It was Monday, September 22, 2008 and with a maximum of two hours of sleep, I woke up that morning a tad groggy. This had been my basic sleep pattern for the last week but I couldn’t stop worrying about Oumak. Now, at 0346 hrs, I was gazing out my bedroom window looking at the night stars and wondering if he had found the food I had left in the woods. Let’s face it, by this time we were looking at the eighth day since his “great escape” and I had sort of put myself in the frame of mind that he would not come back. This was bad enough but this entire saga had played havoc with my mind and had occupied a lot of my time in the recent days. For an individual like myself who deals with PTSD everyday, this roller coaster ride had taken its toll. One must realize that this so-called injury is not like a broken leg; you just don’t put a cast on and wait for it to heel. Rather, you must make serious adjustments to your daily lifestyle and try to live a “normal existence” and this according to what is dealt to you on that particular day. The recent events had definitely brought into light that you just can’t get away from this awful condition. The proof was in the “pudding”. The experience had brought out the combative nature of my character and I had gone into a highly focused defensive mode. Add to that, periods of high anxiety and the hyper vigilance and all this made it that I was wound up “like a spring”. Oh, did I forget to mention the dreams or should I say the terrible nightmares. Oh yeah! They were back… Big time… Right down to the stench. It had been over fifteen years since my stint in Bosnia and here I was still dreaming about the atrocities of “Medak Pocket”. The reality of it was that the people in those mass graves were all dead but in my reoccurring dreams, it was different. In them, I’m there in combat gear wearing my “Blue Beret”, standing on top of this huge excavated hole, looking at these “decomposing bodies”. Meanwhile, they’re trying to claw their way out, slip-sliding back into the muddy hole, screaming and pleading for the “United Nations” to help them. You know you’re not going to sleep for the rest of the night when you wake up in sweat soaked sheets after revisiting those memories. Add to this the fact that I was drawing parallels between me doing everything in my power to bring “my soldiers” back home safely from that “UN Tour” and I just couldn’t help myself. My mind was on full alert and I was worried about the poor animal. The hunting season was starting next weekend and I dreaded the thought of him meeting up with an overzealous “itchy finger”.
Anyway, it was a new week and I had some lumber to pump out at the mill so I pushed myself so to get my act together. My earlier than normal visit at the barn was uneventful and even the “Mob” with their antics, couldn’t lift my spirits. While feeding them, they knew that something was wrong and when I chained “The Kid” to his post, he lifted his right front paw, so to get his daily “armpit rub”. Not being in the mood, I was walking away when he started to moan and groan. I turned around and here he sat, his paw still in the air as to say, “Hey, I just wanted to wish you a good day.” Taking in the scene and looking at those beautiful sad eyes, I just couldn’t help but get this warm feeling inside of me. Then it happened. I smiled. “Come here, you big bruiser,” I said after returning to him, “It’s not your fault, is it?” Kneeling down, I grabbed him by that big head of his and not only was he subjected to a good scratching, he was the recipient of a privileged huge “bear hug”. “Thanks “Kid”, thanks for being in my corner.” He had just made me realize that life had to go on. I still had eleven dogs and all of them were very special in their own way. Taking the time, I again walked through the yard and petted each and every one of them. “Don’t worry you guys, I don’t plan in abandoning you.”
The advantage of working at the mill is that it sits in my own yard and I don’t have to have to fight traffic to get to work. I was mentally drained but knew that sawing wood would give me an opportunity to think things out. By now and although I still gave it all the respect it deserved, the “48 inches” saw blade didn’t really impress me anymore. Over the years, slicing boards out of logs had become more than a routine. Instead it had become an automatic ritual, thus giving me lots of time to “meditate”. Today, however it didn’t necessarily have the desired effect but late in the afternoon and after struggling to have a productive day, I had come up with some sort of strategy. The team and I would continue to train for Fort Kent. As of tonight I would start putting “Alaska” in lead and see what the “old Seppala” had to offer. If she could teach a thing or two to my “yearlings”, I would take that as a bonus. As for Oumak, well what could I say. The dog was running loose and wild in the forest and the prospect of catching him was more than slim. Rather it was nearly impossible. Oh sure, I had thought of using a cage/trap or even a tranquilizer gun but to use these, one had to see the animal. Besides, these resources were not available in this corner of the world.
