Okay. The snakes win.


I’ve had it. I’m at the end of my rope.

It seemed like a change of scenery might do Roo some good, what with how bad she’s been feeling, so I remembered a lake half an hour away and drove her down there. She was glad for the change of pace, and maybe the Rimadyl is starting to help a little. She perked up a bit and did better than yesterday. She even ran a little, and she didn’t limp. Maybe Junior is just coming down with arthritis.

There were a lot of people at that lake and when a few women walking together came up behind us on the path, I stepped aside to get out of their way. A few minutes later we caught up with them. Except for one of them, who was keeping some distance, they were standing around looking down at something.

One of them said, “Sir, would you know what kind of snake this is?” The first thing I did was notice that two of them were wearing flip-flops and two of them sneakers. Bad wardrobe choice for standing next to snakes. But far be it from this Manhattan yokel to start mansplaining snakes to anybody.

As soon as I heard “snake” I clipped the leash to Roo. I asked the woman who was standing away if she would hold the leash to keep Roo away while I had a look.

The snake was about two feet long and dark, between a grayish green and black, and thicker than the slender racers you see all over the country. When it moved, I saw hints of yellow bands near its belly.

“That might be a cottonmouth,” I said. “But I don’t know. I just got a snake wrong the other day. I wouldn’t take any chances.”

“I thought it might be a diamondback,” one of the women said.

“I bet you know more about it than I do,” I said. “But if it is a cottonmouth, they’ve got one of the most dangerous bites there is.”

“Do you think I should kill it?” she said. By this she might have just been politely saying, “Kill the snake, will you?”

I knew that what I was about to say would be the same as interrupting Bible study to ask if anyone else like wearing lace underwear, but I said it anyway: “I don’t kill ‘em. There’s more where that one came from.”

“Duh,” she said, “but there’d be one less.”

“I know,” I said. “I’m not saying no one should ever kill a snake. I just don’t do it."

The women had all stopped looking at the snake and were looking at me. I knew at that moment what it must have felt like to be placed in a chair in a village square in France at the end of World War II to have my head shaved publicly for having slept with a German soldier during the occupation. 

“Hm,” the woman said. “I think I’ll go ahead and kill it, then, especially if it is a cottonmouth.”

“Well,” I said. “Just, if that is a cottonmouth and you tick him off, there’s no telling what he might do. He’ll be mad, though.”

Never underestimate the ability of a snake to know when its fate is being bandied about like that. It stood up for itself by sticking its head about six inches in the air and opening its jaws wide and hissing. Man, that thing had a bigger mouth than Rush Limbaugh, though everything it said made more sense. Inside, everything was as white as cotton. If you ever see this, you’ll know why they’re called cottonmouths. I guess they could have called them snowmouths, or cloudmouths, or but cottonmouth is spot on. Except that the white doesn’t look dry like cotton. It’s as shiny as a well-oiled killing machine. More like a milkmouth, but ‘milk’ is too comforting. Cotton is either something you have to pick in a hot field or are swabbed with by doctors. 

“Uh-oh,” I said. “So much for whether it’s a cottonmouth. That snake is starting to get fed up. It might be a good time to back off, gently.”

Cottonmouth bites are extremely venomous. I saw a snake handler on YouTube talking about it. He was out there picking them up in some swamp and getting all sweaty and nervous and talkative as he enjoyed the enormous risk he was taking and saying the whole time how stupid he was for doing it because if the cottonmouth nailed him he probably wouldn’t have the time to make it to an ER before he died in a fit of spasms and misery. I wish I had never seen the first snake video, but it was inevitable once Roo was bitten and there was a period when I watched about 50 of them in a row. If you only learn one thing from this blog, it should be: Don’t get on a snake video-watching YouTube jag.

That was it. The snake left without getting killed. That was one coolheaded snake. It didn't hurry or look back over its shoulder. But as far as I was concerned, everything was ruined. My mood was about the same as it would be if I drank ammonia. There’s no more denying that the snakes are out in full force. They’re hungry. They’re in the mood for some action after a harsh winter. I kept Roo on the leash and walked her down the center of the road and wouldn’t let her so much as poke her nose in the grass all the way back to the car. The old feeling of terror is back to join all the other ones. It’s all going to hell.

