Kinetin and Kiwi

 November,  2013:  Kinetin and Kiwi

It’s almost Thanksgiving.  It seemed summer didn’t arrive until that hot spell in September.  August was like May.  October felt like August.  I’m all mixed up especially since this year’s puppies came late to Green Spring Farm and have already returned home.  Kinetin and Kiwi were from a late litter born to the Potomac Hunt and drafted, just like members of a sports team, to Blue Ridge.  I picked them up as ten-week old pups in early September.   Kinetin (rhymes with…nothing…but the “i” is long and the “e” is silent) is the dog and Kiwi is the bitch.IMG_8806

I had prepared the fern garden early, fencing it with chicken wire to keep the puppies out, but Jeff was back to paint, not the porch, but the whole house.  Jeff loves dogs and he assured me that the puppies were “no problem.”  The little pests stole a paint brush and a tube of calk from his tool chest and he couldn’t keep them out of his sandpaper.IMG_8865  They weren’t too terrible until the day when Jeff, high up on his extension ladder, felt a tug on the rope that collapses the ladder.  It had happened once before on another job, he told me later: the rope somehow malfunctioned, the ladder collapsed and he fell two stories.  This time, when he looked down, Kinetin had the rope in his mouth and was headed around the corner of the house with it.  “Whoa, boy,” Jeff called down, easing himself from a second-story window frame he’d been painting.  This is the sort of situation where you don’t really want to frighten the thing you really want to frighten.  I was reminded of the time, over twenty years ago, when our middle son, Duncan, was two and decided to climb a ladder to the porch roof where his dad was repairing a window sash.  Bill had his back to the ladder when he heard Duncan say “Da Da,” and turned to see him teetering on the edge of the gutter with his arms extended.  You want to scream.  You want to lunge.  Your face wants to distort in fright, but you must repress these impulses and speak ever so calmly to the puppy with your life in its mouth.

“Oh God,” I said, when Jeff explained what Kinetin had intended.

“It’s ok,” Jeff said.  “Nothing happened.”

Yes, but I pictured Jeff, flat on the hard September ground, with his back broken, Kinetin licking his face.

They were sweet and surprisingly care-free, these pups. They didn’t destroy too much. Food was their biggest incentive, their one and only driving force.  They dragged half a deer carcass up from the pond soon after bow season started.  The deer must have been wounded and had found its way to our pond to die.  The puppies were thankful.  No, Kinetin and Kiwi were easy puppies, except that the world didn’t seem to hold enough food for the two of them.never enough

They didn’t particularly like puppy chow, even when I added milk.  They soon graduated to real dog food and proceeded to eat us out of house and home.  I bought two 50 pound bags of dog food a week.  Of course that was for our dogs too, but the pups were bottomless and they didn’t seem to be putting on weight.  I finally figured out that they had tape worms and, after treatment, they fattened up fast.  Still, they wanted more and more food.  Every time I  went outside to check on them, they’d emptied the food bowl and were sniffing around for more.  I decided to get them some beef bones to occupy their time between meals.

I remembered that Southern States carried cooked beef joints, so off I went to buy a few.  Our friend Carol has worked at Southern States for as many years as we’ve lived here, going on thirty now.  Carol often helps the Frederick County animal shelter by fostering pregnant bitches and finding homes for the pups.  We got Spud from Carol fifteen years ago.  Spud died two weeks ago of lung cancer.  Good old Spud.  We miss him.

When I went to pick up a knuckle or two for the hound puppies, I saw another product on the dog-snack shelf I’d never seen.  “Bully Sticks.”  They looked to me like some sort of long tendon and I pictured it attached from a bull’s massive hip bone to his knee.  They looked manageable and tasty and they weren’t too expensive so I bought a package of ten “12-inch Bully Sticks.”

Boy, they were a hit.  Kinetin and Kiwi loved them, and so did Ashie and Jake.  All four dogs lay around the back yard blissfully chewing, chewing, chewing.  Each fresh stick lasted a good hour and made for some great games of chase.  They didn’t exactly melt in the dogs’ mouths, but they crunched nicely and seemed to sort of dissolve with pressure.  The only down side, so far as I could tell, was the resultant horribly bad breath the dogs acquired.  They were happy, so I didn’t complain.

“Did you see the new treats I got the puppies?” I asked Bill.  “They love them.  They’re called  ‘Bully Sticks.’ ”

“What’s a Bully Stick?”

“I don’t know.  Some sort of ‘beef byproduct.’ ”

A few days went by.  The dogs, though beset with halitosis, were content.  When it came time to take the puppies to the barn to bed them down each evening, normally a difficult journey, I’d grab a Bully Stick, wave it in front of their faces and they’d follow me happily.  The sticks were gone within a week and I went back for more.

Then came the evening when Bill said, “Martha.”  (He calls me by my given name when he needs to correct me, or remind me, or admonish me, or call my attention to some glaringly obvious thing I’ve overlooked.  I can imagine George Washington using the same tone with his Mob-capped wife.)  “Do you know what those things are?” he asked.


