Old Buck had missed it.
Or perhaps the black and tan coonhound just wanted to stay with me while his former protégé opened on the raccoon’s trail. Either way, my black cur, Seth, had caught wind of a racoon and now drove that track alone, hard and fast, with his deep bawls echoing in the darkened forest. The ebony hound moved steadily due north. To get back to the trail, I’d have to head due south.
Before snapping my headlamp on, I looked up. The cloudless night sky—safe from the scourge of urban lighting—held a million silver flecks. Above was the Big Dipper, with its two outer stars in the cup pointing toward the North Star, Polaris. The compass in my pocket would be unnecessary this night: If the GPS failed, the heavens wouldn’t.
Thankfully, the temperature had dropped this August night. The promise of fall floated on the wind, and the ringtails were running in the cooler weather.
Walking stick in hand and flicking my headlamp on, I noticed Buck listening patiently as Seth continued to work out the track. A moment later Seth loosed three exceptionally long locate bawls.
“Swear that dog likes to hear himself bark,” I muttered, and something, recalling my wife’s contention, that Seth and I shared in common.*
On cue, Seth switched over to his rapid chopping bark. The raccoon was treed, and per the GPS, a little over three hundred yards away.
The elder hound by my side whined softly.
“Go on, Buck. Don’t wait for me. I’ll be along soon enough.”
With permission granted, the old hound bounded off into the woods toward the sound of Seth’s voice.
Ambling beneath ancient trees, I came across the remnants of a stone wall, perhaps once a demarcation between abandoned farms, sometime before the Great Depression of the 1930s. Who knew for sure? It was certain, though, that raccoon liked to run along the decrepit fence’s flat rocks and not a surprise to find Seth treed so nearby.
About hundred yards, I estimated as Buck added his voice to Seth's.
Here and there, tall white pines grew amongst deciduous red oaks and sugar maples. An unpruned apple tree stood alone as tenacious proof an orchard had once occupied this place. Now its fruit served the forest denizens, and another draw to the woods bandits.
At fifty yards out, Seth and Buck’s cacophony surely waking the land’s memories, I looked up through the leafy branches. Two sentient amber dots watched my approach. When I reached the base of that old oak—an enormous tree that had split into three separate trees—I was already praising the hounds for a job well done. Seth continued treeing, tail wagging proudly, as I honored our pact to follow wherever he led.
“Well done, boys!”
But the ebony hound’s success quickly multiplied. Additional sets of yellow eyes reflected in my headlamp’s white beam. The initial onlooker as I’d neared had been the mama raccoon, who I spied climbing higher in the oak to one of her kittens above. In the next tree over, which Buck walked over to casually place a paw on, another two kitten raccoon watched the commotion below.
Very well done, indeed.
After a couple of minutes of picture taking, I shouted. “Den tree!”
It was training season, and the command told my hounds it was time to leave the curious ringtails alone this night.
Seth and dropped their front paws off the tree as we headed back to the truck, four pairs of eyes aloft surely watching our departure.
For the briefest moment this night, the silvery stars had been replaced with amber.
*My wife's exact words were, “Like father, like son.”
Seth (green collar) and Buck