We would leave tomorrow if we could, but what to do? Roo is not feeling well and is in the middle of all this testing with Dr. Stokes. I can’t just drive off and hope to find another good vet in some other place and pick up where we leave off here. Dr. Stokes has been following the case, thinking about it, ruling things out, hearing about all the symptoms. There’s still no answer from the lab on the question of tick bites. Dr. Stokes says they sometimes take up to four days, and now it’s the weekend, so that will stretch it out until at least Monday. Heartworm was negative, and liver and kidney and urinalysis suggest nothing about hormonal diseases like Cushing’s, which might otherwise account for her weight gain. 

So, we’re stuck in hungry snake country, at least for a few more days. 

*                    *                    *

If anyone out there has one of the million empty houses I see all over the country and would rent it cheap, please let me know. It is near impossible to find a rental that wouldn’t terrify Roo. She can’t live anywhere where she can’t see the things making noises. She can never get used to sounds and spends the entire night terrified. Anything, even a TV or music, if she can’t see her, make her tremble. Apartments are out. Places near a road are out, especially if headlight beams reflect on walls, which send her into a panic. She’s so scared of lights that — try this sometime — I have never been able to use a flashlight around her, while camping for more than two years. We need to find a place away from snake and Trump country. 

We’re both going insane in this crate. And now, with the snakes out in force, we have to get out of here. I have to find someplace where the snakes aren’t what get in the way of Roo being able to exercise. This place ain’t it. Anyone with any ideas, please let me know.

And if you have no ideas, here's one: Become a patron of the black snake arts at Patreon. You decide how much, as little as a buck, and it's just like leaving a tip. 

Update on how Roo is feeling


The test results back in for Roo so far are all okay — blood, urine, all that. We’re still waiting for heartworm (it’s nearly inconceivable that she has that, because I only stopped the meds in the winter, but there was on day when the blistering cold let up in Virginia and suddenly there were trillions of mosquitos, so, it’s conceivable) and tick diseases. The lab is a little slow with the tick stuff. Hopefully it’ll be back tomorrow.

Her mood and appetite are okay, it’s just that she’s so sluggish. She barely wants to walk, or when she does, only a little. She snaps out of it if she suspects the presence of a mouse somewhere.

Today we started her on Rimadyl, and, even though it’s not expected to kick in for a couple of days, she seemed to feel better two hours later. But then, she got into one of those ridiculous opposite-sides-of-the-fence chasing routine, with, of all the creatures on the planet, the miniature horse she found a year ago. They were only playing. Why Roo does that is a mystery, but on rare occasion, if there’s a barking dog on the other side of a fence, she does it. What can I tell you. That little horse had exactly the same idea dogs get about running back and forth like that. They only did it for the second it took me to tell Roo to cut it out, and no one — neither horse nor dog — held a grudge. But Roo started limping immediately. 

The other thing is her weight. She put on six or seven pounds this winter. She seemed a little chunky, but nothing I worried about. I’m guilty of letting that happen, though. It was a function of how freezing it was for so long and the reduction in her exercise. But now, Dr. Stokes very diplomatically instructed me to get her on a diet, and her rations have been chopped down mercilessly. This kills me to have to do to her.

Incidentally, Dr. Stokes gave me some smart advice about how to figure out the right amount to feed a dog like Roo, who always waits a minute or two before eating just about anything. He advised to bring the amount back to the point where she tucked into it immediately. That amount seems like so little food, but that’s what’s she’s getting. The problem is that this has been going on for three weeks, and Roo has gained a pound.

And she had three skin infections in a row. One of them led to a vaginal infection because she was itching and started scooting so hard that she wore herself down. One night, after rolling over in satisfaction after eating a bone, I saw that she was swollen. That was cleared up with antibiotics. They always beat her up, and these did, too.

So, we’re waiting for the ret of the test results. Dr. Stokes says it’s possible that she has allergies. 

I don’t know what it is, but the poor bear is really not enjoying herself. I can't tell you how much I hate myself for her having to be stuck in the camper so much. I try to get her outside more, but she doesn't want to go much. The worst thing is that I think she thinks she's disappointing me, because when we're out, and she's had enough, after only a few minute, she doesn't ask me for her Flexi leash, but when I ask her if she wants it, she gladly takes it, which is her signal that she wants to go home. It seems like she's not asking me for it because she thinks I want to keep walking more. And then she's relieved to be asked.

