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Creek Bends: Somewhere between pristine and tame
Creek Bends is a series of essays from an undisclosed location, of undisclosed ownership, along Snake Creek in Northeast Oklahoma.
SNAKE CREEK—She has a lot of husky in her, other breeds too, but mostly her amber eyes and pink-and-black nose remind me of Alaskan sled dogs I’ve known.
She also has shown me, in no uncertain terms, she would rather sleep outside in the snow than inside on a warm mat with human companionship.
Regardless, she remains close, just not too close.
Doodle has not known a leash or a dog box. She roams, she hunts, she lies around as she pleases. Whatever the air at her nose and the ground beneath her feet inspire her to do, she does.
She pounces on rodents like a fox and plays with her catch like a cat. She’s been known to chase deer and feral hogs. Indeed, the local wildlife knows her bark. She is no more than three years old but likely is more intimate with her home range than people who have lived here for years.
She does wear a reflective blaze orange collar these days. I tricked her into it with Bil-Jac Original Recipe Dog Treats. It’s like canine crack; she was helpless.
It just seemed wise for a dog that likes to chase cars down gravel roads and blaze through the woods in her tan coat and white highlights during deer season. We’ll see how long it stays on. She already showed me that she knows how to slip out of it easily enough.
This is Doodlebug, and for inexplicable reasons when I sat down to start writing about a pretty little slice of Northeast Oklahoma situated on a clear-water creek of the Ozarks Springfield Plateau, this silly little dog that plays among the bends of Snake Creek trotted into my thoughts and sat there, smiling.
She is as good an ambassador as any, I suppose. She is domesticated but with elements of wildness. Not entirely tame, not entirely pristine, much like this property.
We, the dog and me, are guests here courtesy of friends who wish to remain anonymous but share a love of nature and all things wild. They purchased this acreage that includes a section of the creek, some fertile bottoms, and a tall, rocky, oak forest ridge, about a year ago.
They plan to improve on the natural aspects of the property for pollinators, wildlife, and for the benefit of the clean water in that precious creek.
They have agreed to let me make myself comfortable here and share a series of columns about the place its flora and fauna, the attempts to make improvements, and maybe some adventures along the way. I’ll write about my little writer’s camp here, too.
I am in the pumphouse near the main gate. It is, literally, a pumphouse, a concrete outbuilding over a well. It still has the pressure tank and pipes inside. We think it can be a comfy camp-out spot for any visitor. It is a cozy 6 ½-feet wide and 10 feet long on the inside; think “concrete wall tent.”
It used to be part of a home here that was so dilapidated and loaded with garbage it had to be burned and hauled away. A concrete slab, the equipment shed, and this pumphouse are all that remain.
The pumphouse was stuffed to the brim with all manner of junk. With the garbage removed, one of the owners first had the idea of making it a camp. He and a neighbor ripped off the old roof and put on a nice new one and installed an old insulated door.
I got the door working with a locking handle and deadbolt and used some of my old carpentry and masonry skills to bust out the old window frames, square things up, and frame-in spots for new windows. For now, those openings are covered with plywood. A cordless power washer helped with some finer cleaning on the inside, which also has a coat of paint now too.
The desk/bed/table my computer rests upon at this moment is a platform I built to fold down from the wall. It’s an idea I stole from an ice-fishing shanty that sat on Birch Lake every winter, all winter long, outside Fairbanks, Alaska.
Yet to come is a cooking spot, some shelves, and a chuck box; little projects to write about. It will be fun. I’ll do some little projects around the outside of the house, too.
Doodlebug peaks through the door of the pumphouse to see what I’m up to but will come no closer. One snowy night I closed the door behind her as she entered. It appears she won’t make that mistake again. I thought I was being nice but I won’t make that mistake again either, at least not for a while.
She is the vagabond of the neighborhood, a collection of acreages, most in the 40-acre to 80-acre range, with some pasture and livestock, some oak-dominated timber ridges, and the idyllic creek, a cool, meandering, clear-water stream that winds through the alternating forested ridges and pastures.
She has no master or owner. Apparently, she just turned up as a pup, probably unwanted, and dumped off the rural road a couple of years back. Neighbors feed her and I’m told she has a doghouse to use at one of those places if she wants.
Friendship with Doodle does have its drawbacks. I call her Doodle, some call her Bugs. She is a thief and not always a helpful companion. My own dog, Whiskey, is only an occasional visitor of late, mostly due to Doodle and her rambunctious ways. He has bad knees and her bounding and jumping on him and the round boulders of the creek are a potentially costly combination, at least for now.
She swiped a package of hotdog buns from some friends as they had a campfire and picnic along the creek one day. Who needed those extra carbs anyway, right?
This fall, as I set a pop-up blind on the oak ridge, she grabbed the bag of stakes and ties for the blind while I was clearing some ground inside. She trotted along, the little black wire stakes and strings falling from the bag into the deep oak-leaf litter as she went. I yelled and she spun around before she dropped the bag.
It took me a half-hour to find all those damned stakes, not counting the additional five minutes I spent chasing her after she grabbed my work gloves and trotted off with those as I searched for stakes.
She has donated another pair of my work gloves to the forest floor and one mobile wi-fi hotspot I stupidly left sitting on the bumper of my truck (before I had this table). I am forever mindful, now, not to leave important items lying around within her reach.
I didn’t find the time I hoped for deer hunting this year and on one of my last mornings, with deer on the approach for what turned out to be my last best chance, Doodle popped out of the brush and chased the deer away. Apparently, she had been lying in the weeds watching me from about 75 yards away; probably was there all morning. Close, but not too close.
After she chased the deer she trotted over to the base of my tree stand and looked up at me wagging her tail like she was so proud of herself. I had words for her I won’t repeat here.
Semi-wild things will do what they do, you know. We’ll find a balance, Doodle and me, just as I’m sure the owners of this parcel will as they restore some balance along these bends in Snake Creek, somewhere between pristine and tame.
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