Out here, past the “official” commuter belt, the hazards are a little different than you find in Albuquerque. I live on a few acres in a little valley backed up to the Ballinger ranch with its eleven thousand non-subdivided acres of piñon/juniper/grasslands that are range to a few cattle. It’s peaceful, practically idyllic. When I hiked through snow (or mud) in the winter, mine were the only deep (or sloppy) footprints in the area; the ranch usually doesn’t get much human traffic.
Recently, however, I’ve heard tell of cattle theft, fence busting, elk poaching—the rise of which were blamed on the recession—and then I heard that the ranch caretaker had to shoo a couple guys with uzis off the land. (What kind of hat do you wear to shoo off guys with uzis?) I should be disturbed, at least mildly, but unless I’m at Mike’s Friendly Liquor in Moriarty getting gossip and sandwich fixings, people (and people-with-guns) are not usually what I’m thinking about.
I think about coyotes. About rattle, milk, and pine snakes. About turkey vultures, horned toads, great owls, nighthawks. About javelinas, wood rats, and bear (when I see scat). And lately I’ve given a fair bit of contemplation to porcupines—I had to. This year there must be a bumper crop because three times recently my pit bull has pressed his face into a quill pig. (Smooch.)
I rationalize that my dog Uhthoff (named for a historic and presumably smart doctor) is not a dummy, that instead his three encounters were merited by a healthy dose of inquisitiveness into a true variety of spiked rodent: all by himself, he scouted out and located three distinctively different sized spines to display in his muzzle (and tongue).
The first time he got five broken 4-inch quills to pierce the flesh under his jaw while protecting my yard from the intruder at 3 am. When he came in, we pinned him down and used a needle-nosed pliers (yes, that’s what it takes) to pull one black-tipped spine out every half hour—we had to give him a break between pulls. The ordeal was exhausting; as soon as we’d let up, he’d hide under the purple desk. Lying there, his orange-lashed amber eyes would get heavy and his head would bob and begin to drop... but then a quill from his jaw would strike the floor and he’d pop back up all vigilant again. (Finally, belatedly, he realized he could sleep on his side.)
The second time, midsized white quills ended up all over his tongue and the roof of his mouth. That was a no-brainer: anesthesia, a few hours at the vet and a few hundred bucks.
The latest encounter, a few days ago, resulted in three little tiny spines in his upper lip. His kiss is still a prickly one
. And my car is busted. So we’re both stuck for a while, soaking up the sun and the fresh.