His lips curled slightly, slyly, wryly.  “What do they look like?”

“I don’t know.  Some sort of tendon?”



“They’re bull penises.  A ‘Bully Stick’ is a bull’s penis.”



Well, you can imagine that the conversation went down hill from there.  They come in six, nine and twelve-inch lengths. . . yes girls, here’s your chance to make a fair comparison . . . the source of  the world’s worst cases of halitosis . . . tasty and expeditious . . . when you’re fed up, feed it to the dog . . .

Kiwi with a pizzel

Kiwi with a pizzel

Come to find out, they’re not too safe.  Fox News reports that Bully Sticks have made a few dogs sick, and people too.  Also called pizzle sticks—a word derived from ‘low German’ (do high Germans avoid it?) meaning, according to Webster’s, “an animal’s penis” —they are fattening too, packing a whopping 22 calories per inch (insert bad bull-penis joke), or 224 calories per big one or thirty percent of a large dog’s daily calorie requirement.  Fat dogs should avoid them, but no wonder the puppies found them so satisfying.  Scientists who studied a “small” sample (bad joke prompt) found that they contain Clostridium difficile, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and e. coli.  Researchers recommended washing your hands after handling.  (No joke.)

Time told that nobody was harmed.  I let the dogs finish the package.  I washed my hands.  Often.

With a nick-nack-padywack, I threw the dogs a nice, long, satisfying pizzle.

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End of Story

“How long will you keep the puppies at your house?” friends ask me.

“As soon as they run away,” I say, “it’s back to the kennels.”


Last Saturday I’d been to an all-day conference in Leesburg and the puppies had been locked in their stall for over six hours.

“Let’s go get the puppies,” I told our dogs as I opened the mud-room door to let them out when I got home.

Ashie picked up a trot, leading the way, ready to continue her destiny as best puppy-sitter in history, Jake ran into the field with birds on his mind, Spud stood at the edge of the porch watching, unwilling to step into the fray.

At the barn I called, “Puppieeeees,” from the double Dutch door. They scrambled against the stall door, desperate to get out. They had dug a hole toward China in the center of the stall about three feet in diameter and at least as deep. They stopped at the hydrant next to the door to lap from a bucket of fresh water I keep there, then scrambled over one another to freedom. A cricket caught Motive’s attention as it scurried under the barn siding. She lunged at it and barked, but came when she saw me holding the gate open for her. We headed for the pond as the evening light turned auburn, Spud left the porch to follow us, Jake met us at the chicken coop. “Good dogs,” I said. I was glad to be outside too.

We have a circuit: to the pond; up the hill to the church yard; down the hill to the grove of Russian Olive trees; through the fence line into our “back field” where Bill planted warm-season grasses for the quail who never came; then back toward the house by way of an adjacent field where my mare Avery and her donkey Bridget live.

The puppies were wild from the get-go. They were at the pond way ahead of me or the other dogs, they were at the church yard by the time I got to the pond, I hoped to find them in the Russian Olives hunting for the skunk that lives there (we’ve smelled him for the last month) but they never showed. I continued to the back field where gold finches were feasting on thistle as tall as me. In the mares’ field I realized that I’d lost the puppies and doubled back.

Evening was turning to darkness. When I reached the churchyard I heard them down at the pond. By the time I reached the pond, they were gone again. I backtracked to the house where Jake was waiting with Spud. Ashie was on my heals, nervous from the tension in my voice as I called and called for the pups.

It’s not as if they were pups any more, really. They outweighed Jake. They could tackle Spud. Ashie could barely keep them at bay. Monarch jumped up in my lap earlier in the week, a game we used to play when he was smaller. His nose and tail overhung either side of the bench. I was astonished at how much he’d grown so suddenly. They were eating about twenty-five pounds of dog food every five days. Recently they spent more time with their noses to the ground than looking to me for guidance.

I stood at the edge of our field calling. Calling. I could barely make out two white splotches in the church yard, darkened forest in the background, alabaster grave-stones in the foreground. I walked toward the stone wall that describes the graveyard. Motive was at the edge of the woods. Monarch disappeared within. If they went in there together, I’d never get them out; it’s a twenty-acre hard-wood forest with thick undergrowth and sharp limestone outcroppings. Motive sat down, unwilling to leave her brother but aware of the panic in my voice. Before she came, she needed to know if she was in trouble. If so, she’d bolt. I crouched on one knee to welcome her. She stood and ran toward me. Her brother must have seen from the shadows. He caught her and tackled her from behind and then me in his wake.


That was it. Our last night together. The next day I called Guy. “They ran away last night,” I said. “I have to bring them back.” Of course he understood.


They came eleven weeks ago, a pile of white puppy flesh entwined on the floor of a dog crate in the back of our truck, whining for their litter mates, unsure about the world. They left standing erect, each in his and her own crate because they could no longer fit in a single crate together, tails up, noses into the wind, ears flapping, ready to hunt for life.