I shut the operations down early in the lumber yard as I was dying to find out if he had touched his food. With “Mosqua” riding “shot gun”, we headed out back to where we had set up the shelter. When we got to the sight, it was another “crash and burn” moment. Everything was as it had been left the day before. The hamburger ball was still on the ground untouched and the shirt in the crate was still “poofed up”, indicating that nothing had walked in it. “All right, now what?” I madly asked myself but looking upstairs for some sort of guidance. “How the hell am I supposed to find this dog?” Almost totally discouraged, I sat down at the base of a huge poplar tree, just staring at his harness. Obviously, more thinking had to be done and I had to regain my composure. My mind had stalled and the only thing that was running through it were the words “What to do, what to do.” Over and over they kept repeating themselves, like a broken record. Then something caught my attention. I was gazing at this single red maple leaf in a small tree and suddenly realized that we were close to the end of the month and I hadn’t even noticed that the leaves had changed colors in the mountains. I would have to come to grip with the fact that he was gone and that was that. “Yeah but, he was seen as early as noon yesterday. You can’t give up.” I tried convincing myself. “You’ve got to keep trying till you know for sure.” On that note, I got up and jumped in the “dog buggy” and headed to Armand and Solange’s campsite. I wanted to see if he had returned there since the day before. Sure as hell, there were signs that some sort of animal had rummaged through the garbage looking for something to eat. Although, this was not to say that it was Oumak, the foot prints in the muddy bank of the river were definitely of a large dog and not something else. “OK”, I told myself, “let’s go back and get that crate. Maybe, we’ll have a better chance here.” We were there and back in a matter of minutes and setting up when suddenly I heard this jingling sound of metal. I wasn’t dreaming and from the straight hair on his back, my German Shepard was very attentive and looking at the bushes. Something was there. “What’s up buddy?” I asked him. Of course he didn’t answer but from the way he was wagging his tail and reacting, I knew that whatever it was, it wasn’t a threat. I whistled my “dog tune” and shouted out. “Oumak, is that you? Come on Buddy. Look at the food I’ve got for you.” Pointing to the hamburger that I was leaving for him on the picnic table, I added, “Come on Buddy, we’re not going to hurt you.” I sat at the table and simply talked away. If someone would have showed up unannounced and heard me, that person would have concluded that I was three bricks short of a load especially when I started to “howl”. If you’re a dog person, you know what I’m talking about. Let’s be honest with ourselves. We’ve all done it. I knew it was working as “Mosqua” was now sitting there and had joined me in my symphony. I didn’t care what people thought and besides who was I hurting? After about an hour of this “trying to convince him”, nothing was happening so I voted to leave and come back the next day. “Oumak,” I shouted at the bushes. “this is your last chance. The bus is leaving.” Simply nothing. Not a budge, not even a sign that he was there. “Oh well “Mosqua”, we’ll be back tomorrow.” I wasn’t ready to give up and had come to the conclusion that if I was to possibly tame him, I would return every day, even if it was going to take a month.
From the look on my face, Fran had easily concluded that nothing positive had come out from my 25 kms drive to the woods. She knew me better than anybody else and had figured that I was in one of my moods and it was best to leave me alone. I was now in the second phase of this evening’s training schedule and here I was jogging in the mountain with “Mosqua” and “Mr. Tibbs” keeping pace. Somehow, I was going to get some sleep that night and this was an attempt at physically draining myself. I was reviewing how the training run had gone with “JR” and “Alaska” and I had to admit the “old gal” had spunk. There was no way that she was near the shape that my team was in but at no time throughout the run had she given up or slacked off. In lead, is where she was at her best and she was running as if she wanted to show us that she belonged. That was encouraging but what brought the message home was when I called for a “Gee” command and “JR” hesitated. Not her, she shoulder checked him and guided him right into the left turn and they were gone, headed in the demanded direction. Three times I asked for and three times she gave me what I asked immediately. This had real possibilities and was a welcomed positive note.
Running up this hill through this mature stand of spruce trees, I came across a natural circular formation of mushrooms called in French “un rond de sorcières” (translation - Witches Circle). Looking at it, half bent over and huffing and puffing, I was trying to catch my breath when I remembered a local Malecite Indian legend. It is said that if one is lucky enough to come across one of these circles, one should stand in the middle of it and make a wish. If he is deemed a good person, the spirits will grant that wish. “Hey, what the hell “Tibbs” it can’t hurt.” I said to my old half blind friend. Although it was again wishful thinking on my part, I needed to really take a breather so I played this silly game with myself. Of course, most people would wish for a couple of million dollars in the bank but no, not me. All I wanted was to have Oumak safe and sound and really, it didn’t matter where, just as long as he had a good home. So in the middle of it, I closed my eyes and made the wish. A minute later, I opened them and as I suspected nothing happened. “OK” I told my two four legged companions, “that’s enough of this “black magic bullshit” for one week. Let’s go home. I knew they didn’t have a clue as to what I was babbling about but I did know they were happy just to tag along. Listening to the old white Siberian panting behind made me realize that not everybody shared this relation I had with my dogs. It was a special one. These guys actually made my sometimes miserable life a lot more bearable if not enjoyable. For that, I thanked them wholeheartedly. Right here, right now, the old veteran would be the recipient of some of this affection. So I stopped and scratched his chest. “Tell you what “Tibbs”. When you get back to the barn tonight, pass on to the crew that I’m really sorry for the crappy mood I’ve been in for the last few days. I promise to try my best to change it.” We got back to the barn and of course, the dogs were raring to go out again but this was not to happen. It was late and I needed to get some food in me. “Good Night Guys,” I told them while shutting the light out, “I’ll see you in the morning.” Walking away, I was listening to their jibber-jabber and thought “Oh great! It’s going to be a long night. The “Kid” is telling jokes.”
