Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Toughness. What does this mean? Resilience, endurance, perhaps fortitude, strength, or stamina? Maybe visions of grit or possibly an ability to withstand tremendous strain in the face of adversity comes to mind? For me.... it's defined by pointing dogs - period.
An endless sea of Cholla cactus unfolds from roadside to horizon as I jump from the rig to start the morning's preparation. A stinging blend of sand, snow, dust and ice spits in my face, ejected from a dust devil churning nearby. It's an immediate declaration that the elements are in charge in this vengeful surrounding.
I load as much water as I can carry for the four hour morning cast, pack some extra food and pliers for cactus removal, lace up my boots, put on my leather gloves, glasses, and hearing protection. Fiddling with the shells in my vest pocket, I establish a little canine anticipation, and finally I strap collars on the dogs. They tremble with excitement, no remorse or recollection of the last episode of cactus spine removal by the fireplace. It's a painful but necessary ritual that must follow every outing in Cholla country.
Do they know what's in store for them, a day spent running through a land mine of toxic barbed needles and prickly pear? They will run thirty miles or more compared to my twelve. Why do they dance and jump, gleefully accepting of this buffalo bur, snakeweed, and spine infested environment with all the enthusiasm similar to that of a child who takes to a playground?
Walking them at heel, I question if I'm being cruel, exposing them to such harsh surroundings. On more than one occasion today I won't get to Pepper in time to remove a cactus. He'll lose patience waiting for me to catch up and will take matters into his own paws by removing the cactus with his mouth. When I finally get to him, I'll have to sort through a bloody mess to remove 1" spines from his pallet and gums. Once their out, he'll speed off to find another covey as though I just removed a pebble from his shoe. Never a whimper, a complaint or cowering desire to return to the truck.
Before we begin, there is always a moment to pause and admire the landscape and all its emptiness. The dogs are now whining at heel as if being punished by lack of motion. Pepper and Lilly look up at me, begging for release. I smile back in admiration of the contrast between their brutal enduring toughness and their gentle limitless need to please me. The horizon is just over there.
The action snaps shut on my gun. I give the dogs a soft pat on their heads. "OK!"