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Wednesday, 01 August 2012 14:19

Zeke was a friend I won’t forget

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mtn voicesDogs have been a part of my life since I was a boy. My first dog — part one thing, part another — was named Rascal. I was a sophomore in college when Rascal had to be put to sleep.

Other dogs have followed: cocker spaniels; a long line of beagles, several named Toby; and more recently German shorthaired pointers. Shorthairs are the best breed of dog in the world. I will allow that they can be somewhat uppity and arrogant, when need be, but for the most part they are companionable, curious, bright-eyed, humorous, and generally reliable dogs.    

Our current shorthairs are Uly (a brown-ticked patrician sort of dog named after the Greek wanderer, not the Union general) and Woodrow (a black and white good ole boy sort of dog named after a character in Lonesome Dove). Before them we had Maggie and Zeke, who were pretty much constant companions. When we went bird watching along the Texas, Gulf and Atlantic coasts, they traveled along in the back of the truck, their heads stuck through the camper top window into the cab. They were very much interested in birds, too, in a different sort of way. Maggie died several years ago, and Zeke went pretty much into a permanent funk. I would sometimes see him looking across the creek to where she is buried in the dogyard.

Blockheaded and frumpy-looking with brown and white cow-like markings, front legs splayed clumsily, and slow afoot, Zeke was the one the local hunters always coveted. They could see something in his eyes.

There were three bear squabbles I know about. Two of them Zeke picked and didn’t quit but dragged himself home on his shield — as it were — head bashed lopsided, eyes bleeding, ear torn, ribs busted in so bad it was all he could do to make it home and lay down and think things over.

The third bear must have heard about Zeke, came looking for trouble and found Zeke in the truck cab. It smashed the passenger window getting in, the one time I know about when Zeek didn’t stick around.

Add in 15 or so years worth of ongoing skirmishes: bobcats, coyotes, mink, wild hogs, coons, copperheads, feral cats, other critters, maybe even a big cat. Zeke was born knowing the world’s full of menaces … trouble almost everywhere. The battle with the weasel in the creek ford was hilarious — from my perspective. Every time Zeke’d shake him off the weasel would come back and grab him by the nose again making him squeal. Went on that way back and forth for maybe five minutes. I called it a draw but, truth be told the weasel looked better off at the end. Made him overconfident. Next time he showed up Zeke’d had time to think about things. When the weasel came at his nose he ducked and got him by the throat.

Uly and Woodrow weren’t very companionable. They’re young dogs and Zeke’s disposition was nothing to brag about. But he was a friend of mine. Something about him always reminded me to try harder. Born into a world of smells and subtle frequencies he studied expressions and listened closely to intonations so as to translate my intentions as best he could.

Almost a year ago, Zeke was buried across the creek beside Maggie. It was a late September afternoon. No words were spoken. After shoveling soil over his blanket-wrapped body, we packed it firm and smooth with our hands and fitted a double-layer of stones from the nearby creek bed over the mound. As we rose to leave I struck the shovel three times against the stones … and they rang like bells.

George Ellison wrote the biographical introductions for the reissues of two Appalachian classics: Horace Kephart’s Our Southern Highlanders and James Mooney’s History, Myths, and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees. In June 2005, a selection of his Back Then columns was published by The History Press in Charleston as Mountain Passages: Natural and Cultural History of Western North Carolina and the Great Smoky Mountains. Readers can contact him at P.O. Box 1262, Bryson City, N.C., 28713, or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .    

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