Anyway, she's in the hands of a good vet and hopefully we'll get some answers soon. 

VIDEO: Roo tables a motion to take her for a walk

This was Roo the other day. It was 5 PM and the last time she was outside was around midnight the night before. She put her head up on the table as a sign that she was willing to consider it, though that may just have been a tactic to get me off her back after hours of asking her. No one on Planet Earth an hold it longer than Roo, but finally she decided to go. It could have been the effect of antibiotics she was taking for an infection. Every antibiotic makes her feel godawful.

She was back at the vet today for a new round of blood tests. She's just run out of energy. Something's up. Hopefully it'll get figured out this week. There's no time that it's worse that dog's can't speak than when they're not feeling well. If only they could tell you what's bothering them. It could be that she's just sick and tired, but, other than when she was so sick a year ago, I've never seen her drag like this.

They're back


One night it was 25 degrees, 55 the next. After a second night over 50, I remembered what a herpetologist I interviewed for my old newspaper column told me about when to expect the snakes to come out. He said that the rule of thumb was that when nighttime temperatures trend above 50, snakes consider the winter to be over and come out of hibernation. There were only the two nights over 50. Does two nights make a trend? If not, I knew the trend was going to set in soon.

The next day, I was on the bike, at a walking pace 30 feet behind Roo on the road at the campground when I saw something she passed flick at her. A SONOFABITCH of a SNAKE. Roo never saw it, and the snake didn’t come close. I accelerated like a madman to position the bike between her and the snake. Roo isn't feeling well, so she was walking slowly, and even though she didn’t notice the snake, I wasn’t taking any chances in case she turned around for something. You never know. All it would take is a mouse squeaking at thee bottom of a rock mound in Tulsa. I waited until Roo was clear and got a stick under the snake up and picked it up. The poor little bastard was sluggish. It was late in the day and too cold on the pavement for him to move. A youthful miscalculation. Exuberant after being born, in the mood for a snack and overplayed his hand. General practice in snake country is to kill them, but I can't kill anyone. If there's a bug in a campground shower I catch them and get re-dressed to take them outside rather than let them drown in a pool of soapwater. It's gotten so bad that I can't even kill ticks any more. Not that I think any of that is going to keep me out of Hell, if the guys you see in many middling towns holding placards warning about going there upon failure to repent are right that that's where sinners like me are headed. I'm just a coward when it comes to murder. There are a 10,000 more where that snake came from, anyway. Word would spread and revenge sought. They would insist on it. I put the snake down in the adjacent woods. Dangling from the end of a stick woke him up a little and he was glad to discover he wasn't being flown off by a hawk. He ducked into the leaves. This is the second time I've seen a snake strike at Roo's ankles.

It’s a baby copperhead, the same kind of snake that probably nailed Roo the time she was bitten in Asheville. That one could have been a rattler, according to the vet, but I’m pretty sure it was a copperhead, because I used to see them around there all the time. As bad as that bite was, a rattler bite would have been even worse.

The strange thing is that I have no personal fear of snakes, but I’m scared of Roo getting bitten to the point of madness. In Asheville, I was as tight as a knot every minute of every walk with Roo after she was bitten. The old worry is back. When the snakes came out here last year, we were gone in a flash. This year we're stuck, however, mostly because Roo is sick and her vet here is so good.


CORRECTION: Not a copperhead, my error pointed out by ever-perspicacious reader Sherri. I almost feel better....

Something's wrong with Roo


There’s something wrong with Roo. She doesn’t want to walk much and she’s eating less. I took her to the vet in Asheville, and she got a clean bill of health, but I don’t beleive it. I took Roo to that clinic because it used to be good, but Roo’s old vet wasn’t there. This time, a young vet cam in. She was wearing the biggest diamond ring I’ve ever seen — and I grew up in the building in New York where Zsa Zsa Gabor lived, and even though she liked ‘em big, old Zsa Zsa would have drawn the line at this one. This diamond was the sort of thing Saudi princes in Monte Carlo hand out to guarantee the good humor of Russian hookers sent as a personal favor by Vladimir Putin to make up for getting stiffed when he sent them to Trump. Just being in the same room with a diamond that size was distracting. Not only because it kept glinting at everything — the vet was small and the weight of the rock as hard for her to handle. She had to constantly rearrange it on her finger as the force of gravity pulled it down and lodged itself on the palm side of her finger where it felt like she was holding a handful of gravel. She was the worst vet I have ever encountered. She answered no questions, made no comments, smirked as she tried to control herself from saying what she really thought about my questions. She did a check up, gave me something for Roo’s sore and handed me a bill for $300. 

