The e-mail came unexpectedly.
Chris, a photographer with a local museum, had heard about my novels set in Painted Post and—as part of an exposé for New York’s Southern Tier—wanted to take some pictures of Seth and me—and maybe even go on a coon hunt.
Sure, I responded. Seth is pretty photogenic and would carry that load quite well while I played second fiddle. (You kind of get used to that with Seth.)
“Did I have any locations in mind?” Chris asked.
As a matter of fact, I did. We’d never succeeded in getting a good picture of Seth at our waterfalls, which would make a great backdrop. Chris agreed and said he’d make contact to set up the time for the photo shoot later in the fall.
About two months later, Chris wrote that he was ready. We agreed on a time and date when we could meet: 1:00 p.m. on November 14th.
The day arrived. To his credit, Chris arrived with military precision. I wasn’t surprised to learn he was a military brat—his father having a full career in the U.S. Coast Guard. He thanked me for taking the time to meet up, but unfortunately, his project’s schedule wouldn’t allow him to go on an actual coon hunt at night.
“No problems,” I’d said.
“How far to the falls?” he asked, putting his camera equipment together.
“About three hundred yards,” I replied.
We went to dog kennels, and I put the training collar on Seth.
Chris asked about the collar’s capabilities. Could I track and recall Seth?
Yes, I could track Seth’s whereabouts for miles via the collar’s Global Positioning System handheld unit’s screen. Further, the electronic bell on the collar let me recall Seth no matter where he roamed, although the steep hills and ravines of Painted Post could sometimes interfere with the signal.
Did Seth always respond when I called?
Every time. Voice command or tone. Hundreds of hours of training, I explained, releasing Seth, and grabbing my walking stick.
We were ready to head to the falls.
“Why set your novels in Painted Post?”
A question I’d been asked often. The explanation was simple. After nearly 30 years in the military, my honest response to the most asked question (Where are you from?) was first met with suspicion (Are you kidding me?) and then some good-natured ribbing. (Where are you from again? Painted Stick? Painted Rock?)
Once at the creek, Seth shot ahead at a very quick clip. Not surprising, on this sunny fall afternoon. He’d been on this trip many times before since he was a pup.
Thinking back, I should have known better.
As we approached the falls, Seth began barking rapidly. Likely Seth had treed a squirrel. Many coonhounds are started by learning how to tree squirrels, I told my guest.
Chris reached the edge of the falls first, peering over the 14-foot edge to spy Seth below.
“Mr. Crance!” Chris shouted, fixated on what he could see but I could not, as my hound continued to bay. “Seth has a racoon in the water!”
Raccoon are primarily nocturnal—but not exclusively nocturnal. (In truth, this would be the second time Seth treed a raccoon in the daytime.) After thousands of chases over nearly 50 years—you could count on one hand the number of times one of our hounds actually caught a raccoon on the ground.
As I came to the fall’s edge, it was true. In a pool 40 yards away at a much smaller waterfall (only about 3 feet tall) where the water came to Seth’s shoulder, a large raccoon had its back against the edge of smaller falls. I told Chris that I couldn’t recall Seth (he was trained to chase a raccoon), and it was also true that a raccoon would lure a dog into the water and climb atop a hound’s head to drown the dog. (As a teenager, my father had that very thing happen—but that would be a story for another time.)
“Best to get down there,” I said.
Seth continued to bay loudly, feinting back and forth in the deep, cold water as the raccoon snarled.
Getting down that moss-covered cliff is tricky—even for a young man. I was no longer young, but experience allowed me to get to the base of the falls relatively quick.
All the while, the dance between ringtail and coonhound continued.
I walked the narrow edge of the pool to enter the knee-high water. (By the way, boots are only waterproof to top of your boot—about midcalf.)
While it was hunting season, a firearm at this point—even had I brought my .22—would have been useless. Hound and raccoon were far too close and moving too rapidly. Besides—this was supposed to be a photo shoot, not a coon hunt.
I had an idea and brought my walking staff down in the narrow gap between raccoon and Seth. It worked, breaking Seth’s concentration just long enough for me to catch his collar and pull him back. Interestingly, it also broke the raccoon’s focus. In fact, the raccoon climbed my staff to gain purchase on the stop shelf of the small ledge.
Thoroughly soaked but none the worse for wear, the raccoon turned to look directly at me. It would be melodramatic to suggest that raccoon was somehow thanking me or showing some sign of respect. Likely, this ringtail was ensuring Seth, still straining in my grip, wasn’t in full pursuit once more.
Likely melodramatic . . . but then again, it is Painted Post.
The raccoon wheeled, sprinting away, and adroitly scaled the tall waterfalls. (Chris quickly moved to the side of the falls out of its way.) At the top, it paused once more to look at Seth and me and then climbed a young hemlock.
Once the raccoon was safely up, I released Seth, who immediately went to that hemlock and began treeing.
That day, Chris ended up getting a lot of good pictures.
When he was through taking pictures, Seth still treed hard while the raccoon looked down from the safety of its perch.