afraid we’ll get sprayed,” he lamented.
A time was set for the vet to come out the very next day. Surgery took place behind the ice house under glass. Father was the chief surgical assistant. The girls waited anxiously at the dock. Salt and Pepper pulled through their surgeries and recovered nicely. They were soon scampering all over. They played in empty row boats and soon began following people around the resort. They were excellent swimmers and enjoyed swimming with folks if they were left alone. The baby skunks had long silky fur little beady eyes and didn’t bite or snap. Father built them a cage. The resort kids helped to find frogs, small fish and clams for the skunks to eat.
One day Mother’s friend Aunt Em came for a short visit. The girls didn’t like her: She was an overbearing and boisterous woman who scared them. She had taught school with Mother in Michigan. Although she wasn’t their aunt, many of Mother’s lady friends were called “Aunt” rather than their given names. One evening during her visit, Aunt Em sat on a red metal lawn chair at the end of the dock enjoying the sunset. Jean crept up behind the woman and dropped one of the skunks in Em’s lap.
“A skunk. A skunk!” she shrieked in panic.
Everyone (everyone that is but Aunt Em) laughed. She left the next day.
Jean and Anna Marie always had a dog pal at the resort. Father saw to it. Mother was tolerant. When a pet died or was sent to Grandpa’s to live out its last days another pet took its place. It was nice to have a pet, especially a dog: A warm sometimes wet sometimes smelly body to hug; a wet tongue licking your face. Complete trust and companionship. In the late fall, when the harvest moon was full and orange and the trees were reduced to mere shadows wolves could be heard howling across the lake. It was an eerie sound. Duke, sleeping by the front door would hear the wolves, raise his head and give the family a look as if to say “it’s OK. I’m here. You’re all safe.” And indeed they were.
Timber Wolf Lodge is honored and excited to share the delightful book “Back Of Beyond” A Memoir from the North Woods. We will be sharing a new story in the blog from time-to-time.
From Susanne Schuler’s memoir “Back of Beyond”. Susanne’s family founded Timber Wolf Lodge over 70 years ago and her book recounts her childhood days growing up here.