North Coast Journal

TAKING NOTES


Basil takes a duck

by Lisa Ladd-Wilson


When you become an adult, the winter holiday season seems to come and go with all the uniqueness of a Big Mac with fries. Each year brings the popular toy tearful parents can't find anywhere; gestures of Christian charity toward the poor are broadcast by both TV news teams and network soap operas; and the Associated Press reports the current cost of "The Twelve Days of Christmas," thereby simultaneously answering the question of why newspapers across the nation are falling faster than the trees they're made of, and asking if we wouldn't be better informed by simply reading bark anyway.

This past holiday, however, will always be remembered as the year Basil brought home the Christmas duck.

Basil is one of our dogs, famous for his bizarre and often startling behavior. He is medium-sized, brown and white, and of unknown heritage. He is very vocal and a good mimic, and likes to sing along with Miles Davis and Johnny Hodges.

Although few who know Basil would place his intelligence at the level of, say, an Einstein or Rin-Tin-Tin, he is profoundly aware of his own mortality. He realizes his bad luck, and senses that were a satellite to fall out of orbit and plummet toward Earth, it would defy all laws of logic and Las Vegas odds by landing smack-dab on his fuzzy noggin.

Basil avoids discomfort like it was the devil incarnate, and he is lamentably self-absorbed: His perpetual worries leave him no time to think of anyone but himself.

Our other dog is the lovely Molly -- smart, affable, kind and gentle. Her only fault is her unwavering devotion to Basil.

The weather this past Christmas Eve was fabulous, and we decided to take full advantage of the sun with a dog walk in the country. We armed ourselves with binoculars and cheery thoughts of the coming holiday vacation.

Unfortunately, there were others in the vicinity of our hike who were armed with guns, pop-popping at the ducks.

(Let me take this moment to say I am basically anti-hunting. I also am a meat-eater and readily admit to the inescapable hypocrisy therein. Argument, thus, is rendered futile on all fronts.

(It is legitimate, however, for me to criticize hunter garbage -- the scattering of fast-food wrappers, JumbieSlurpo cups and beer cans that, like the lion leaving his scent on a shrub, signal "I was here." Used toilet paper is especially unappreciated, and found not infrequently enough.)

Basil does not distinguish between the crack of a gun and the whoosh of a falling satellite. He reacted this day as he always does: He heard the guns, came to a halt midtrail and began a frightful howling. The cheerful walk became a stagger: We took a few steps, turned to cajole Basil forward, took a few more steps, cajoled Basil, and so on. I vacillated between despising the hunters and despising Basil, and Christmas Eve seemed more Christmas evil with each ear-splitting cry..

There was nothing we could do to take Basil's fragile mind off the gunshots until we saw it on the trail ahead. An ironic salvation, a kind of Gift of the Magi miracle of weirdness. For there, up ahead, was a wounded duck, both wings shot useless. It ran into the brush, where it surely would die a slow death.

We wanted to put the bird out of its misery, but we weren't at all sure where it was hiding. We did know, however, that the lovely and talented Molly could find it, given the right command -- and the right command is any word ending with an "eee" sound.

"Birdie!" did the trick. Basil forgot his fears as he and Molly dove into the brush, whose thistles drove Basil right out. He headed for the comfort of the lower grasses, while Molly continued to thrash in the sticks and thorns.

"Basil's such an idiot," I lamented, "he's such a loser dog "

Then -- Basil's ears suddenly clicked forward. His head rose high. His front leg took the unmistakable position of a point. He froze, but for his vocal cords: Bark, he said.

Basil had the bird.

Basil also feared the bird, of course, and so remained pointing until Molly retrieved the poor thing. A green-winged teal, birdshot in each wing and in the chest.

It was part of everyone's Christmas dinner.



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