Duck Toller Drowning a Coon

By ALEXI VENICE—

You’ve heard me talk about my Duck Tolling Retriever, Zane, who insists on living outside on the deck in his igloo despite the warm, loving life we offer him inside. The fact of the matter is that Zane is all dog. He’s a predator when he’s not protecting our castle.

This classy Zane incident inspired me to write a hillbilly campfire song about my Duck Tollers. Feel free to strum along on your guitar when you sing it.

A few years ago, Bootie Pepper (my daughter) and I met the owner of some lakefront property for sale. It was chilly, so I was wearing a ballcap and a fleece jacket. Not just any ballcap, mind you. It said, “Madeline Island Yacht Club” on the front. I don’t own a yacht and I’m not a member of the club, but nonetheless. My jacket had “Mayo Clinic” printed on the front—a respectable emblem by any measure.

Early in the conversation, the owner (who I shall refer to as “Dick”) inquired of our intentions with the property if we were to buy it. I told him we planned to build a lake cabin for recreational use.

He registered my answer, looked at me long and hard, performed some sort of mental calculation about my socio-economic status (despite my hat and fleece), then said, “We’re not trailer people on this lake. I hope you don’t plan on moving a trailer onto this property.”

STOP THE F*ING PRESS! WHAT’S HAPPENING? WHY ARE MY EYES ROLLING BACK IN MY HEAD? WHAT DID DICK JUST SAY? “TRAILER PEOPLE?”

I was so taken aback that I didn’t know how to respond. Should I challenge his bias? Should I describe the cabin plans my husband and I had sketched out? What if our cabin plans undermined our negotiating position for a good price on the lot? Should I tell Dick I have friends who own campers and trailers? As these, and other thoughts, raced through my busy mind, I simply defaulted to formulaic courtesy, saying, “Oh, right [mumble, mumble, mumble].”

(I’ve found it useful over the years to mumble in response to stuff I don’t understand. I simply end a thought by mumbling random phrases in a soft voice. The listener doesn’t have a clue what I’m talking about, especially if he’s as deaf as Dick. I usually mumble in a tone like, “Oh yeah, I know what you mean.”)

So, without agreeing, I managed to convey to Dick that we respected his inexplicable wishes (not), and that if we were lucky enough to take the property off his hands (by paying cash), that we would make him proud as CLASSY owners. WTF?! After we shook hands on rough terms, he encouraged us to walk the lakefront. He walked in the opposite direction toward his pickup truck.

Bootie Pepper and I got the two duck tollers out of the car—Zane and Daisy. Since they love the water, it was only appropriate that they should join us on an unleashed walk along the wooded shoreline.

Halfway into the walk, Bootie Pepper said, “Mom, what’s that noise?”

We ran down to the water’s edge to find Zane interacting with a juvenile racoon. Rough translation: the coon was hissing and clawing while Zane was pulling the coon into deeper water TRYING TO DROWN HIM!

I yelled at Zane to come, but his killing instinct overrode his ability to hear. There was no way I was going to reach my hand into the action-packed fight, so I asked Bootie Pepper to get a stick.

She found a rotted birch branch and handed it to me. If you have any experience in the outdoors, you know that a rotted birch branch breaks at the slightest pressure. I proceeded to whack Zane a few times on his neck to get his attention, all the while yelling, “ZANE!”

On the second whack, the stick broke and so did Zane’s killer instinct. He looked at me, snapped out of it, and reluctantly walked through shoulder-deep water away from the hissing coon. I grabbed his collar and pulled him to shore, so we could skedaddle out of there. (Just so you know, that’s the only time I’ve ever whacked Zane.)

Once we were a safe distance away from the unharmed coon, I asked Bootie Pepper if Dick, the snobby owner of the property, was still around. Fortunately, he had driven away. Whew. Based on his earlier comments, I was pretty sure he would have found our coon incident to be sufficiently low brow not to sell us the property.

We did end up buying that lakefront property, and have laughed about the coon incident many times over the campfire. By the way, there’s a campground, with many, many campers on it, across the road from us, and I think they’re the best neighbors ever.

Livin’ Wild and Free

If I were a toller livin’ wild and free,

Up at Sand Lake I would be.

 I like swimmin’ in the lake and chasin’ them loon,

Once in a while try to drown a coon.

Yeah, if I were a toller livin’ wild and free,

Up at Sand Lake I would be.

I like ridin’ on the tube and shakin’ my paw,

People on the beach can’t believe what they saw.

If I were a toller livin’ wild and free,

Up at Sand Lake I would be.

 I like runnin’ in the woods and chasin’ them fox,

Just like a toller they have white socks.

If I were a toller livin’ wild and free,

Up at Sand Lake I would be.

I like ridin’ in the boat and watchin’ Mama ski,

Jump in the lake if you have to take a pee.

Yeah, if I were a toller livin’ wild and free,

Up at Sand Lake I would be.

Zane and Daisy

Here’s to all of you who enjoy campfires and the lake life!

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