Gone with Gertie

 

A warm day in winter

 

Like many dogs, Gertie can never get enough of getting outside and walking aimlessly on a forested trail or around a lake.

“Aimlessly?” she said. “I think I have pretty good aim. I haven’t gotten lost yet.”

“It’s a figure of speech,” I said. “It means – oh, never mind.”

Anyway, on one of those warm days that have been so common this winter, the Permapup and I decided to get some exercise and take in the sights by strolling around Austin Community Lake in the far southwest corner of Texas County. For all you armchair outdoorsmen who aren’t aware of it, the lake covers 22 acres on a parcel of Missouri Department of Conservation land about five miles from Cabool.

It features a boat ramp, picnic areas, a pavilion and even a fishing dock. As soon as I opened the door of the 2004 Ford F-150, Gertie bolted toward the shore.

“This place is pretty cool,” she said. “Let’s go!”

As if she had been there before, the P-Pup took off toward the nicely groomed grassy area along and atop the sizable dam on the west end of the lake. Her nose went into hyper-data-collection mode as she went from place to place sniffing and learning.

“Frog, snake, deer, boot, fishing lure, beer can – wow, this is like snout paradise!” Gertie said.

“I know, girl,” I said. “And hey, I’m proud of you for avoiding the water and the mucky areas.”

Normally when she gets anywhere near a lake, pond or river, Gertie ends up soaking wet and smelling like something between a used dish cloth and a rotten fish.

“I thought I might stay presentable for a change,” she said. “But I can’t make any promises; if a slightly submerged T-shirt or a muddy hair band calls my name, I may have to change my mind.”

“I’d much prefer it if you didn’t get wet this time,” I said.

“Not even my toes?”

“Nope.”

“Not even that little white area at the end of my tail?”

Gertie (the Permapup) observes her surroundings on a warm winter afternoon at Austin Community Lake in southwest Texas County. Photo by Doug Davison, Houston Herald

Gertie (the Permapup) observes her surroundings on a warm winter afternoon at Austin Community Lake in southwest Texas County.

“No, not even the white spot at the tip of that feather duster protruding from your caboose,” I said.

“We’ll see,” Gertie said. “I don’t always have control over these things, you know.”

As we continued around the north side of the lake, we came to a sturdy bench on a point of land.

The view was great, with a large stand of shortleaf pines on the opposite shore and sun-bathed water on three sides of us.

“How about this?” I said.

“Yeah, nice,” Gertie said. “You know the MDC was formed in 1937 and has a big budget to work with thanks to a 1/8-percent state sales tax passed by voters in 1976. The tax has no ending date, so as prices increase, MDC’s revenue does, too.”

“Dang, Gertie, it’s apparent you’ve been boning up on your MDC knowledge,” I said.

“Yep, and the MDC administers more than 975,000 acres all over the state,” Gertie said. “About 63-percent of that is forested.”

“Interesting information,” I said. “Especially from a Corgi.”

“I’m just saying,” Gertie said, as she half-buried her snout in a tuft of grass near a stump.

“You know,” I said, “there’s no such thing as a government branch or agency that doesn’t have room for improvement, and sure, there are seriously bad examples of deception, corruption and selfishness and everywhere you look in government operations. But I happen to think the MDC does a good job overall.”

“Me, too,” Gertie said. “So why are there people who seem to hate them so much?”

“I’m not really all that sure,” I said. “But I’ve heard some guys who work for them say people are like that because it’s an easy target.”

“Maybe,” Gertie said. “Or maybe they learned to swim in the shallow end of the gene pool.”

“Gertie! Be nice!” I said.

“Or maybe they were born on a highway, since that’s where most accidents happen.”

“Gertie!”

“Or perhaps when they had a chance to drink from the fountain of knowledge, they only gargled.”

“OK, Ms. Insultasaurus, that’s quite enough,” I said. “Let’s move on.”

As we finished circling Austin Lake on the well-groomed swath that surrounds it, Gertie chased a squirrel into the woods, found a downed log to play queen-of-the-world on top of and generally made sure she added to the ongoing reality that every day is a big adventure in Gertie World. As we returned to the parking area, she found no way to get around a picnic table, but managed to go over the top of it and continue advancing.

“Must…reach…truck,” she said, tongue flapping in the breeze.

“Boy, it’s a good thing I brought the emergency supplies,” I said. “I’d say you’ve been in the wilderness a little too long.”

When we arrived back home, Gertie downed a gallon or two of water and plopped down on the floor with a rawhide chew stick – one of her favorite things, along with other variations of dog chews.

“That’s because you won’t give me rib eye steak or ham hocks,” she said.

“I’ve told you a thousand times, that would cause too much of a mess in the house,” I said. “Do you remember me saying that?”

(crickets chirping)

“Gertie, do you recall my saying that?”

(crickets)

“Gertie!”

“As I’ve told you a thousand times,” Gertie said. “I’m trying to figure out what the problem is.”

“Oh, brother,” I sighed. “There’s no problem, girl. No problem at all.”

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Gertie is a Pembroke Welsh Corgi. Email Jamie at ddavison@houstonherald.com.