Thanks, everyone, for reading about Monarch and Motive.  I’m signing off to complete  other writing projects.  I’ve written a memoir and three novels, for which I’m searching for a publisher, and beginning in January I’ll be a John H. Daniels Fellow at the National Sporting Library in Middleburg, Virginia.  It’s been fun writing about Monarch and Motive, and fun hearing from you.  Happy Trails!


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Paint Not the Porch

Paint not the porch while “walking” hound puppies.
Worry not how bad the porch looks.
Look to the future, a future without hound puppies, before painting the porch.
Paint not even the porch ceiling when hound puppies are on the premises.

Even if your husband has three new partners and he wants to welcome them
And, besides, his old friend Harry Poling is retiring;
Even if he has scheduled the caterers,
And his office has sent out two hundred and fifty invitations
To a garden party at your house,
Panic not!
Paint not the porch.

It looks like hell.
It is scratched and scared.
It hasn’t been painted in . . . what? . . . ten years?
Care not!

Care not what party-goers will say when they arrive.
City dwellers most, they will want to look around before dinner.
You will say, “Sure . . . look around.”
And they will wander off.
Mind not.

Mind not that the porch—a big wrap-around porch—has been
Gouged by a hundred dog toenails;
That millions of leaves have blown there and sometimes
Stuck, leaving a stain, before you found time to sweep;
That it has been pissed upon by hound puppies, barfed and shat upon by the cat.
Mind not what people may think.

They may wander to the similarly gouged front porch.
Care not.
Tell yourself: “nobody goes to the front door.”
Believe it.
Nobody goes to the front door,
So, paint neither the front porch floor, nor its ceiling.

Even though the ceilings of both porches are no longer sky blue,
(As folklore has it, a sky-blue porch ceiling keeps
Bees from building their nests in the corners)
Paint them not.
Even though both ceilings are now a dull grey from ten years of mildew.
Please, paint them not.

Let the party-goers wander onto the front porch.
Because here’s the truth: people don’t look up.
They don’t go to the front door and they don’t look up.
They may go to the main door, the one everybody uses to enter the house,
Except the dogs, who use the mud-room door and are responsible for this mess.

Guests may walk upon the “wrap-around” porch, look down and wonder,
“What the hell happened here?”
Nevertheless, paint it not.
Not while the hound puppies are here.

Not while they run here and there without cause, only effect.
Not while they chew on porch posts, floor boards, rockers and benches.
Call not the painter Jeff.

He will tell you it can be done; the job can be done in four days.
He will charge $20 an hour
(Whereas the other contractor, with a crew of eight, said he needed $35 an hour,
“Because labor ain’t cheap.”)
Think not of reasonable rates.

Even if Jeff says, “I’ll be there at 8 a.m.”
Say not: “O.K.”
Say: “NO!”
Say: “Let’s give it a couple of weeks, just until these damn puppies are gone.”
Jeff is an easy going guy, he’ll understand, he’ll say, “No problem. I can start whenever.”

Ask him not, “are you sure you can have it done before the party?”
Even if he says, “yep,”
Paint not the porches, nor their ceilings.

Dream not of catastrophe the night before Jeff starts.
The puppies see Jeff.
He is on his knees.
“Here’s a fun guy down on his knees,” the puppies will say.
The puppies want to know “what is that thing in your hand?
A roller full of grey paint?
That looks like fun!”

Dream not of two puppies bounding toward him,
Exuberant, happy, lucky to find a guy down on his knees with a roller full of grey paint.
Dream not of two puppies, now grown to around forty pounds each, tackling poor Jeff,
Face down in his new paint job.

Care not what the people will say.
Think not what they will think.
Judge not what they will judge.

Have the party.
But, for God’s sake,
Don’t paint the porch!

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Lord Fairfax and Willa Cather at Greenway Court

When he was sixteen years old Thomas Fairfax, Sixth Lord Fairfax of Cameron, inherited what Alexander Mackay Smith, in his definitive The American Foxhound 1747-1967, called “the most magnificent estate in the Colonies.”  Five-million acres in Virginia between the Rappahannock and Potomac rivers, the Northern Neck Proprietary, were originally granted to seven Englishmen, patrons of the exiled King Charles II in 1649.

By 1719, after a series of strategic deaths in the family Thomas came to hold all seven shares.  Robert “King” Carter, then Governor of Virginia, acted as Fairfax’s land agent.  As an absentee land holder—Carter amassed a fortune in land and cash—Lord Fairfax was not well represented.  When Carter died, rather than appoint another agent, Fairfax sent his cousin, Colonel William Fairfax, to manage his land then followed him here permanently in 1747.

In 1749, in his mid-fifties, Lord Fairfax moved west to the Shenandoah Valley, becoming the only “resident peer” in the Colonies.  There he established Greenway Court near White Post in what was then Frederick but is now Clarke County.  Mackay Smith writes: “this part of the Shenandoah Valley was the only natural prairie land on the entire Atlantic seaboard, whose natural grasses made it a paradise for deer, elk and buffalo, and whose relatively small coverts and open galloping country made it also a paradise for foxhunters.”  Greenway Court, where Lord Fairfax and his young friend George Washington hunted native grey and silver-grey fox, is on the National Register of Historic Places in the heart of Blue Ridge Hunt country.


