Big Paw.jpg (80614 bytes)    Big Paw, 1981

My mind had been barking are at me for an hour. I tried to ignore the obvious events that were taking place under the curtain of darkness. Our monstrous but gentle German Shepard and his side-kick Tucks had something trapped down by the pump house and stream. The echoes of this howling contest had brought me and my husband to get dressed at 4 a.m. Big Paw wasnít your usual German Shepard. He was part Airedale and Malamute as well and weighing in around 110 lbs. People feared him because of his size but they didnít know he was just a big baby. If he sat on you, you didnít get up. He was born with only one functional eye, extra claws and two male organs, of which only one worked. The vet was very excited to see this unusual dog and called in all his staff when I first took him in. His mentality had been in question many a time but his heart was made of gold. His favorite winter past time was chasing the county snow plows.

To help out with Big Pawís many short comings, a stray dog had wondered in one day, a black and white Australian Shepard we named Tucks. He was always dressed for any occasion. Tucks seem to have the brains that Big Paw lacked. He was a timid dog brought on by mistreatment by previous owners. These two dogs were inseparable. Tucks kept him out of trouble most of the time, but tonight, the wilds of the woods had prevailed.

We checked our flashlights only to find the batteries were dead. Our porch light was worthless when the stream was 20 feet away and down in a ravine. But the frantic barking continued to call our attention. Somewhere from some idea center came the thought of using candles. Probably me. We found that candles only lit the path a few feet in front of us. But we continued on. Common sense was illusive tonight. Sloppily dressed, using sleepy eyes and foggy minds we tried to handle this situation with choices that would resolve this noisy issue. There had been rumors of bears. I wondered if it might be a injured deer, a raccoon or even worse a skunk. With my husband leading the way, we walked across the grass, entered the woods and stood on the edge of the path leading down to the stream. From the darkness the barking was frantic, unjust and constant. My curiosity brought me out in to this darkness while my fears begged me to return to the warmth of the bed.

We both realized that our light source was inadequate. My husband retreated to move a car to face the ravine but its lights only bathed the trees above and still left the situation in black. Not wanting to fail at this quest, like lost children, with candles raised high we descended. It was short steps, an occasional slap of a tree branch and the heightened barking of Big Paw. The darkness had erased my memory of this descending path, making each step new and unpredictable. Seeing us coming, brought new purpose to Pawís obsession. Tucks found a secure place behind me. My husband moved towards the barking sound with candle held high. Across the stream stood Big Paw rigid in determination with his chin full of white spikes. Paw had met porcupines before but from the size of the quills I knew this was the grand daddy quill factory.

This path led to a small flat bridge about a foot and half across. Next to the small bridge was a homemade dam followed by the pump house suspended over the water. On the other side of the stream was two huge Douglas Furs with a tree fort situated about 10 feet off the ground. Big Paw had cornered the porcupine under the fort behind the ladder. Unlike most dogs, Big Paw just stopped barking and came over to tell of his accomplishments. I grabbed him and escorted him up to his dog house and tied him. He seemed relieved that this was over. The other dog Tucks, was a different matter. It was impossible to tie Tucks up because whom ever had owned him before must have beat him, a chain brought terror to his eyes.

Its amazing how when curiosity is present common sense seems to take a back seat when we need it the most. You tell yourself that you plan on making proper choices when things like this happen. But for some reason we never remembered or is it refuse to remember the meaning of common sense.

  Big Paw and Tucks copy.jpg (90579 bytes)          Big Paw and Tucks (mostly black)

This was the first time we had seen a porcupine up close. We needed a better light source. As I waited at the top of the ravine my husband went in search of the camping lantern, but it was out of fuel. By now the mind was more alert and the excitement was subsiding. We remember a pen light flashlight in the bedroom and for some unknown reason it actually worked. My husband grabbed a 8' stick to protect us (not likely) and we started to once again descend into the ravine. He had the flashlight and in his excitement to see this new creature, he left me in the darkness to deal with the uneven ground, branches and trees. I protested loudly.

We had put a two foot ramp across the stream but the ground underneath had crumbled and now the bridge was slanted. My husband waited and together we crossed the bridge and slowly moved around the two trees. Darkness make me keenly aware that I was a trespasser in the night kingdom. I knew that the porcupine had one advantage over me, he could see me. The porcupine had chosen to defend itself under the ladder leading to the tree house. Rolled up in its protective ball, the porcupine laid silent and waiting for our next move. With each passing moment he grew in size and our creative imagination added to this teasing nightmare.

Darrell took the stick and touched the backside of the animal. The porcupine moved with the speed of a cat and his beastly snorts swelled in volume at itís new disturbance. To him it was another attack. In the day time I would have watched in wonder. All the fears of this little adventure came to a boiling point. Then two grown adults with a poor excuse for a flashlight tried to dodge the two large trees, find the small crocked bridge in a almost complete blackout and escape to safety. To my surprise it was every man for them self and I had no light source. With voices of mixed laughter and fear, we stumbled across the bridge and up the embankment. At one point my husband pushed me aside to get by. I was surprised at his action. Fear is not something I see from him. The far off light of the porch gave me directions and in a flash I was up on the ravine leaving this creature to escape into the night. Laughter laced with fear fill the night air. I kidded my husband about every man for himself but he didnít remember. All the stories we had heard as a child and as an adults about the deep dark forest had brought panic. We laughed at our allusive courage. I made sure Big Paw was secure on the chain and brought Tucks into the house. Big Paw would have to wait a few hours to have his quills removed. A trip to the vet was in order.

I checked the area in the morning wondering if it was real or just a dream. The only reminder of the presence of Mr.Quillís was Big Paws nose. In our world it feels tame and civilized until a situation like this happens. The wild is everywhere and I love it until Big Paw is dumb enough to take it on.

Big Paw had come from a litter of six. Four out of the six had some form of retard ness. Two were eventually put to sleep because they couldnít fend for themselves. We live thirty miles from a city and we are surrounded by wild life. Big Paw and Tucks lived with us for another year and then he and his trusty sidekick started roaming farther and farther into the woods. One day they didnít return. Sometimes we thought we heard him barking in the night across the valley. We kept him alive in our thoughts and wished that the call of the wild had not claimed him. He was such a loving dog.

A year passed and we had a visitor one day that was looking for the owners of a big monstrous dog with a black and white sidekick. It seems that Big Paw had ventured in to their farm down in the valley, stayed a while and had mated with their pure bred German Shepard. I was sure they had come to complain. Big Paw had fathered a litter of 6 puppies. I waited for the stories about retard ness but it was not the case. One of the young dogs had been accepted in a Search and Rescue Organization down in California. He had been one of the youngest puppies recruited because of his smarts. I was so amazed to find out, that from our misfit deformed dog had come a puppy that would help save human lives. Now there was meaning to losing Big Paw. I will miss his gentleness, his stupid manner and his side kick that came to make it possible for this dog to venture into the woods to leave behind a better part of him to help others find their way.

 Written 2002