We went to Asheville when the cold blasted us out of Virginia and we were forced to move southward to avoid the next wave of it. Roo didn’t seem to be doing badly, other than a sore she picked up on her back leg. The sore was probably caused by a burr, and it was not a big deal.

The previous weeks of cold were hell. Just opening the door of the camper meant the inside air temp would drop to five degrees and have to be nursed back up to a survivable range. It was too cold even for Roo. That was when she started wanting to walk less, and I assumed it was just because it was too cold. Then I began to think that the reduction in her usual routine might have accounted for her slowing down.

No offense to those of you in the South, but I wasn’t enthused about the idea of going back there. The Confederate flags, the incredible levels of segregation and racism, the Trump signs everywhere. Crumbling schools, gleaming gun shops, big-hair Prosperity Gospel preachers with vanity license plates. I’m pretty sure I saw one that said JE$U$ and had a state-issued anti-abortion message on it. Every parking lot has a couple of crackers standing around smoking Camels out of a flourescent-colored pack and sneaking swigs of beer out of paper bags. Every one of them looking around to see if you’ve been sent by the Lord to fulfill their dream of finally getting to shoot someone. If you’re white, you have the advantage of their knowing youre off-limits. In the southern woods, there are frequent nighttime hobbyist explosions and campground gunfire. The sound of Liberty, they like to say. 

The poorer the southern town — the poorest are of course African-American — the more it is geared to sucking every last dime out of the citizens. Go to a Piggly-Wiggly in any town where there is not another grocery store withing 20 miles, and milk costs more than it does at a Whole Foods in Santa Monica. The bread trucks get there last and the bread they deliver was turned away by the managers of other stores for being crushed or stale. And since that malevolent blimp Trump appeared on the horizon, airborne on the strength of hot bullshit about to burst and rain its stinking bile on all below, there is increased hatred and suspicion everywhere. You feel it constantly. I was in a pharmacy the day Trump called some African countries shitholes. The pharmacist was from one of the shitholes, and you could see how hurt he was. I asked him if I could shake his hand and thank him for being here and that he wasn't the only one who would have to wait the bastards out but that we would and they could all go to hell. My prescription happened to be ready a lot quicker than those of some others ahead of me. The South is hellish. And, it’s intent on dragging the rest of the country down to its level. Arkansas senators saying that too bad if you were only two when you broke the law. You were still a wetback, weren’t you? Okay, then. Get the hell out. Alabama Republicans getting behind a child predator. The main complaint seems to be the deep desire to get rid of “political correctness,” otherwise known as being able to refer to a black person in the language of a lynch mob, and hopefully, get back to a system of justice that understands the clear necessity of the lynch mob itself. Isn’t that what JE$U$ would have wanted? That and a few more guns in the hands of the righteous?

But we had to go. The cold had been too extreme. The wind chill had dropped to twenty-five below zero one night, curtailing the amount of time Roo spent rolling in the grass when she went out to pee. 

I wondered if the extended period during which we were stuck in the trailer almost 24 hours a day because of the brutal cold had anything to do with Roo not feeling well. She is, after all, used to being a field dog. She put some weight on, but I chalked that up to the lack of exercise. So, my main concern was getting her someplace where she could run and dig and swim. I chose Pine Mountain, Georgia because there is a state park there close to Warm Springs, the place Franklin Roosevelt went to for his polio treatments, a place he loved and the place where he died in 1945. His home there is movingly simple, just a little, three-room white clapboard house with pine-paneled walls. His bedroom is the size of a bed and a desk with a straightback wheelchair. The living room only big enough for a sofa and a couple of armchairs. There’s something good just about being in FDR’s old neighborhood. And, with the predicted improvement in the weather, Roo would be able to do her thing.