Lord Fairfax had moved to what was then the western frontier of the English Colonies.  One hundred and twenty-four years later, Willa Sibert Cather was born in Back Creek Valley just west of Winchester.  Both her mother’s and father’s families had homesteaded west of the Blue Ridge since Lord Fairfax’s time and she lived here for the first decade of her life.  When she was ten, in 1883, her parents moved her immediate and extended family to Red Cloud, Nebraska, on the new western frontier of the United States.

Though she is perhaps best known for her novels of prairie life in her trilogy Oh Pioneers!, Song of the Lark and My Antonia as well as her Pulitzer Prize winning novel One of Ours, the great influence on her writer’s sensibilities found in her Virginian roots cannot be denied.  Eudora Welty once said of Willa Cather: “she did not come out of the south for nothing.”  Two of Cather’s stories book-end her life’s work: Sapphira and the Slave Girl, her final novel written seven years before her death in 1947, and “A Night at Greenway Court,” an early short story published in Nebraska Literary Magazine in June, 1896.

Sapphira and the Slave Girl takes place in Back Creek Valley, Cather’s family home place not far from my house.  Her descriptions of the valley just prior to the Civil War—the creek, the Northwestern Pike (now Route 50 West), trips west to Romney and east to Winchester (a day’s drive in a buggy requiring a night’s stay before returning home)—are striking for what is still present in the landscape, and for what is gone.   Writing in 1940, Cather mourns the “denuding” of the landscape that took place at the turn of the twentieth century when timbering stripped  Appalachia.  “The winding country road which climbed from the post office to Timber Ridge was then, and for sixty years afterward, the most beautiful stretch on the northwestern turnpike.”  From here Sapphira Doddridge Colbert’s slave girl, Nancy, escapes on the underground railroad to freedom in Canada and returns after the war to revisit her past.  Cather was a mature novelist when she wrote Sapphira and the Slave Girl.  Not a word is misplaced or without purpose.

“A Night at Greenway Court” is more obviously the work of a younger writer. It is a story of intrigue told from the point of view of a young man, “Richard Morgan of the town of Winchester, county of Frederick,” who idolized Lord Fairfax, “one of the most gracious gentlemen and foremost scholars of his time.”  A French gentleman, M. Philip Marie Maurepas, is visiting Lord Fairfax  on a evening in October, 1752, and the impressionable young Richard is invited to dine with “my Lord” and his guests.

Dinner is delayed until another guest, the Viscount Chillingham, returns from a day with Lord Fairfax’s hounds. In the mean time Richard and M. Maurepas tour the portrait hall at Greenway Court where they come upon a portrait of a woman made unrecognizable because her face has been gouged from the canvas.  M. Maurepas, however, recognizes the emerald ring on her finger and becomes distraught.

When the Viscount returns for dinner, he complements Fairfax:  “You’ve a good country here.  You must sell me your deer hound, Fanny.  I want to take her home with me and show ‘em what your dogs are made of over here.”  To which Fairfax replies, “You are right welcome to her, or any of the pack.”

As dinner parties go, it was a disaster.  During the course of the meal M. Maurepas becomes drunk on Fairfax’s fine wine, reveals himself an anarchist and insults the lady in the portrait. Fairfax is forced to kill poor hung-over M. Maurepas in a duel at dawn.  The identity of the mysterious lady in the defaced portrait is revealed in the end

An Evening at Green Spring Farm

Who knew that the father of foxhunting in Virginia had inspired a great novelist one hundred years later?  To read about Lord Fairfax in Alexander Mackay-Smith’s history book of foxhunting and to read a fictional account of his life by Willa Cather is to know history more intimately.  And to ride across the same country that Fairfax, George Washington and Cather’s family did is to live history out loud.

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Boys and Girls

Standing at the fence while watching the pre-puppy show last week I asked our co-Master, Anne McIntosh, if she thought there is much difference between the girl hounds and the boy hounds.  (Ok, I’ll call them bitches and dogs, but my little girl is so sweet, it’s hard to call her a bitch.  I know a few bitches and she doesn’t act anything like them.) Guy, our huntsman, and his whip, Neil, put the yearling hounds through their paces for the judges.  They’re ready to hunt this season, cubbing anyhow, beginning the first Saturday in September.  Galaxy, a bitch I walked last year, was in the crowded little yard around which spectators leaned to watch.  “The bitches are just so full of life,” Anne said.  I had to agree.  They are, from day one, more lively, curious, and all around keener than the dogs.  At least for the first few weeks.

learning to hunt

Motive and Monarch have fit the mold so far.  Motive learned her name before Monarch, who still doesn’t know his—he comes to “puppy” pretty well—and  Motive got the hang of walking on her leash before Monarch.  Each day I put a collar and leash on them to walk back to their stall in the barn for a nap or their night-time bed-down.  Monarch has a temper tantrum half-way to the barn, jumping and squealing and trying to break away.  After that he attacks Motive, who is trotting along happily because she knows she’ll get a treat when we get there.  He snaps at her feet and tackles her from behind, fakes right, goes left, all while I’m trying to keep their leashes from wrapping around my ankles and tripping me up.  Motive learned to follow me on our evening walk to the pond before her brother got the concept of staying with the pack.  At first he was easily distracted by butterflies and grasses blowing in the breeze, stumps and logs with sweetly fowl-smelling grubs.  When we reached the pond Motive dove in like an Olympian while Monarch stood without a paw in the muck, barking at her audacity.