It was 2130 hrs, that evening when after eating supper, I decided to go to bed. This was my usual time to “hit the hay” but tonight I was overly tired and welcomed my climb up the stairs. When my head hit the pillow, I was gone in a matter of seconds. Suddenly, it was happening again. Here I was driving my white “UN” jeep, headed to the mass grave. Brake all you want, the vehicle had a mind of its own and it was taking me there. “Not tonight Baby, not tonight.” I said waking myself up, my heart pounding. “We’re not going there tonight.” It was just past midnight when I checked the clock on the night table and here I was again, wide awake. It didn’t make any sense for me to get up at this time so I laid there tossing and turning. Staring at the ceiling, my mind started wandering. Back and forth, back and forth, here I was having this argument in my mind about the spiritual world. Native Legends, Christians versus Muslims, Black Magic and even Voodoo, everywhere you looked it seemed that someone was trying to give their opinion on how you should live your life and impose their views. This obviously had been taken to extremes and right now, the world was in turmoil because a selected few were walking around with “blinders” on”. I didn’t know what the solution was but knew that right now would be a good time for some of them to “suck back and reload”. We were like puppets on a string and this was mass manipulation at its best. This nonsense was going nowhere but somewhere in this world, I figured that a few greedy “financial wizards” had managed to guide us down this “dark alley” and were feverously siphoning every last black penny from our pockets. We just had to look at financial markets and the world wide panic. It was in a tail spin and try all you want, it would crash. Only then would they evaluate what was really important and maybe then would we return to the basics. At the end of the day, those who would survive, would lick their wounds, check the damage and adapt and overcome…
I was off the track with my “trying to resolve the problems of the world” but there something to this self-examination. See, even though he had died many years ago, he still lived in my spirits and once in awhile I’d visit with him. At one time during my post military life, Leonard Lanteigne had had a positive impact on me and although some would say that he had simplistic views, he was one of wisest man I had ever met. A “Korean Vet”, him and I had found common grounds and many nights had been spent talking and hashing things out. At the end of day, you know what, he was right. If one was to take the time to see what was important, one would conclude that it didn’t take much to be happy. Being a Malecite native, the small man lived in harmony with nature and to see him go, you could tell that he was at peace with himself. He was right into these Indian legends and myths and would practice “cleansing of the soul” ceremonies. I had gone along with such a ritual but although I really didn’t believe in his spiritual world, I had been sober for the better part of seven years. Throw in there the fact that I had experienced some unexplainable things and you had a recipe that if it didn’t put a doubt in your mind at least it made you think for a second.
One thing that he had taught me and I wished that I would have had further time to explore this with him, was the “healing properties” of certain plants. Boiled Poplar bark was good as a de-wormer while Aloe Vera sap would heal a wound quickly. You didn’t want to touch the small pointy mushrooms as they would make you visit hell. However, if you smoked this green herb, it would relax you and help you sleep. This was very evident during his final days, fighting his terminal cancer. He would get through the day, killing the pain using this organic substance. Of course, because of my occupation in the military, I didn’t agree with this “smoking up” but he had made me think twice when he asked me what the difference was between “his stuff” and prescribed pills. Not much really other than man had made the “green herb” illegal in the 30’s after being pressured by the large pharmaceuticals. So anyway and although I don’t advocate the use of it, I had lit up on a couple of occasions just to get over certain “humps”. Right now, I was on my ninth night without proper sleep and I had decided that this fell as one of those times that I needed to self medicate myself. I jumped out of bed, put my clothes on and headed to the “Bunkhouse”. Call it breaking the rules to get the job done, call it what ever gets you through the day or call it self preservation, I didn’t care. Tonight’s mission was too simple. We were going to do what was necessary to get some sleep and this at all cost. Enough was enough. Sitting on the porch with my “Peace Pipe”, I filled the bowl to where I thought it would numb me good. After a bit of hesitation, I struck a match and unlike that American President, I smoked the stuff and yes I did inhale. Boy did I ever. I nearly chocked to death on the first drag. I took in a smaller second one and within minutes, I could feel the pressure leaving my body. I can’t remember what time it was when I laid down on the couch but trust me when I say that I did not visit Bosnia. The only thing that I remember from the rest of that night was dreaming about Leonard sitting there in front me, wearing a parka and smiling. He didn’t say anything but from his calm demeanor, I could tell that everything was going to be all right.
