Pretty much every Friday I enjoy the same routine. I load up Bernie and take her to Red Bridge Kennel for her cut and color. About two blocks from our destination, her tail moves with a force capable of disrupting the Earth’s rotation. When I park and open the car door, she dashes down the stairs to the kennel and waits for another door. When opened, her feet spin on the linoleum floor like Barney Rubble. To bring joy to someone who brings you joy — life has few equivalents.
But a week ago Friday was different. Instead of driving four miles east we traveled 200 the other direction. The time had arrived for Bernie to gain redemption in my hometown. You see, 11 years ago, the last time she entered Barton County, things, well, didn’t go so well. No sooner had our family pulled into my parents’ driveway and we opened the mini-van, Bernie was exploring my parents’ backyard — rich in vegetation with a large lake on the north side of the property. Bernie had darted into the backyard and discovered a hen mallard and her nine baby ducks. Two minutes later there were eight ducklings. Lori dispatched scolding, harsh language and other discipline. And that was just me.
Now I was taking just one passenger. Just before I backed out of the driveway Lori stepped outside. “I guess this is our future. You, me and her” — nodding in the direction of the backseat companion. “Yep. See you Sunday.”
Hollywood loves the outdoor dogs — Lassie, for instance, was famous for running in from the country and then holding a pose for the camera. You never saw him perched over an air-conditioning vent gasping for cool air or getting a blow dry at the kennel. Harold Ensley’s dog Country Squire was the canine equivalent of Michael Jordan for us growing up: Adept at plowing through heavy brush to hold a point on a covey of quail and then retrieving the game once downed. A Wheaten, especially one raised in Leawood, is not at that level. So this trip was fraught with hazard.
Our ultimate destination wasn’t my parent’s house. It was 800 acres our family owns 35 miles south of Barton County — Rattlesnake Ranch — named for the creek that runs along the northern-most edge of the property. It is home to two fishing ponds, a cabin and pastoral confines across the road from Quivira National Wildlife Refuge —named after an American tribe Indian that lived in the area when Coronado visited in 1541.
We pulled up early afternoon Friday at the Snake, and Bernie instantly went on a sniff hunt for Bigfoot. It was a rare occasion where she was unconstrained — no cars, fences, streets, other dogs or baby ducklings. She got busy, and I did too. In no time I had three poles out, a folding chair filled, cheap cigar, cold beer and a disabled phone. Experts say that meditation results in changes in brain activity — with a focused attention to internal experiences. That was my feeling — total tranquillity. As the fish were hitting, the quail were sounding off, the shadows grew longer and no one was asking me for money or car keys. I drifted into a transcendental state.
And then Bernie showed up on the dock. She was intensely curious about my worms, eyeballing my minnows, honing in on stink bait in my tackle box and barking loudly with every fish that splashed its way to the dock. She found her way around my poles, lines, hooks and came close to knocking over my beer. I went from Maharishi to Clark Griswold.
Time to move, I said. I grabbed a pole and we walked to the south pond. That’s when I turned to the west and noticed what froze her — roughly 20 large heifers gathered at the fence row, maybe 30 feet away. Bernie tried to bark. It was like her throat closed halfway through the delivery. I was very entertained. I reached down and rubbed the top of her head: ‘It’s OK Bernie.’ Cue the tail wag.
An hour later we were joined by my dad and older brother Tim. A bonfire followed with brats, more beverages and more fish. At dusk the sounds of coyotes filled the air as temperatures cooled, winds calmed and the grill blazed. Bernie found a spot on the concrete porch and entered her own transcendental state. And life was very good.