Our friend Pep asked us, “Do you ever get tired of all of this.”
We had just returned from a lovely dinner at Villa Verona, our favorite local Italian restaurant, and I had to quickly change clothes to take the dogs out for their fourth of five obligatory runs for exercise and elimination. It dawned on her that farm life isn’t all idyllic.
Our dinner out was part of a typically full day at Heatherhope. But really no day is typical if “typical” means boring and routine.
It used to make me laugh when, as a pastor, the assisting ministers and acolytes would ask me, “Anything special today?” Sometimes I would joke and say, “No, just the same old celebration of Christ’s resurrection and victory over sin, death and the devil.”
Yesterday was Passion Sunday, marked by a Palm procession into church and a reading of the Passion narrative, and for my good old Saint Luke Lutheran Church, First Communion. But I’m retired now, so Connie went off to church alone since she is singing with the fabulous St. Luke Choir until Easter.
In fact I missed church altogether yesterday. That’s because of Floss’ Big Adventure. Floss is the oldest Border Collie in our little family. When I was frustrated by being a neophyte sheepdog handler trying my best to handle dogs all by myself, I finally took the advice of others and bought a fully trained dog. I bought three-year old Floss from Ken Gwilliam of Shropshire, England, and formed a lasting friendship with him in the bargain. She was a dream. She turned the right direction every time and stopped on a dime (rubbing her little belly red in the process) when I said “stand.” She was a delight to handle and gave me time to think about what was happening in that complex interaction between sheep and dog.
Through the years Floss has had it rough. I bred her to Jack Chamberlain’s dog, Don, before bringing her over to the States, and she lost the single, huge pup we were too late getting her to the emergency room for a caesarian section. She had big patches of skin ripped off of her cheeks and head in her many vicious fights with our Tess. She had five nice pups the next litter, but on her third and final pregnancy she developed an infection in her uterus and almost died after losing three full term pups.
Now Floss is fourteen years old. She is still physically fit and each time we let her out with the other dogs for their run, she tears off way ahead. She explores the tree lines around the farm and gets back to stand at the fences and stare at the sheep. Staring at sheep is her favorite thing, besides working them. Once we were unloading the trailer to do a demonstration at the big Sandwich (Illinois) Fair and Floss wandered off. I asked passing people if they had seen a black and white dog and a boy of about 7 or 8 said, “Yea! There’s a dog over by the horses, and it’s FROZEN!” I knew immediately it was our Floss.
Despite her agility and speed, Floss has become very hard of hearing. Even when I am very near her to give commands, she looks around in confusion. She knows someone, somewhere is trying to make contact, but she doesn’t understand.
And lately, on our last round of exercise, usually around 10:00 or 11:00 at night, Floss has lost contact with Connie or me and the other dogs. She has lingered longer and longer before trotting back to the kennels, and we have become quite irritated.
On Saturday night she didn’t come back at all so irritation turned quickly to worry. Connie had made that last round and returned to the house without her. I waited another fifteen minutes or so and went out. Sometimes she just shows up when we wait a bit. No sign of her; so I searched all about the farm on the ATV. No Floss. We worried a bit, but hoped she would still show up. So we left the kennel door so that if she pawed it as she usually did, she could get in…and then I slept for a bit. I awoke at 1:30 in the morning. Floss still was not in the kennel, so I walked all around the farm looking for her. Still no Floss, and I considered that she could well be wandering or stuck somewhere and well might not make it through the night.
In the morning I took all the other dogs out, thinking that if Floss’ body was lying around, they would find it. We went all around the farm rather slowly, but still no sign of her. I fed the sheep quickly and took the ATV out again and scoured inside the farm boundaries and outside them as well. Connie helped me comb the trees and brush around the barn and machine shed. Still no Floss, and by this time I was chilled to the bone in the sub-freezing temperatures, which made me more convinced than ever that Floss was probably dead by now. I went out with the car, looking along the shoulders and ditches along the roads all about the farm in the hope of finding her body.