For a few days she did do some running around. She dug a few holes and splashed in a few muddy streams. But, when it snowed unexpectedly one night and she wasn’t too excited about the snow, I began to worry. And she seems to be tiring quickly. Most of the time, as soon as we get outside, she asks to carry her leash, which is her way of saying she wants to go back. And, over the last few days, she seems to be eating less. Something’s up.

I’d rather get squashed under a rock again than make another 800-mile drive, but the only idea I have is to take Roo back to her favorite place, and it happens to be 800 miles west, that campground on the ranch in Oklahoma. She has more liberty there than just about anywhere. She rarely needs to be leashed and there are entire pastures where she is safe to wander and hunt at her own pace without much danger as long as the cottonmouths are still hibernating. It’s filled with rats and everyone else she likes to chase and dig up. And, Dr. Stokes, the vet who took care of her last year, is there, and he is one of the greats. 

So, that’s where we’re off too. I’m not confident that the truck is up to it, let alone the last of the credit cards, but we’re going to give it a shot.

I have made so many bad decisions. The days when you wonder if it’s possible to get more tired start to add up. I hope this isn’t another one of them, but I don’t know what else to do. I’ve got to try to get Roo back on track.

I found another deer. This is a story of cruelty, so you may not want to read this any more than I wanted to write it.


I found another deer a few days ago on the other side of the chain link fence around a baseball diamond, close to first base. He was a young buck lying on his side, struggling, but he couldn’t move his back legs. He was only 150 feet or so away from the camper, and as soon as I saw him I took Roo back and put her inside. When I came back and got close enough to try to see what was wrong with him, it only terrified him and made him thrash, so I backed off. He had some blood on his chest. I called around in the dim hope that some wildlife rehabilitator might be able to help, but everyone I spoke to said the deer would have to be shot. It looked like he had been already.

A woman at the camp knew the game warden and called him. He was only about 15 minutes away. Before he got there, officialdom had been set in motion and some cop showed up and asked me where the deer was and I told him, “Over there. Getting closer just scares him and makes him thrash around. I thought it’d be better to let him have some calm.” 

“Probably one of these guys up in here that’s got a silencer. They like to pop ‘em for fun.”

“What an asshole thing to do,” I said. “And silencers. Great.”

I understood from the dirty look he gave me that he had been referring to popping ‘em with a silencer as something admirable. The way the Second Amendment guarantees a man’s right to maim wildlife in residential neighborhoods. For fun.

The cop was one of those cops who became a cop to get revenge. He still wore the Moe haircut the other kids in middle school must have tortured him about. It clashed with his high-tech Robo Cop mirrored wraparound sunglasses. 

Of course the dumbass had to drive around the fence and park his SUV cruiser right in front of the deer and get out and look him over and terrorize him. He wore his Taser in front like a codpiece and was festooned with more gear than a Navy SEAL. All that for a rural Virginia beat. Granted, he probably came up against the random meth head from time to time, but he was wearing the kind of gear you wear on the day ISIS shows up to shove sharia law up the Commonwealth of Virginia’s ass.

He stood right next to the deer and terrorized him. He wouldn’t give him the twenty feet that would have kept him from thrashing around. I hate to see fear in an animal. I hate to see it in anyone. Nothing is worse than fear. In the end, fear is the only thing that alone who is scared of death is scared of. Death is nothing. What people and animals are scared of is what it feels like to die.

“Any chance you could give that deer a little room?” I said to the cop. He gave me a look I’ve seen before from that kind of cop. The look of someone who has to remember how to spell “Resisting Arrest,” no matter how many times he charged someone who didn’t resist a thing with it. 

He wouldn’t move away from the deer. I figured that he’d make more of a point of it if I was there. I wasn’t doing any good, anyway. The game warden would be there and I had to get to Roo before a gunshot.

I heard the game warden show up as I got to the camper. He was a professional and not interested in letting the deer suffer. He waved the cop aside and before I had the door open to get to Roo he leveled his pistol at the deer’s head and shot him. I opened the door and was surprised that Roo hadn’t bolted to a corner. She must have been asleep. It set her a little on edge, but that was it. I left her inside and, I don’t know why, went back to the deer. They were looking him over, moving his foreleg up to get a look at his chest. The deer didn’t seem dead.

