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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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From My Window

Issue Date: October 21, 2020

O'Dark Thirty

By Jane Thibodeau Martin,

One day a week, I cover "early morning dog duty" at the animal shelter to cover for "Fred." Fred is a stalwart of the shelter, who comes in around 4:30 a.m. five days a week, rain, snow or hail notwithstanding. He comes so early because he hates to think of the dogs "holding it" since 7 p.m. or so the previous night, when the last dog walker leaves, with no chance to relieve themselves besides in their own kennel. That tells you all you need to know about this kind and dedicated man.

So when I cover, I rise at o'dark thirty, and Mike gets up early too, and defers his morning exercise until he covers my morning walk of our own dogs. Behind every volunteer (me) there is someone like Mike, without whom the volunteer couldn't do what they do.

I found my drive in the dark to the shelter a time for contemplation today. I don't turn on the car radio, since we are nearly to the "crazy moon" time for the deer, when mating activity turns normally reticent or wary bucks into reckless maniacs. I don't want even a hint of distraction as I continually scan the ditches. I drive at least five miles under the speed limit, not at all worried about frustrating other drivers. I only meet about five cars on the 12 mile drive, and all the ones traveling the same direction as me seemed to be following similar precautions.

I've made the drive enough times I know where to watch for the "usual suspects." Two spots on our gravel road, one near the top of a ridge further on, the swampy drainage of a creek. It reminds me of negotiating a Halloween "haunted house" or corn maze where your adrenaline pumps high anticipating an ambush. Luckily I got through the worst bits unscathed, this time. If you drive in rural Wisconsin long enough, you WILL hit a deer. Today, I made it safely.

As I drive, I am grateful that a woman driving alone in the dark at this spot, in this time, has little to fear besides hurting an animal. Not all women on this earth could feel the same, unfortunately.

I pass through one little town. It has a bit of charm, built along a hillside, and dominated by a church spire. It reminds me of Peshtigo in a way, with a bridge over a river and lots of old storefronts. It's utterly quiet. Even the lit-up gas station has only the attendant's car in the lot. Looking through a bar window I can see a video game screen, lit and flickering, but no other signs of life. The county highway takes me across a four lane overpass, with only a few cars heading into Wausau. By 6 a.m., traffic will be much heavier.

Past a few cornfields, and I turn onto a narrow country road. I notice the two farm wagons that were loaded with pumpkins for sale, a self-serve operation, are now almost bare. I bought four beauties, at bargain basement prices, as soon as the wagons appeared weeks ago. Excellent quality, perfect for my decorating and carving needs.

Past a little cemetery. I'd love to stop someday and walk around. It's always immaculately mowed and raked, and seems to contain less than a dozen graves. It's not by a church, and probably belongs to a nearby family. The cemetery doesn't have a sign with a name, and such remnants of mortuary customs from long ago interest me. It seems when I think of it I am always due at the shelter, or on the way home, when I am either really tired or need to get home to fulfil some plan or obligation there, or both.

One more turn onto a dead end road. As my headlights swing around the corner, movement at the end of a cornfield catches my eye. A bobcat! I think this is only the second time I've seen a wild bobcat, and the impression of power and beauty is breathtaking. I think because of the low traffic on the dead end road, my turn caught it by surprise. It melted away in an instant, but I got a very good look at it, leaving me marveling at my luck. I love felines, any size, and I feel fortunate to have caught this glimpse of a wary and elusive wild cat.

I pull into the shelter, mentally counting the number of dog walks awaiting me. The minute I step out and slam my car door, a chorus of howls, bays, barks and yips assaults my ears. The dogs know the feeder person has arrived and are welcoming me. I unlock the door, turn on the lights and get to work. No more quiet contemplation for me. It's still at least an hour until dawn, so while walking I must be prepared for unexpected encounters with rabbits, deer or other creatures that may await my canine friends and me. If you aren't on guard, that sweet domesticated dog can turn into a feral wolf and dislocate your arm when it sees a rabbit! There is no relaxing on dog walks before dawn, but once the sun comes up, we can admire the sunrise and I can relax a little bit. It's just the dogs and me up on this windswept hill, and it's a privilege to be alive, healthy enough to walk so many dogs and in this place today.

Book I just finished: "Hyperbole and a Half" by Allie Brosh. Non-fiction. This is not a book I'd ever have picked up but my son and daughter both recommended it. The author has a gift for writing about two very different subjects " her hilarious essays about her two dogs, "Simple Dog and Helper Dog," which bring tears to my eyes they are so funny; and her battle with depression, which tears me up for different reasons. It is illustrated with her own cartoon-like drawings.

You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.


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