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Chet Baker, Snaker

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Chet Baker LOVED Camp Arrowhead. He investigated every cabin and outbuilding, and roamed free the whole weekend, always coming back to check and make sure we hadn't wandered away. It's good to have a trustworthy dog. My only fear is that someone will invite him into their car and he'll take them up on it!

We spent a fabulous three-day-weekend on the Delaware shore at an Episcopalian church camp called Camp Arrowhead. We were there to play music for our dear friends' wedding, and play we did...more on that later. But since it's been such a Chet drought for his thirsty fans, I thought I'd lead off with Chet's First Snake.
I took a brief walk Sunday afternoon to collect my thoughts and energy, wandering through the dry loblolly pine forest with Baker. It smelled like incense, and was quiet but for the squeak of brown-headed nuthatches and the occasional CHINK! of a blue grosbeak. Oh yeah, nice nice birds. Up ahead on the sandy road of the nearly deserted camp (their season starts June 1), I spotted an enormous black rat snake. Ah. Just the thing for a naive dog's first snake. I let Chet walk right over it, dum de dum de dum, and quietly sat down a little way off to watch him discover it.
Being the most faithful of pups, if not the most observant, Chet soon circled back to join me. Oh, look. A big black stick. I like those. Chet pressed his nose to its scaly side and snuffed deeply. Hmmm. This one smells rather strange. Tarnation! What is this thing?

I could almost hear the snake hissing, "Fie upon you, curious dog! Bite and I shall bite back!" At this point, I was really glad this wasn't Chet's first copperhead.
The snake slowly gathered itself into a defensive posture, vibrating its tail in the dry pine needles. Baker backed off, instinct his only guide. I was fascinated how he stayed just out of striking range, while trying to get more olfactory data on this strange creature. I didn't coach him, just let the two interact. I've been bitten by a similarly sized black rat snake (while peeling it off a wren house), and it's not pleasant, but neither is it life-threatening. It feels like about fifty tiny hot needles, and it leaves a cool U-shape of blood beads on your skin. But you really have to piss them off to get them to bite--like peeling them off a wren house...For now, I wanted Chet to get the concept of "snake" for the inevitable time he stumbles on a copperhead back on Indigo Hill. And if he was going to do something stupid, I wanted him to get a bite for it.Black rats are gentle snakes, very slow to take umbrage and even slower to strike. If you handle them gently, they usually won't strike at all. And this was a monster by any standard, at least five feet long. Such a beauty.
Chet quickly settled down, and stationed himself between me and the snake. Whether he did this to protect me or not is open to question. As I've said before, he sticks to me like glue when he's leery of something. Bill looked at him, asleep on my lap on the long ride home Monday, and said, "You are the base Chet plugs into to recharge himself." Funny thing: He's my recharger, too. How I love this pooch. And now he knows a little something about snakes. He passed his test with flying colors. He investigated, kept his distance, then let the snake be. No fool, he. I'm proud of my little black son.


Serendipity is a wonderful thing. I drove to work the other morning, feeling sad, thinking about my Dad (who recently passed away) and the hatchlings that had met a very early and unfortunate end on our driveway the night before - I half heard the NPR commentator mention an upcoming piece about birdwatching with your kids and a book by Bill Thompson. I couldn't stop wondering what mother bird had lost her brood, so I went looking for pictures of newborn birds. Lucky me, I ended up at your blog. Your pictures and writing have become a wonderful part of my day and I feel happy again watching my backyard birds in NH and thinking of my Dad. With many thanks! Jen Legier

Good boy Chet! Sometimes I wonder with my Boston, Fred, who's protecting who, but I am pretty sure if push came to shove, it'd be me. I also don't worry about Fred running off, but I do worry about someone one else taking him. The other day, he hopped into the UPS delivery truck, Sheesh! I guess he just wanted to say hi. They are truly an amazing breed, Fred's my first Boston, he's 3, how did I live without him?

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