“That’s just nerves,” the game warden said to me.

“You sure?” I said. I hated the whole thing. The whole planet. The whole universe for requiring so much suffering and destruction all the time, all of it, from all the stars blowing up all the time and galaxies colliding 15 billion light years away to people getting bombed and lynched here to ants getting squashed to shitheads with drinking Bud Lites and shooting deer from their back yards with silencers because they think it’s fun, even if the occasional stray bullet cripples a four-year-old playing in a swing set in the neighbor’s yard from time to time. That’s the sound of Liberty you hear. That's the sound of the Second Amendment, son. The only goddamn part of the Constitution of the United States handed down to man by Jesus Himself.

“No, he’s not feeling anything,” the game warden said to me. “You can see where I hit him, and that’s with a .40 caliber.”

“Musta been one of these guys up in here got silencers shot him,” the cop said. “They do shit like that. You know that anybody with a FFL can get a silencer?” He grabbed the deer’s foreleg and the deer jerked it back.

What the hell was with this cop. “Why don't you let him die in peace?” I said.

The cop looked at me. He stood up. He couldn't help himself and he poked the deer in the chest with his boot.

“Are you sure that deer doesn’t need a second shot?” I said to the warden. It wasn’t as if I liked anyone shooting a gun off a hundred feet from Roo.

“Naw. That’s just nerves,” he said. “Can you get Public Works to come out and get him?” the game warden said to the cop.

“Yeah, but they’re done for today. They'll get him tomorrow.”

“Well, it’s cold enough that he won’t start stinking or anything,” the game warden said. Eventually the deer died. The game warden and the cop got in their vehicles and left. I stayed with the deer for a while and, maybe because I’ve been writing about what happened in the Himalaya and it came to mind, said a small Tibetan prayer they say over there to honor the spirits of animals when they die. I probably got it wrong but it couldn’t hurt. Nothing would have mattered but whether it was heartfelt.

I went back to get Roo out of the camper and take her for a walk. Nearby, a man was walking a fat Chihuahua. I went over and said, “If you could use a deer, there’s one here that hasn’t been dead more than fifteen minutes.”

“What happened to it?” he said.

“He was lying hurt in the baseball field. The game warden came and shot him.”

“Good deer?”

“Yeah, he was a good deer,” I said.

“Be a shame to let it go to waste.” he said. 

“Yeah,” I said. “It would be.”

“Well, my brother would probably like him. I’ll give him a call."

About 20 minutes later his brother showed up in an old pickup, painted in matte primer green, all the better to keep from glinting in the woods. Roo and I were back in the camper by then and I saw them from the window. He was a big guy. He dropped the tailgate of his truck and picked the little buck up by all four legs and swung him up and into the bed. He and his brother talked out there for a couple of minutes, maybe about the way things work out sometimes, and then the one brother drove off while the other went the other way with Eddie, which was what I found out the Chihuahua was named.

Later, Roo found the spot where the deer died and licked the frozen blood from the grass. She was as intent as a wolf, and I didn't stop her. She spent a long time there.

Rock, Scissors, Paper — Roo Style


Weather forecasts for the next ten days predicted them to remain above freezing, but they were wrong, and with a new wave of cold on the way, Roo and I had to bolt southwards on Wednesday. On Tuesday, a small sore she had developed on her back leg, on the hock right next to the cut she got in Maine a couple of months ago, started to look puffy. Between that and having to make an appearance in my state of legal residence, North Carolina (which was recently classified as one of the world’s lowest functioning democracies, by the way) for a bunch of tasks, we headed to Asheville. I liked the vet she had there. She was the one who figured out how to fix Roo’s hot spots a few years ago, so it seemed like a good idea to go see her.

Before leaving, while I was doing all the chores to pick up stakes, Roo sat outside. It wasn’t cold, and she just lay in the grass, wondering what catastrophe it night have been that had at some point in the past struck the place and wiped it clear of mouses. It had been a disappointing place for her. She was not sorry to go. 

Getting ready to go took a lot longer than I expected, and when we were finally ready, one of my gloves was missing.