Gertie egets close to the water at Austin Community Lake in southwest Texas County. Photo by Doug Davison, Houston Herald

Gertie egets close to the water at Austin Community Lake in southwest Texas County.
Photo by Doug Davison, Houston Herald

Gertie enjoys a warm winter afternoon at Austin Community Lake in southwest Texas County. Photo by Doug Davison, Houston Herald

Gertie enjoys a warm winter afternoon at Austin Community Lake in southwest Texas County.
Photo by Doug Davison, Houston Herald

 

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So there’s been another mountain lion sighting in the Show Me State.

This time one of the big cats was photographed on private land in Pulaski County. But of course, it was only passing through Missouri, on its way from a state to the west to a state to the east, likely in search of a mate or territory.

So says the Missouri Department of Conservation every time there’s a cougar captured on film.

OK, here’s the deal: I’m supportive of pretty much everything the MDC is about, and I think the agency as a whole does an excellent job, whether in forestry or wildlife management, preservation, restoration, or any other aspect of its operation. I believe the vast majority of MDC employees are fine people with good intentions, and I really like the guys on the Texas County team and have a great deal of respect and admiration for what they accomplish.

Doug Davison

Doug Davison

Basically, I’m an MDC fan and I don’t follow where a lot of the negativity about the agency comes from that regularly emanates from a handful of sources.

But this silly policy on mountain lions has simply got to go.

Come on now – every cougar seen within the boundaries of the 67,704-square mile piece of real estate known as Missouri is only a traveler on its way beyond those boundaries? Really?

I guess maybe the brass in MDC’s Big Cat Department is employing some sort of calculated strategy by insisting that the only reason cougars set foot in Missouri is to walk all the way through it, and that not a single one breeds here either.

Somewhat eerily, it’s almost like there’s a fear of causing widespread panic if the public “knew the truth.” But we’re not talking about “full disclosure,” or sharing the news that “we’re not alone.”

It’s wildlife, not visitors from the Vega star system. I mean, if they’re here, they’re here, and history and religion won’t have to be re-written if we accept that as fact. I suppose if the MDC came out and said, “yep, there’s cougars,” a few people would lament that they could “never again feel safe going to the campground any more” and stuff like that. And believe me, I understand that there might be some concern among cattle ranchers, because the last thing you want is too many hungry lions hanging around livestock.

But I’m just not sure denial is the proper m.o. in MO, and I know for a fact I’m far from alone.

As I’m prone to doing, let me break this down.

The MDC policy stated after the Pulaski County sighting and the myriad of other sightings in the recent past is that “evidence indicates these mountain lions are from other states to the west of Missouri that are passing through in search of mates or territory.”

That’s hard to process, because for that to be true there would have to be nothing in Missouri worthy of a mountain lion making the decision to live here. That would mean the gigantic open spaces, forests, hills, rocky bluffs, and sizeable wilderness areas isn’t enough, nor the abundant availability of perfect food sources, the big-cat friendly climate, or anything else about this whole naturally blessed place we humans don’t feel the need to avoid.

If it’s true, then Missouri is apparently a big cat wasteland, void of cougar-worthiness, located between other places to the west and east that are indeed worthy – like Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Kentucky and Tennessee – and a place where no self-respecting big cat would stop for more than nap while heading toward the true mountain lion meccas that lie to the east.

If that’s true, I figure there must be numerous Agent K clones (Tommy Lee Jones’ character in Men In Black) placed along a Cougar Trail that spans the Show Me The Way Out State telling all the passing pumas, “move along – nothing to see here.”

Really? They’re ALL just passing through? Seems a bit unlikely (OK, highly unlikely).

If cougars had voices and spoke English, here’s a short conversation that could take place between two of them as they pass by one another on their way through Missouri (they’d probably both be male, because we can’t have two genders or there might be some hanky panky and prohibited breeding).

East-bound cat: “Hi George, why you headed back to Nebraska?”

West-bound cat: “Hi Stan. I left my favorite rabbit’s foot. When you get to Kentucky, make sure you take a right at that big scraggly oak. Some good eats in the little creek valley just to the south of the big old rock.”

East-bound: “Thanks. Good luck getting through this wasteland not worthy of living in.”

West-bound: “Back at ya, chief. Sure miss the ladies.”

So while MDC’s big cat brass might claim there is no confirmed evidence of a breeding population of cougars in Missouri, I know some folks who would beg to differ – that is, as long as seeing cubs with one’s own eyes qualifies as confirmed. And not that long ago I heard a man I know say something very, very interesting. He has lived in multiple different areas of the country that aren’t advertised as cougar-free zones, and he’ll tell you he knows a good mountain lion when he sees one.

“I saw the biggest male I’ve ever seen the other day,” he said. “It was on the outskirts of our property. And I’ll tell you what, the female that was with him was pretty good sized, too.”

Hmmmm……

Anyway, I heard another man well versed in the subject recently suggest that maybe the MDC ought to consider a trapping, tagging and monitoring program for mountain lions. That might make good sense; it would surely clear up any gray areas, and it seemed to work pretty well with the bears.

Anyway, I’ll continue to be supportive of the MDC and the folks who wear its patches and badges. But I’ll also continue to think the agency’s stance on mountain lions is on the verge of ridiculous.

And I’m pretty sure the percentage of Missourians I’ll be joined by will be in the neighborhood of 100-percent.

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email: ddavison@houstonherald.com.