I’m a mother of three boys and I can’t help notice the parallel.  Watching my boys try to compete with their girl peers in elementary and middle school was amusing at times, heartbreaking at others.  Let’s face it: in those early years, girls rule.  Most girls (I’m remembering my first years in school) will do just about anything to please the teacher; boys couldn’t care less.  Girls will sit still with their feet in front of them, say please and thank-you, stand in line, take turns, share their crayons and never ever fart in public.  Outwardly, they are light-years ahead of their dumb male counterparts, and when I was in first grade I never let pass an opportunity to point this out.  Then, in middle school, the estrogen takes charge and the testosterone kicks in and the boys take over.  They’re the risk-takers, the back-talkers, the fine-line-walkers and the out-of-the-box thinkers.  Raising three men turned me into a nature-over-nurture philosopher.  Boys aren’t better or worse than girls, just different.  Now in their twenties, my young men are finally recognizing their potential.

So it seems with the pups, only sped up in dog-years.  The pups have been here for four weeks.  Last week they stayed with Guy at the kennels while I was at the beach and when I returned the difference wasn’t only in their size but in their demeanors.  Motive is still out ahead on most of our walks, but I see that it is Monarch’s willingness to put his nose to the ground and root for the scent that will make him, if not necessarily a better hunter, at least a different kind of hunter.

Motive is usually out in front.

I called Guy to ask his opinion.  “The bitches may be brighter and a bit faster,” he told me.  “Some say the dogs are a bit more methodical.”  I guess that’s what I’ve noticed about Monarch, he’s just more methodical, seems to give things a little more thought before jumping in.

Ashie and her pups

Monday I climbed on my horse Smuggler and called Ashie, our German Shepherd who is their adopted mother, to gather the pups.  It was time they learned to follow a horse.  “Good puppies,” I said over and over as Motive fell in step behind Smuggler.  Monday morning was cool and moist from a weekend of rain.  A little moisture still hung over the Green Spring mill pond and I noticed that the grasses glowed golden-brown.  It’s beginning to look and feel like hunting season.

Monarch hung back.  His bark is a little like our young rooster’s crow.  He let out a “woo-woo” as the other dogs and I left him behind.  “Come on, Monarch,” I called over my shoulder.  He finally came at a bouncy gallop down the path.  He stayed well back at first, but then took the lead, practically smiling up at me as he passed Smuggler and dove down the steep bank into the pond.  As in past puppy summers, the dog pup, though slower to mature, is gradually finding his stride.

Motive at the door

Young Monarch

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Gardening With Hounds

It’s unfortunate that puppy time at Green Spring Farm coincides each summer with our local garden center’s 50% off sale.

beneath the linden tree

I look forward to Weber’s Greenhouse sale all year, planning which gardens I will renovate, where to add one or two to cover up an ugly spot in the yard.  This year I decided to renovate two shade gardens next to our front door; one beneath a maple tree, a place where the hardiest plants have trouble, and another next to it, in deep shade beneath the spreading branches of a Linden tree.  Off I went to Weber’s where I bought a couple-hundred dollars worth of hostas in variegated varieties, Christmas ferns, and a few “dead nettles,” which sound morbidly ugly, but make a beautiful ground cover, especially in dry shade.  I spent the weekend in the middle of a Virginia heat wave arranging and planting them, hauling manure from my compost pile to amend the ugly soil under both trees, arranging rocks for a “natural” look and then sitting back with a gin and tonic at the end of the day to admire my work.  Then Guy called.

Guy is our new huntsman.  He and his adorable girlfriend, Fran moved here from England in late June.  Guy is a sweet-faced guy with a wide smile, close-cropped sandy blond hair and the kind of energy that some people find in a can these days.  “So you want a couple of puppies to walk?” he asked me.  “Sure,” I said, looking out my kitchen window at my lovely new garden.  I’d sprinkled a few pink impatients between the rocks for color.  They shone there between the handsome dark green ferns and pale striped hostas like little girls dressed for a party.  “I’ll pick them up tomorrow,” I said.

After Motive and Monarch arrived, I spent each day worried sick about my new gardens.  I tried to concentrate on a task, but found myself running to the window to see if the pups had dug it up yet.  Each time the little beasts approached the gardens, I’d look for a new distraction.  I tried to move their play-space around back where we have a fairly indestructible concrete patio, but they usually insisted on wandering back to the new fern garden where our cat, Mr. Magoo likes to hang out.  The puppies enjoy pestering the hell out of him.