I hate to lose a glove. Especially this glove. It’s not much of a glove, but I like it. We go back a long way. Nearly ten years. It used to be a flying glove and it never let me down. It’s made of kangaroo skin, and though I’m sorry about that, there’s nothing quite like a kangaroo glove, as it turns out. Instead of letting it go, I patrolled the ground and wasted another 30 minutes. It had to be there. I checked the garbage cans. I checked the flooded ground where the valve on a hydrant came loose and grew a pond on the ground. I just had to be there, and it annoyed me no end to lose it like that.

Finally, though, I had to give it up. We had 270 miles to drive and we had to make it that night because my doctor was kind enough to make a special appointment to see me early this morning.

Roo had been waiting in the car while I searched for the glove. I got in and told her the glove was gone. 

“Damn it, Chig. I hate to lose that glove.”

Roo has a way of demonstrating her disinterest in a subject by closing her eyes in preparation for sleep. Of course, the second we would get underway she would start batting me with her law to get my attention, but when it came to the glove, she did not care.

“I really do. I hate to lose that glove.”

She nestled her head onto the seat a little harder, as if some irritation was keeping her from getting comfortable.

Just as I started to pull out, a smiling woman pulled up in a pickup truck and waved at me to roll the window down, which I did.

“Yes, ma’am,” I said.

“I have something for you,” she said. She was holding a brightly painted object in her hand.

I got out of the car and went to her window.

“I’ve seen you around here and said to my husband, ‘You know what? I’d like to give that fellow one of the rocks.’ I used to paint these,” she said. “So, this is for you.” She gave me the rock.

“Aww,” I said. That’s just about the sweetest thing ever.” And it was. She gave me the rock. Whoever was living in the rock was wearing sunglasses and had a big smile, seeming as happy to embark on its next journey as she was to dispatch it. “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that. Thank you.” And I meant it. What a lovely gesture. It more than made up for the glove. Sometimes people and the things that happen surprise you.

I asked her if I could take a picture of her giving me the rock and she laughed and said, “Oh, no! With me looking the way I do?”

“What are you talking about?” I said. “You look absolutely beautiful.”

“Well, all right,” she said, and I took the picture. I thanked her again and she said good-bye and pulled head of us, waving at us in the rearview. I had never seen her before. She had some hip trouble and just getting out into the truck to see us off with the rock took a special effort.

We got on the damnable road and Roo and I were trying to make time. Roo wasn’t enjoying the drive. For one thing, the extreme cold prevented her from getting her usual level of exercise, and, when I tell her it’s going to be a driving day, she understands that she’s going to be sitting there going out of her mind with boredom. She commands this by insisting on staying in the front seat instead of stretching out more comfortably in the back, which I suspect she does because in the front seat she can harass me constantly to pet her. The only break she got in the slog was when an error in my fuel calculation went off by a single mile and we ran out of gas. I was going for maximum range in order to make one intermediate fuel stop instead of two. I had chosen a route to avoid the hills, but there were still more than I expected and it threw me off. Had this happened to Neil Armstrong when he landed the Lunar Landing Module on the surface of the Moon with one second of fuel remaining, that would have been that, but we were just in Virginia. But, because it happened just after a spot where a couple of cops were lying in wait for speeders, and I didn’t want a visit from them because of the expired registrations on the truck and the trailer, I was inclined to hurry to top the tank off from one of the gas cans I have in the back.

Eventually we reached Asheville. It was an ugly night, dripping and humid and threatening the heavy rain about to hit. Roo, as usual, having been complaining about driving for so long, now refused to get out of the car. This is her usual position. It’s her way of sending a scout ahead to draw sniper fire. 

“Fine,” I told her. “Stay there all you like.” I clipped her Flexi on and extended it to its full length and left the door open so she could come, within reason, when she liked. I was too exhausted to insist. 

A minute later, a lot sooner than usual, she came out of the car. She was holding something in her mouth and giving me the slow wag of the successful prankster. The missing glove. She must have stolen it when I dropped it somewhere when I was breaking camp. And she must have buried it someplace in the car. She gave me one of those looks with her head slightly down under the weight of her own grin, and brought it inside. She has a spot she lies down in to signal that, as per her contract, she is owed a cookie. She went there and put the glove down. And got her cookie. 

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