This is the tale of Ollie’s great escape; the very thing we feared could happen on one of our visits to upstate New York.
Carol had taken measures to ensure the day would never come. Last summer, after a family discussion of whether we should do it and then where it would be located, she arranged for a contractor to erect a six-foot chain link pen about 40 feet from the kitchen window of the house that has been part of the family for decades. Then last fall and again this spring she introduced Ollie to his new surroundings. It worked.
He quickly adjusted, although he became hyper whenever he spotted a deer, of which there are many. Cows also set him off, but once they were out of sight everything settled down. It looked like Ollie could be a part of this summer’s family gathering.
It hasn’t worked out quite that way. We had uninvited company that surprised us as much as it did Ollie.
On arriving Friday morning, Carol put Ollie on a leash for a tour of the property. She didn’t get far when a fox leapt from the bushes alongside the lawn.
Ollie is a coonhound, a spitting likeness of those dogs featured in old English paintings leading hunters in red jackets on horseback in pursuit of a fox. The sight of the fox galvanized Ollie. He let out a howl, yanked on the leash, throwing Carol off balance. She flipped without losing the leash that she was able to wrap around her arm and stop him while lying on the ground. We should have known then that Ollie wouldn’t forget.
The fox didn’t forget either. We found its burrow just beyond the lawn and throughout the night its cries and those of its kits set Ollie off.
Ollie was at the door before the morning light. He was ready for the hunt. He paid no attention to his breakfast and fixated on getting out. As the family stirred, I figured I should at least get him out. He tugged at the leash heading for the bushes at the edge of the lawn. He wasn’t interested in anything but that fox.
I took him to the pen – right, this is what it had been built for – and headed back to the kitchen. We watched him standing on his hind legs, testing the height of his enclosure. It was working; he wasn’t going anywhere.
That was until I spotted the pen door open. He had sprung free. The scene could have been out of a cartoon movie. Ollie plunged into the brush. The fox ran out and across the drive where it stopped to watch. The rest of the fox family was still in the underbrush with Ollie. He was leaping, racing and howling all at once. I charged after him. It was hopeless. He was oblivious to all commands. He circled back, his nose to the ground. If he had lifted his head he would have seen the fox, but he didn’t. His circles grew wider and wider until he startled a deer that took off through the woods.
Now Ollie’s hunting instincts were in high gear. He was onto that scent, his howls growing ever more distant as he headed up the mountain. The chase was on.
My son Ted and daughter Diana rallied. We agreed to split up. Ted headed south. I went east through the woods while Diana went north along the road and toward the farm with its cows about a half-mile away. Ollie was on the mountain and moving quickly, his howling moving from one quadrant to the next.
I started up the mountain, following deer trails clearly defined through the carpet of fallen leaves and cutting across gravel washouts caused by the rush of water during downpours. Deer tracks were fresh, as were those that must have been Ollie’s.
The climb turned steep. I found I had to stop to catch my breath every 50 feet, leaning against a tree to keep from sliding down. I listened. Wind rustled the upper leaves. There was the distant hum of a chainsaw. The morning song of birds filled the air below the scream of an eagle. Sunlight spotted the forest floor. Above through the reaching branches were splashes of blue. It was going to be a beautiful day after all.
The howls had stopped. My phone rang. Maybe Ted or Diana had found him.
It was Joe Shekarchi returning a call I had made the day before. I wonder if he believed me when I told him I was on a mountain in upstate New York. He wished me luck.
Next came text messages from Ted and Diana. Nothing. I called Ted. He was short-breathed from climbing and what turned out to be a close encounter. I agreed to head south and join forces.
Near the summit the terrain leveled. Fallen trees stretched like arms across the forest floor. I could feel the wind. The sun was warm where it broke through the canopy. I strained to hear his bark. A mourning dove cooed. I walked 50 feet and then stood silently. Something orange caught my eye. It was a salamander no longer than two inches sunning itself on a dead leaf. I looked closer. There was a world here of slugs and tiny insects.
“Is that you, Dad?”
I was startled. I had walked right by Ted, camouflaged in his blue and white Hawaiian shirt and dark shorts. A deer had crossed in front of him. Knowing Ollie wouldn’t be far behind, Ted waited in the path. It wasn’t long before Ollie appeared. Ted whipped out the chunk of hamburger Carol had given each of us. Ollie didn’t slow down. He brushed past Ted and faded into the woods.
We both realized over the many years we had hiked this mountain we had rarely stood silently with our senses tuned to every noise and the change in lighting that might be Ollie on the hunt. We split again. Ted headed down, back toward the house. I decided to go over the crest, maybe he headed that way. Ten minutes later I was rewarded by a distant howl. It was back where I had just been.
I quickened my pace and headed down the mountain. It was steep. I stopped my fall going from tree to tree. Ollie’s howl grew increasingly louder. I caught a glimpse of his running below me. I called and whistled. He kept going. The road came into view. I could see a figure walking.
I called Ted on my cell to report Ollie could be on the road.
Five minutes later I was on the road. Ted was ahead, talking to the woman I had seen walking. Ollie was at his side.
It had been a two-hour ordeal. Ollie looked beat, his tongue lulling.
I knew the next step. Ollie would be coming home where we don’t have foxy neighbors.