Monarch, Mom and Mr. Magoo

As the week progressed, I looked for puppy distractors.   Come to find out, puppies love

Who knew? Puppies like corn-on-the-cob.

corn-on-the-cob. My niece, Sarah, and her husband John, brought their little boy Morgan for dinner one night.  Morgan is teething.  When his mom gave him a piece of corn-on-the cob to chew on, I thought, hey, that should work for a couple of teething puppies.  It did.  Any time the puppies approached my gardens, I’d run outside to entice them around back with a cob of corn, which they’d fight over for a half-hour or so.  A  half-hour is ages in puppy years.  Our patio is littered with chewed corn cobs every evening, which I gather up to throw to the chickens—The Green Spring Recycling Program.

Motive and a jumping carrot

Baby carrots are great because they jump.  I have a friend in Maine who has a perpetually hungry yellow lab. Her vet told her to feed it carrots to stave off the munchies.  I like carrots too.  While snacking on a few baby carrots the other day, I thought of my friend and threw a few to the pups.  Motive discovered that when she pounced on a carrot, it jumped, sometimes clear off the porch.  It turned into a game and Monarch joined in.

Toads jump too.  Monarch found a toad in our storm drain and called Motive to come look.  That kept them occupied for at least fifteen minutes.

Monarch finds a toad

Things were going pretty well until Harry came.

Harry is my Mom’s dog.  She named him after a character in her favorite movie—that old Alfred Hitchcock film, “The Trouble With Harry.”  Mom turned eighty-six last November.  Dad died two Novembers ago.  Mom adopted Harry in January.  I call him Hilarious Harrious.  He’s some sort of long-haired dachshund mix who thinks he’s royalty.  And he is at Mom’s house, but when he’s here he’s surprised to find that he’s a dog.  I won’t let him on the furniture, or sleep in bed with Mom.  He sleeps in the mudroom with our dogs and is aghast to find that he has to pee and poop outside, of all places.

“What’s one more dog?” Bill asked.

Harry in the vegetable garden

Harry and Mom arrived for a visit last Saturday evening.  Bill and I weren’t home, but our sons Calvin and Robert were here, minding the puppies, dogs, horses, cats and preparing dinner for my brother and his wife who were bringing Mom from their home in Charleston, West Virginia.  Mom was in bed by the time Bill and I got home around eleven. I asked Calvin, “How’d it go?”

“Pretty well,” he said with a touch of regret somewhere in the back of his throat.

“What happened?” I said.

“Well, Harry jumped out of the car and they ran around in your garden for a while.”


“The dogs.”

“ALL the dogs?”


It was dark outside.  I didn’t have the heart or nerve to take a look.  I could just imagine hosta leaves shredded from their slender stalks, impatients trampled and ferns flattened.  I wanted to cry.  What the hell was I thinking, trying to garden when I knew that we would soon have puppies?  You’d think I’d learn.

“You could put that piece of snow fencing that’s on the shelf in the machine shed around your garden,” Bill suggested.  I should have thought of that days ago.  Too late now.

When I woke the next morning, I made a cup of tea and, not wanting to see the damage, took it to the back porch to drink it.  There’s always next year, I thought.  Weber’s sale is an annual sale…

Finally I had to go to the barn for morning chores.  I walked around front for a look.  It wasn’t as bad as I’d expected.  A couple of hostas were flattened.  One lay in the center of the brick walk, its roots bare and naked of dirt, the leaves looking shocked and embarrassed.  I dug a hole with my bare fingers, quickly buring the roots, tamping them gently back to earth.

The paddock gate at the barn has a squeaky spring that lets the puppies know I’m on my way each morning.   “Let us out!  Let us out!” they howl.  “There are gardens and corn cobs out there!”

“Puppies” I say as I open their stall door.  Who can stay mad at a puppy?

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I’ve put the puppies in their stall this afternoon.  We’re expecting a heat-index of 104 degrees, dangerous weather for the very old and the very young.  Monarch and Motive  live in an extra stall in our old bank barn, which was built, half-underground, near the turn of the 20th century.  Like a Virginia cavern in the karst countryside around our farm, the basement of the barn is lined with limestone boulders, which help to keep it cool in summer and warm in winter.  I scatter the stall with pine shavings and throw a couple of balls in there, along with an old horse blanket, a bowl of water and one full of puppy chow so that they can entertain themselves before I wake up every morning and during these hot mid-July afternoons.

Motive and Monarch have been here for a week now, and the introductions have been  pretty smooth, except for Spud.  I can and never will trust old Spud.  He’s our pit-bull, rescued from the Ester Boyd Animal Shelter about eleven years ago this summer.

good old Spud

Ester Boyd is the patron saint of Frederick County animals.  When we moved here twenty-six years ago, we had a lab-golden mixed retriever named Saco who wouldn’t fetch his own dinner, but he loved to roam.  This was before electric fences became the ubiquitous dog-training tool and before the county had a shelter.  There was a wire pen next to the county dump and a little wooden building with a sign that said “County Animal Control.”  (I always thought it a horrible place for passed-over pets, next to the dump.)  Later the County built a little one-story building up on the hillside, closer to the dump, with a bigger yard.  But it was immediately outlived and undersized due to the great volume of inmates, kind of like the elementary schools at each of the county’s four corners that were too small from the day they opened.  Still later the County found some extra land next to their new jail in an industrial park—another questionable place for misplaced animals, but better than the dump, I guess. All of these upgrades were due in part to Ester Boyd.  She raised awareness and money to house forgotten and abandoned animals and she helped me find Saco more than once.

