Last night the beagle, making a wild run to escape consequences for tearing large hunks of latticework off the front porch, managed to tip over a box that was supporting a half-mile spool of fence wire. This fell such that the edge of the spool landed directly on the second toe of my left foot, breaking it. This caused no end of discomfort but very little surprise, for dogs have been systematically chipping away at the left side of my body for years.

My left shin carries a brown depressed area, scarring from a massive bone bruise provided by a hard-headed setter blasting through thick brush and ramming me. My left thumb joint is greatly enlarged and stiff as a result of a big redtick coonhound knocking it out of joint, splintering the joint in the process. Although my nose has been systematically shifted to the left by a series of breaks — beginning with the day of my birth — the most recent came from a pointer who, when a grouse flew into the windshield and dropped to the roadside, felt she should launch a retrieve out my open window.

However, the most significant dog-related injury was to my left elbow.

I bought a female Plott hound at a good price because she was “not aggressive enough on bear.” I did not care because I did not really enjoy the 20-mile jaunts through rough country a bear hunt typically involved. Augustus, my Champion male Plott hound, like his father, Caesar (so-named because he was so Roman nosed), was far more enthusiastic about bruins. I was interested in the female because she was a “check dog.” This means if any of the other dogs began running off-game like deer or rabbits, she would come back to the handler and stay at heel until the others ceased their bad behavior.

I took her along with Gus to hunt on the backside of West Mountain and turned them loose in a huge swampy area. Within a few minutes, Gus’ baritone chop began to echo across the mountainside. A few minutes later, I was amazed to see the new female come tearing back to hide behind Dr. Wifey and shake. In the meantime, unlike a typical coon track, Gus had continued on over the mountain out of hearing in a straight line. I could not believe it. My dual Champion (advertised in the national magazine) stud Plott hound was apparently running a deer. I was enraged and, while Janice took the new dog home to sooth her, I headed over the mountain to try and find my bonehead.

At length, I heard him barking, although it sounded more like a fight than treeing and, sure enough, when I got there, as opposed to a deer, he had a decent-sized bear bayed in a V-formed by two large pine trees toppled in a recent windstorm. I carefully crept in and when Gus dodged back away from a bear strike, I grabbed him. This apparently made the bear think there was an escape route behind me. He made a move, Gus surged for him knocking me over backwards. The bear’s head went through a loop of my headlamp cord, ripping the hardhat from my head and smashing the light.

The fight continued in total darkness and I was getting rolled around quite a bit. I finally felt smooth hair, grabbed on and held Gus by a hind leg, allowing the bear to escape. The trip back down over the ledges was pretty sporty, in the dark, with an 80-pound dog lunging furiously back in the direction of the escaping bruin.

When we got home and began to doctor up the injuries, the dog needed no stitches but I had two major bites. One was on the front of my left thigh and the other was a serious chomp on my left elbow joint, rendering it increasingly stiff and arthritic ever since. At the time, I felt they were both dog bites but when I tried to compare Gus’ teeth to the holes in my body, he grew surly and slunk under the bed. The only good part of this is, for some reason, I became a much better dowser after the injury and I can now forecast inclement weather several days in advance.

This came to mind because several people have mentioned woolly bear caterpillars in the past week or so with regard to their purported ability to forecast the nature of the winter we will face. This year there are a large number that have large black bands with very narrow central red bands — a characteristic felt to indicate a bad winter is coming.

No one notices the woolly bear moths. They are small, nondescript brown things flitting through the deeper woodlands. They lay eggs when the ground thaws in the spring and the caterpillars begin their growth stages with a skin shed between each instar. The final one is when the caterpillar begins to grow the characteristic hairy caterpillar coats. Starting off primarily black, the red gradually pushes the center wider and wider. The longer the caterpillar has to grow, the wider the red band and hence, supposedly, the shorter the black bands.

The problem with this is that the length of the growing season for the caterpillars depends on the mildness of the spring weather and hence how early the moth’s eggs may be laid. Therefore, the width of the bands is indicative not of the severity of the coming winter but rather of the past. I suspect my elbow may be a better indicator but, by the way it feels lately, I have to go along with the woolly bears and will lay in a particularly large firewood supply.

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Bob Henke writes a weekly outdoors column for The Post-Star.


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