It promised to be a glorious day, and magically, I woke up early. I snuck out of bed without waking John, grabbed some clothes and went quietly to the living room. I opened the shutters and looked out to see the slightest bits of pink light starting to color the sky outside. Dawn was just breaking, and it looked to be a beautiful start.
“Wanna take a walk?” I asked Cooper, my year-and-a-half old Springer Spaniel.
Cooper wagged his tail, and headed towards the door. We grabbed his leash, my red jacket, and headed out into the morning.
And the morning was glorious. A November morning. Indian Summer, if there can be Indian Summer in Switzerland where there never were too many Indians.
We lived in the midst of dog and dog-lovers’ heaven. Our tiny house was located on the outskirts of a small village 20 minutes outside of Geneva, Switzerland in farm country. Our chalet looked just like a cuckoo-clock, and it stood as the last clock on a rural lane in what looked like a display of seven cuckoo-clock houses. Across the dirt road from the clocks were farm fields. The fields crossed the road to the left of our house and went on and on. Wheat, corn, hay, sunflowers, rape seed. The fields sloped gently down and gave way to vineyards and apple orchards until the hills gently ended at the town of Nyon and Lake Geneva. The Alps, with Mont Blanc, the highest peak in the Alps, rose above the Lake and the other mountains, as if placing its arms around the gang of mountains it hung out with.
Magestic. Magical. Make-your-heart-sing-like-Julie-Andrews-beautiful.
It was about 5:30 when Cooper and I headed out. We crossed the busy road that ran to the left of our house, and I let him off the leash. It was getting lighter, and I walked and watched my dog run, both of us smiling. He’d run a bit, then come back to check on me and run off once again.
Springer Spaniels are expressive dogs – their sad looks can melt your heart. But when they run, they embody joy. Pure and simple joy. And on that morning, Cooper ran with abandon through harvested corn fields that we passed first. His ears flapped and happiness spread across his face as he ran and jumped over cornstalks and literally ran circles around me in his delight.
We continued on the straight farm road that paralleled the Lake, passed fallow fields to where the road turned at a right angle and led us downhill towards the lake. By now, it was lighter — I could just start to make out Nyon Castle in the distance, although it was so far away that if you didn’t know it was there, you really couldn’t see it. The road crossed another farm road, and so we turned to the right again to continue on our normal loop that would lead us home, after a walk of about 2-1/2 miles. It was full morning, now; the sun glistened on Lake Geneva, the snow topped peaks and me and Cooper.
Up ahead on the left and right were fields of grass that would soon be harvested for hay. Cooper ran ahead and disappeared into the tall grass. I watched as the grass parted, showing me just where he was and how far he’d run.
But then I noticed a second line where the grass was parting for somebody else. Or something else. Whatever it was, it was heading straight towards Cooper.
Possibly the best way to describe Cooper would be as a fur-covered marshmallow. Everything inside — good and sugary. As a soft, squishy, completely sweet thing, Cooper didn’t understand aggression. Somehow it all worked out though – aggressive dogs never attacked or bothered him. Cooper wanted to play, and his playfulness was infectious. Even the most aggressive dogs found him endearingly stupid; and they always played with the sweet dope.
Still, when frightened, Cooper became a complete coward. If something frightened him, well, Cooper would run to me and hide behind my legs. Or behind John’s legs or later, behind Jacob’s. An all-inclusive coward, he’d hide behind us one and all.
So when the two paths in the grass converged, I wasn’t surprised at all to see Cooper come springing out, his face the picture of delight. He had a new friend, and was running towards me to share the good news.
There are some friends you just shouldn’t introduce to your mother. This was one.
Cooper had met a wild boar. An enormous, wild f’ing boar.
She came out of the grass, and stopped in the middle of the road and stood there, all 250 pounds of her. She strutted her impressive bulk and looked from side to side.
I stood there, frozen, my mouth agape. I watched her breathe, knowing that I was unlikely to remember this meeting fondly.
I could see the sun touch the edges of her coarse, bristled fur where it was lighter than the part that came out of her back or side or anywhere else on her 250 pounds or so of solid flesh.
I could hear her breathing from about 75 feet away, as I backed up slowly. She breathed in and out, sometimes through her snout, and sometimes in wet breaths through her lips, which flapped occasionally. She breathed loudly.
I could smell her. She needed a bath. Or a run through a field of lavender, preferably in France.
We had been warned about wild boar, but in spite of long twice daily walks through the fields, we had never seen hide nor hair nor bristle; we didn’t worry. Cooper was delighted with his new friend. And he rushed over towards me to tell me so. I wasn’t so easily smitten.
Wild boars do not like dogs, they are known to attack and kill them. They aren’t fond of people, either. And rumor has it they aren’t terribly playful. And I wasn’t anxious to turn my lovely morning walk into a learning experience, either.
I looked over in the direction of the house and suddenly realized something extremely important:
It’s a long crawl home.
“Cooper, Come!” I shouted, stupidly, automatically.
In fact, I was not sure I really wanted him to come to me. Would I take on a wild boar to save my dog? Not if I thought about it logically. But then logic really has very little room in the brain of a dog-lover. Of course I would have taken on a wild boar to save my younger, dumb son. And of course, I would have lost. Especially since, in looking about, I realized that we were in the middle of a farm field and there wasn’t so much as a protective twig in sight. Damn the compulsively tidy Swiss.
I did not want to be wild boared.
Cooper, oblivious to the danger he was dancing around, he kept going up to the boar, prancing in front of her, running in circles around her, begging her to chase him, just like his doggy pals did.
“Come on, play!” he was obviously saying.
“Go away,” she was clearly thinking as she aimed a cold, bored glare at him.
I was pretty sure that if she chased him, it wouldn’t be to play. And then naturally, Cooper would panic, not know what to do. Oh who am I kidding – Cooper’s first and only though would be “MOM!” and he would run and hide behind me. And the boar would kill me, an innocent bystander.
I looked at my red jacket, glad I had worn that one so that they could find my crumpled, maimed, boar-ed body more easily.
“Dammit, Cooper, Come! Now!” I said more softly, trying to get him to leave her alone.
Nobody ever listens to me.
Cooper ran away from the boar towards me at last, but then he turned and ran back to her, again, circled around wagging his tail furiously, still trying to get her to play.
But suddenly, the situation changed. “Cooper, Come. Now!” I screamed it this time.
Because the boar had turned her head. She was now looking at me.
Naturally, Cooper ran around her again and fortunately she forgot about me in her irritation at the stupid dog. The boar, who seemed to have finally caught her breath, looked at Cooper like he was her pesky little brother. She shook her head once more, dismissive of the pest, and continued on her way uphill through the grass field. The grass separated as she pushed her way through.
Cooper came back to me, defeated, deflated, rejected. He looked sad in that tearful, long-eared way only a Springer spaniel can have. My boy’s feelings had been hurt. I was glad it had only been his feelings.
* * *
Cooper loved those fields, where he could cavort in relative safety, where he could run free, with his ears flapping. Doggy Heaven. Of course, it really didn’t matter where he was, Cooper was happy wherever he was, as long as John, Jacob and I were there with him.
Today, that’s where Cooper is – in doggy heaven. I am sure that he is back in the fields near Gingins, Switzerland. Running with unrestrained joy, looking out over Lake Geneva and Mont Blanc and the Alps. He’ll have his young dog body back, with no aches, pains or problems.
I hope he doesn’t run into any wild boars, though. Because it’ll be a while before John, Jacob or I will join him. For a while, there’ll be nobody for Coops to hide behind.
March 9, 1998 – August 13, 2013