Sunday, October 25, 2009

A True Ghost Story

It's nearly Halloween and time for tales of the unexplained and mysterious. The following is a true tale that demonstrates the senses of our animal friends.

You can hear the original story below and other ghostly tales, poems and music on "Ghosts of the Internet, 3" at

Hear the story, CLICK HERE

Boot Hill
by Keri Dearborn

You say you don’t believe in ghosts? Well neither do I, not in white sheets billowing in the wind or magnetic force fields measured by TV ghost chasers gripping their electronic gadgets. Let me tell you a true ghost story.

You see, I believe in the tangible, a poke in the arm, a spectral man seen by a group of strangers and the reaction of an innocent.

People can conjure up things. Our emotions and fears get the better of us and paint the world we want to see or are afraid might be true. But a dog, well a dog has no preconceptions. A dog hasn’t read Poe. A dog doesn’t pursue frightening experiences for the thrill of it. Animals know that the world is dangerous. Real threats abound. To have a cozy and comfortable life beside the hearth is a blessing, not a bore.

Dodger was a mix of golden labrador and laughter. He was broad chested, surefooted and after a good romp sat with his tongue lolling to one side of a wide smile. He would chase a stick for as long as you could throw it. He was well-traveled and well-behaved, but he insisted on walking in front. Oh, he never strayed off, he just liked the freedom of being the leader.

One summer driving through Canada, we stopped in Barkerville in British Columbia. Barkerville was a gold rush town in the 1860s. Today it is a Provincial Park and the wooden buildings of main street are open to visitors during the day. Some of it is restored, but some of it stands weathered and aching with the past.

It was a rainy evening. The campground was empty. We ate dinner in the car and decided to walk through the closed-up town before crawling into our tent for the night. Gray mist shrouded the quiet street of hand-hewn plank buildings. Dodger couldn’t be happier. He was always ready for a walk. The wet street offered a new place to be explored combined with the aroma of horses and mud puddles. It was a canine heaven.

I’ve always loved deserted towns. I like to look in windows and image what scenes have played out inside. Here each glass pane was a portal to a time when your income came out of the ground, when men left their families to search for El Dorado, when one night of gambling could cost a man a year’s hard work. Much of the street has been resurrected to its former glory, a saloon, a dry goods store, and of course a Chinese herbalist. On this quiet evening, tin cups still rested on tables. The splashing stream continued to drive a huge water wheel. And through the shifting ground fog, two horses chased after each other in a field. There was a feeling as if the miners had all run to the next canyon because someone had struck it rich and, any moment, they would all be back.

As we wandered the town, Dodger trotted ahead. He’d catch a good scent and get lost in the discovery, then race to catch up again. When we came to the end of the town’s main street, we followed a road that went back around the outskirts of the buildings. The gravel was easy walking and Dodger dashed ahead. His ears and tongue flopped with each bound and I’ve never seen a truer expression of bliss.

As we came around a bend, the road followed an old wooden fence. The timbers were gray and twisted. The white flowers of Queen Anne’s lace rose up behind the fence, its foliage lush a wall of green. As the road curved, there was a break in fence. Dodger trotted right up to opening. Then he stopped. His ears perked and his head tilted to the side.

“Good boy,” we said. “You wait for us.”

A narrow path made its way through the vegetation. It seemed to turn back toward the town, so we started to follow it. But no canine friend raced ahead. Dodger stood at the fence line. His ears still up, the smile gone.

“Come on, boy. Let’s go this way.”

He didn’t budge.

“Dodger, come on.” Michael called.

Then I noticed a drab gray board half hidden in the damp grass. A wooden cross. A low iron grating in the shape of a rectangle. Another cross and another. “I think we’re in the town cemetery.”

“Cool,” Michael said. “Dodger, come on.”

But the dog wouldn’t come. We couldn’t coax him, we couldn’t order him.

What could an old cemetery mean to a dog? He couldn’t know a tombstone from a fence board. Could he? Nothing had been buried here for a very long time. But Dodger wasn’t thinking of the past or the meaning of the place. He perceived just what it was in that real-time moment.

We looked at each other and realized that if Dodger wasn’t willing to walk through the cemetery, maybe we shouldn’t either. We went back to the road. Once we were both at his side, the dog turned with a bounce and skipped toward camp.

What did he sense in that ghost town cemetery? We’ll never know. But no one told him to be afraid. He didn’t read it in a book or see it in a movie. There was something real that night, something real and tangible that a dog could sense, even if we couldn’t.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Juncos Have Arrived

The Oregon juncos arrived today. Amazingly, they are only a day earlier than last year. The two males arrived thirsty and spent some time drinking at the bird bath, which is rather unusual for them. These two males have been winter residents for the past couple of years. There will be other groups with males and females, but these two males arrive first and they always seem to be together. More on that later.

The white-crowned sparrows should be here within the week.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Rain and Migratory Birds

Two days of glorious rain. The earth sighed and drank deeply. Nearly two inches of light, soaking rain kissed the plants and washed 7 1/2 months of dust from their leaves. The last measurable precipitation that fell here was the first week in March.

Amazingly, despite water rationing and drought the native plants are flourishing. The current has dropped all of its dried brown leaves and is flush this morning with new green foliage. The ceanothus are deep green and bolstered by the soaking.

Three days before the rain, on a dry warm October 10th, the hermit thrush arrived with its mate. The last time this bird arrived this early was four years ago, when it also had a mate.

The following day, I was overjoyed to see my friend the ruby-crowned kinglet. The trip must have been dry and dirty. It said ‘’Hello,” then scrubbed its feathers in the water pooled on the leaves of a wild grape we had just planted. That same afternoon, the season’s first pair of yellow-rumped warblers arrived. They too took long baths in the bird bath.

When I checked my records, this was the earliest we have seen the kinglet since I started keeping track in 2000. But last year it also arrived a few days before the first rain (four days before last year, three days before this year).

The rain has flushed out the insects and numerous yellow-rumped warblers are plundering the abundance throughout the neighborhood. Perhaps the arrival of these birds is a better indicator of the first seasonal rains than the weatherman and his Doppler radar.

The sun is shining again this morning. Raindrops shimmer like rainbowed jewels on leaves and petals. Ephemeral wisps of ground fog rise from the earth, spirits of winter growth to come. There is a glorious hope among the plants and the creatures that depend on them.