We rescued Spud and brought him home and gave him the potato name.  Small dogs fit easily inside Spud’s enormous jaws and he has a switch in his block head that sometimes tells him to eat one, so I don’t really trust him around the puppies.  Now that he’s old and gray and a little feeble, he’s slightly more trustworthy.  Still, I worry.

In 2003, when Bill’s father passed away, we inherited his young German shorthaired pointer named Jake.  Poor Jake is “as numb as a pounded thumb” as they say in Maine.  He’s a hound dog too, but a bird dog—nothing but little birds flying circles within his brain.  He’s not fond of the puppies because he’s normally the baby of the family and they rob him of his status.  They are annoying little creeps in his opinion.  He stays clear of them, but they usually pester him until he snaps.  He’ll not bite them, just growl and bark, which they ignore.

Miss Ashie

Motive and Monarch love Ashie best.  She’s the German Shepherd that Bill and our youngest son, Robert, found in the woods while camping one weekend around eight years ago.  Just as they were pulling up tent stakes to head home, she bounded out of the woods, asking to come along.  “You’d be mad if I hadn’t brought her home,” Bill said, though I knew that it was himself he couldn’t have lived with if he’d left her behind.  She is all things Shepherd: loyal, attentive, considerate.  She’s also a blond in the advanced stages of obsessive compulsive disease.  When the puppies come to Green Spring Farm each summer Ashie takes over with benign resignation.  She looks at me as they climb on her shoulders and nip at her lips, tug on her tail and bite at her feet, with patient and hapless eyes, forgiving me once again for subjecting her to her annual plight. 

Robert and Monarch

Robert built a new chicken tractor for the chicks we bought at Southern States this spring.  The girls aren’t laying yet, but they’re enjoying being pulled around the yard within their new mobile home.  The puppies are particularly happy about the chicken tractor, since each time we move the tractor they have a four-by-eight foot piece of ground covered with chicken droppings that they can roll in and consume. 

Richard, my farrier, came this week to trim the horses and all the dogs are excited when he shows up—they get about a week’s worth of smelly foot-trimmings to chew.  This is the type of thing that starts a fight, particularly when Spud wants something another has, so Spud goes in the house.  Nevertheless, the puppies have spent the last several days scrounging around the paddocks for left-overs and hiding any they find.  I watched Motive carefully dig a hole (in my garden of course) place a horse hoof in it and shovel several noses of dirt back on top.  She hasn’t found it since.

I ran a few inches of water into the bottom of an extra trough to help the pups escape the heat when they woke from their afternoon nap.  Ashie, Motive and Monarch took turns climbing in to cool off.  Bridget, the donkey, took and interest in the little pests and, though I thought one would be kicked to the other side of the paddock, she made friends and seems to tolerate their hunger for her turds.

Bridget and Motive

As evening came on, we took our daily walk to the pond.  I use this walk to teach them to follow me and the other dogs, to learn their names and how to walk on a leash when we head for the barn on our return.  The sky was darkening when we set out, but I didn’t give it much thought.  It’s my favorite time of day.  A few lightening bugs are still rising and blinking from the long grass and the sun’s glare that had washed the colors from the fields throughout the day, softens to deeper liquid shades along the tree lines edging the fields.  Ashie leads, the puppies follow, Spud trips along as best he can, Jake is off chasing imaginary birds since there are no more quail in our countryside.  Our pond is really just a big mud hole this time of year.  Ashie takes the pups for a dip.  Motive likes the water, but Monarch isn’t too sure.

As we climb up the bank of the mud-hole pond lightening strikes not a mile away.  The sky above the Old Stone Church at the western edge of our property is dark purple and the rain is already coming down hard on its tin roof. Spud jumps at the sound of the crack as though he’s been hit.  We’re alone and completely exposed in the middle of the hay field.  I’m reminded of a friend’s horse who was hit by lightening in his own field and killed.  “Run,” I yell.

I’m not a runner.  I’m not built for it.  I tried when I was younger, even ran a 10-K once, after which I hung up my running shoes, or rather I threw them in the back of my closet, and never ran “for fun” again.  The sight of me running across the field with old Spud, Ashie dashing in circles wondering at the new game, and the two puppies in grass over their heads, trying to bound but tripping on their ears and tongues, must have made God smile.

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George Washington’s Hounds

Some fox-hunters talk about those who hunt to ride versus those who ride to hunt, implying that the better is the latter.