I woke up to barking dogs and a bad kink in my neck. I checked and just as I suspected it was close to 0800 hrs and they wanted to be fed. “OK, OK”, I shouted after walking outside and whistling for them to quiet down, “I get the message.” I needed to go real bad so I rushed back to the house to use the toilet. Sitting there, I just couldn’t figure out why they were so noisy this morning. I knew the neighbors didn’t care too much about their barking so I didn’t take time to read my newspaper. The paperwork done, I headed back. The ruckus was borderline ridiculous and I soon found out why. “Holy Sheep Shit, Batman”, I said thinking that I was hallucinating and seeing a ghost. “Is it possible?” I continued, trying to focus my eyes. Here was Mosqua standing in the field beyond the barn, tail wagging sniffing Oumak’s nose. Looking at him, I just couldn’t believe that he had come back. The poor thing was nothing but skin and bones but at least he was alive. Trying to approach him, I walked towards him calling him ever so calmly to come. He looked at me for a minute but wasn’t too sure and walked away. I saw where he went and knew he was watching me through the bushes. “Let’s not scare him away,” I thought. “Maybe if I bring the dogs out and feed them he’ll come and join them for a meal.” Surely, he was hungry. I did this and I knew I was making progress. Although he was keeping his distance, he was walking through the dog yard, introducing himself to the “mob”. Except for the “Kid”, none of the other ones were giving him any static. He eventually made his way to “Alaska” where he was glad to finally see a real happy “welcome to the neighborhood” attitude. He bonded with her immediately and they started to play. Seeing that this might be my best chance to catch him, I grabbed her chain and pulled her towards me ever so slowly. Oumak followed but was very hesitant. I turned her around so that she would be facing him and held her by her collar. “See Oumak, nobody’s going to hurt you here. Come here, Boy, come here.” The nervousness and excitement that I was feeling right then, was unbelievable. I extended the back of my hand towards him and he came just about four inches from it then stopped. “It’s all right buddy, it’s all right. I know I’m not your master but give me a chance. You’ll see things will be OK with us.” I finished. As if he knew what I was talking about, he came right in front of me and ever so gently lied down on his front paws and let out this sigh of relief. I reached over to him and petted him on the head. He had completely submitted or rather he was completely spent. “It’ OK buddy, it’s over.” Lying there, just a carcass of a dog, I just couldn’t help but think of those poor Muslim POWs that the Serbs had kept barely alive in those camps during the 90’s. It’s ironic how recent world events had made us forget what had happened in that period of so recent history. We, as the United Nations, had just stood there and done nothing while innocent people were getting tortured and slaughtered. “Oumak my friend, that’s not going to happen here. Come on, let’s get you to safety and get you fixed up.” I reached for his collar and picked him up. He reeked of sweat and excrements but I didn’t care. Tears were rolling down my cheeks and I was holding on to him as I do to dear life. He was “back home” safely and that’s what mattered.
I put him back in the nursery and this time, his attitude was different. He wasn’t wild and crazy. Instead, he sniffed the straw in the dog house, jumped in it and curled in a ball and just looked at me. “Yeah, Buddy. That’s quite the scare you gave us. Now get some rest.”
It had been two days since his return and he was on his way to a full recovery. He had run quite the race on his own and other than a few scratches and a small hole in his left front pad, he was in pretty good shape. From what I could gather, he had not wanted to show up at training camp out of shape so decided to go out there train on his own. Yeah right! As for the rest of the team, well, while walking around the property that morning, I was amazed how they were muscle bound and fast runners. The month of September had been very productive and they would be entitled to some time off. Besides, “Hurricane Kyle” was barreling up the East Coast straight towards us and we would have to deal with that crisis as soon as tomorrow. So when my mother came in the house that Thursday afternoon and saw me lying on the living room couch covered with my “dog blanket” she couldn’t figure out what I was doing but asked “Are you sick?” Not really having the energy to give a long winded explanation, I simply answered, “No, I’m just taking a day off.”
Just another day in Paradise. Later Folks…