There was one hope we held out. Perhaps some kind soul had found Floss wandering last night and she was locked in someone’s barn or garage.
I started breakfast—just got a pan on the stove—when the phone rang. I held my breath as I answered and someone said, “I think I have your dog.”
“Is she alive?” I said.
“Yes, she’s fine, but dirty and tired and very hungry I would guess.”
I was thrilled. I told her the story quickly and I dashed over about a mile and half away. I had thought the woman had found Floss the night before, but I learned that she had stepped out the back door that morning to see the Canada Geese nesting high up in a dead tree, as well as her cat, were very agitated. She looked around and saw this very forlorn looking dog. She was delighted to find a phone number on its collar and gave me a call right away.
Floss was shut up in the woman’s barn. She had eaten a bit of cat food but looked very hungry and weak indeed. She was covered with feces and dirt and burrs. Her tail was curled way up under her body. She was trembling.
Penny was the woman. She was selling her farm after many years. She had compassion for animals. She and I both were amazed that Floss had not been killed by the packs of coyotes wandering the area or by the cars that zoom down our country roads.
I gave Penny a big hug and then gave Floss one and took her home. When I shampooed her she fell and tumbled onto her back stepping the six inches out of the plastic tub I use for dog washing. She could barely shake the water off before I toweled her off.
I then fed her lots of milk and chicken meat and petted her as she laid on the living room couch. As I was making myself a bit of lunch I realized I would miss Passion Sunday church. But that was okay. Floss had probably tracked something alive and moving in the night. I doubt if she had caught up with it. She perhaps wandered a bit beyond her ability to get back on her own. But she had found Penny who was full of love, and who saved her.
As time went by Floss went from a confused looking stupor to more and more awareness. She wanted to follow me about the house a bit, but her legs were buckling under her. The spirit was willing but the flesh was weak.
By the time I finished cleaning up from breakfast a good friend, Nancy arrived. She was there with a little seven-week-old puppy out of her Border Collie bitch, Smidge. The pup was sired by our Cap and Nancy was there with the breeding papers to sign. And then came Adrian, the friend of our veterinarian, Margaret. Margaret came too and we all got aquatinted with this new puppy because Adrian was buying it from me. He has an instinct for training animals and I will help him train this new pup on sheep some day. We played with this pup and our pup, Spot, and then went out to work daddy, Cap on sheep, and then Smidge and then Nancy’s Tag, who also has been recently bred with Cap. And then our Jock.. We had some strawberries and shortcake, and then they left.
That left us with just enough time for Connie to fix some treats and for me to feed the animals. And then Pep and Jack and Lisa and Gary arrived. Members of St. Luke who had felt badly because they missed some of the final festivities before my retirement. I gave them a short demonstration with our Abbie herding the sheep, then took a shower and we were off to Villa Verona for dinner.
It was back at the house after I had quickly changed clothes that Pep must have wondered if we didn’t sometimes get fed up with all this to-ing and fro-ing. Don’t you get tired of it?
Connie quickly said it gets us up and going. She enjoys it.
“Even in the rain?” Pep asked.
To be honest there are times when the wind is blowing icy rain in our eyes that it gets a bit much. But last night was one of those nights with a full moon and just a nice skud of clouds blowing slowly in the wind. Floss was alive. She had made it. She could wag her tail a bit. Spot was bursting with life and gave us thousands of licks. Jock was jumping in his cage when we let him out and he and Abbie were running faster than the wind itself. And we had had friends around. Many friends from different walks of life.
No; we can scarcely take it all in. This is life. This is grace that God is pouring out upon us. This is, the Passion of the Lord alive all around us and in us too.
We haven’t gotten tired of it yet.
We haven’t gotten tired of it yet.
Something tells me this would have made a great “Lesson from the Farm.” Well, it is, just not in the church newsletter! You might not have made it to church that Sunday, but, it was the day that the Lord hath made–for finding Floss. What a lucky girl she is to have you and Connie watching over her. Look forward to reading more of your stories from Heatherhope.