I’ll admit that I love the ride.  I love the scenery, I love the smell and feel of a cool autumn morning, the excitement in my friends’ eyes, the nervous energy my horse, Smuggler, and I share before and during the hunt, and the lively camaraderie of the hunters afterward, when we feel as though we’ve survived something important together.

I’ll also admit that keeping and raising hound puppies has brought me closer to the sport.  Knowing a hound, her habits or his voice, makes me cheer him or her on, makes me wish for their success.  It’s a battle of wits, between a pack of hounds and a fox, and like any good game, it’s exciting to follow the progress, maybe root for the underdog—usually the hound.

The Father of Our Country was a fox-hunting fiend.  Lt. Colonel George Washington took up fox-hunting sometime around 1768, being introduced to the sport by his friend and employer Thomas, Sixth Lord Fairfax, who had inherited a land grant encompassing the entire Potomac watershed—some five million acres in the Colony of Virginia.

Washington sat a horse like the king some thought he should become.  His favorite was “a dark iron grey named Blueskin,” according to his step-grandson, George Washington Parke Custis (father of Mrs. Robert E. Lee), who kept a diary and wrote about hunting with his grandfather.  Custis continues, “He rode, as he did everything, with ease, elegance and with power.”  Alexander Mackay Smith, author of The American Foxhound 1747-1967  , writes that, though Washington was a fine horseman, “he was a hound man through and through…in point of fact, the Father of his Country rode only to hunt, to be close to his hounds and the progress of the chase.”

George Washington bred his own pack of hounds to hunt the countryside around Mt. Vernon and north toward Belvoir.  Mr. Custis called Washington’s hounds “slow and mouthy,” but that’s the way George liked them.  He acquired his first hounds, two bitches named Countess and Chaunter, when his neighbor, Captain John Posey, ran into financial trouble.  Countess and Chaunter were bred and, along with eight pups from a bitch named Moppsy that he borrowed from a friend in Abington, Virginia, Washington’s early litters were whelped between the years 1768 and 1770.  He also had a stallion hound named Taster and another named Vulcan.  He sent his hounds across Virginia and Maryland for “outside blood” and ended up with a “very numerous and select pack” according to Mr. Custis, who writes that the kennels at Mount Vernon “afforded comfortable quarters for the hounds, with a large enclosure paled in, having, in the midst, a spring of running water,”

Washington began hunting in earnest after the French and Indian War.  His hunting schedule was presumably interrupted by the Revolution, but in between and afterward he liked to invite friends to Mt. Vernon for a week or more of good hunting.  The day began at dawn and lasted until dark.  He and his friends must have thanked the Earl of Sandwich for his good idea: meat between two slices of bread, stuffed into a saddlebag.  Washington bred his hounds to “follow a cold line for hours,” according to Custis, who continues: “the plan of campaign was to hunt early enough so that hounds could follow a night line, perhaps two or three hours old, to where the fox lay and then to burst him from his kennel.”  For four, five and even seven hours at a stretch, they hunted the native grey fox.

Vulcan, a French stag-hound sent to him by his friend La Fayette, was Washington’s favorite hound.  Evidently Vulcan had the run of the place: dinner was served after a long day of hunting, the company was seated, everything was perfect (was Martha Washington the Martha Stewart of her times?)  The only thing missing was the ham!  Mr. Custis tells the story of Vulcan, the ham thief:  “Frank the Butler . . . observed, that a ham, yes, a very find ham, had been prepared, nay dished agreeably to Madam’s orders . . . was smoking in the dish, but old Vulcan, the hound, and without more ado fastened his fangs into it, and although they, of the kitchen, had stood bravely to such arms as they could get, and had fought the old spoiler desperately, yet Vulcan had finally triumphed , and bore off the prize, aye, ‘cleanly under the keeper’s nose.”  Mr. Custis reported that Colonel Washington “laughed heartily” with his guests “at the exploit of the stag hound.”

I’ll bet Martha wasn’t so pleased.

(Source: The American Foxhound 1747-1967, Alexander Mackay-Smith, The American Foxhound Club, 1968.) 

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Meet Motive and Monarch

Monarch and his rope

Monarch and Motive arrived at Green Spring Farm last Thursday.   My family and I have been “puppy walking” every summer for about ten years; we’ve helped raise a dozen hounds for the Blue Ridge Hunt.  I hope you enjoy watching them grow with us this summer.

Motive’s puppy eyes

“Incredibly destructive,” I muttered yesterday evening as my husband, Bill, and I were eating dinner on our screen porch, watching these two terrorists drag the cover to our outdoor grill across the patio.  Because they are hound dogs, nothing is off limits.  Their little noses find the smallest scent and their first reaction is to either chew it or dig for it.  A crumb or a caterpillar, a two-day old footprint from a passing varmint or a newly plopped horse turd sends them into olfactory ecstasy.   I’ve tried to imagine being able to smell everything a hound dog can smell…what a new world that would be.

“I never get tired of watching them,” I said to my son Duncan.  Bill is convinced I was a dog in a former life.  Whatever the reason, I look forward to the puppies every summer.  They make me smile, and what better way to spend a day?

Duncan and Motive

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