I first became a jogger when I was a teenager, and have more or less kept it up over the many years since (although we won’t mention just how many years that is). Primarily, I run for health and conditioning, but I enjoy it too, especially in the crisp early morning air. There is also a lot of pleasure in the camaraderie of fellow runners – or biker – when I would tie a rope to my wife’s bike and jog along with her. Interestingly enough, many of my uninvited running companions haven’t been humans. I don’t know what the attraction is for our animal friends for a guy trotting down the road that makes them want to join along, but many a time over the years I’ve had the companionship of an unexpected friend.
As might be expected, dogs have often seen me running by and have trotted along for a while just to be sociable. But one time, when we lived in Waveland, Mississippi, a big outgoing Irish Setter did a lot more than that. I was training for a marathon at the time; so, running behind Patty on her bike, we typically traveled from 10 to 20 miles. We were on the way back, but still several miles from home when this big friendly Setter ran up beside me and began running along. I didn’t think much of it at first – this kind of thing with dogs had happened before – but after a mile or two he was still trotting happily along. Occasionally, he would dash over and give me a nudge and a lick as if to say: “keep it up fella, you’re doing just fine.” Finally, I stopped to try and get him to go home – waving my hands and yelling at him to go away. But he just sat and grinned at me with his wet tongue hanging out of one side of his mouth, clearly saying, “This rest is nice, but shouldn’t we be going?” I gave it up then and just jogged on home. As soon as we turned into our gate, our new friend dashed in after us making himself at home in our yard. After asking for and getting a big drink of water, he curled up under our big mimosa tree for a nice long nap. Fortunately, he had an ID number on his tag, so we called the Vet and they contacted his owner and he came and picked him up. Even as he was leaving, he grinned back at us as if to say, “That sure was fun; I hope we can do it again soon.”
Another unusual dog showed up when I was running with a group of friends in the Diamondhead community just north of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. We liked running there because of the light traffic and a few noticeable hills. We also had a good marathon preparation course of just less than 20 miles. Shortly after we began, we were joined by a nondescript short haired black dog of questionable lineage. As before, when he didn’t appear to want to give up our company, we tried to discourage him from coming along – but to no avail. Mile after mile, he trotted along, sometimes ahead, sometimes behind, but most often right alongside our little group. Moreover, while we ran a straight line, this little fellow would cross – re-cross the road. He would stop and take a sniff of something, then dash ahead to check out a wondering cat, and then hurry back into formation. Out of the 19 miles we ran that day, there’s no telling how many he ran. The last few miles he did much less running about and began just trudging behind. Occasionally trotting to a position in front, he would turn sideways and then suddenly stop, causing us to almost tumble over the little mutt. When he realized that tactic wouldn’t stop us, he began stopping for a while to rest, and then just when we figured he’d had enough, he would come bounding along again to catch up. When we finally finished and were driving off, he was lying on his back in a small water puddle; with his four sore feet in the air, he gave us a very nasty look. “What a dirty trick,” he seemed to say, “We ran all that way and here we are right back where we started. What the – was that all for anyhow.” Of course, when you think about it maybe he – no – what does a dumb dog know anyhow?
But my unexpected running companions have hardly been restricted to the canine family. When we lived in Uvalde County, Texas, we had a few acres along the Nueces River, tucked in amongst a number of cattle ranches, although horses, goats and sheep roamed several of the pastures as well. Our running paths took us along some of the private, county and ranch roads in the area. There were virtually no houses to be seen, just open country and pastures on all sides. By this time, Henry was old enough to accompany me on some pretty long runs. One time when we had just turned into our county road about 3 miles from home a goat thrashed out of the brush to join us on the road. Unlike dogs, it’s hard to read the expression of a goat. So I’m not sure what the critter was getting out of it, but he stuck to us all the way home. I thought he might balk at the cattle guards we had to cross, but they must only work for cows because the goat nimbly leaped across with no problem. As it turned out, that wasn’t the only time we were joined by a stray goat; they seemed to love jogging along with us. One time it was even a little goat, less than knee high – he was really cute. He stayed around the house for a while, loving to get pet and fondled by Patty and the boys.
One quiet Saturday morning, Henry and I had just turned onto the ranch road leading to our mail box, which was about three miles away at the junction to state highway 55. As we jogged down the road, a single cow in the pasture across the road began trotting along the fence with us. Suddenly, another cow joined in, then two more, within a few seconds a small herd of cattle of at least 30 to 40 head was rumbling along with us. Besides the noise they made, we could actually feel the ground shaking under our feet. In perplexity, Henry cried out, “What do we do Dad?”
“Let’s try and leave them behind, they’ll probably quit.” So, we quickly accelerated to top speed. Well, cows may seem rather lazy and slow, but they had no problem keeping right up with us – and they weren’t even breathing hard – not as hard as I was anyhow. So, I shortly gave up that idea. I suppose they would have run along with us all the way to the mail box if they hadn’t come to the end of their pasture. When we left them they were all crowded up against the fence mooing mournfully at us as we disappeared down the road.
Weaning time on a ranch is a rather traumatic time – at least for the cows. When we lived on a cattle ranch near Rock Springs TX, we experienced several weaning episodes. The cowboys would round up all the cattle on the ranch and then separate the calves from their mommies. The calves in the weaning pen by the barn and the mommies in the pasture on the other side of the house would moo and cry back and forth until the big cattle trucks would come and haul the calves away. Then for a day or two the mommy cows would wonder around mooing trying to figure out where their babies went. It would have been a good deal more distressing if we hadn’t seen just before the roundup the mother cows being bounced around and thoroughly harassed by big calves nearly the size of their mothers. But cows aren’t too bright, so they forget all that for a couple of days. Well, it was just after weaning and Henry and I were on our way back from a morning run. We had just pushed through the bumper gate by the windmill that was about a mile and a half from the house. A mommy cow spotted us as we left the gate and began following us mooing mournfully. Fast or slow, the importunate critter stayed directly behind us, looking anxiously at us like we were her long lost baby. Well, I suppose we did have four legs. For the whole mile and a half she stayed with us, mooing every step of the way. We had to hurry and squeeze through the last bumper gate so that she wouldn’t follow us all the way to the house. It was kind of sad, but by the next day she had forgotten all about it and had wondered off into the pasture to do whatever it is that cows do.
On that same track of road, we had another companion join us, but this one was a good deal more alarming. If you have a cow-calf operation that means that naturally you have a bull or two; we had two. One was a thick black fellow with a rather wicked set of horns. But he was quite shy and we hardly ever saw him, and even then at a distance. But the other one was white and enormous; He looked like an escaped experiment from crossing a bull with an elephant. Now this guy wasn’t a bit shy, and he knew too that he was the king of the ranch. He liked from time to time to step over the fence and strolled into our house pasture. Now it was our responsibility to keep the cattle out of the house pasture, and we did now and then have to shoo a few stray cows out through the gate. But when that big fellow showed up, we always seemed to be too busy doing something else, so he got to go wherever he wanted. Once again, Henry and I were on our way back from the windmill, when Henry suddenly said, “Dad that big white bull is standing down there by the road.”
Taking a big gulp, I said, “Don’t worry, ignore him and he won’t bother us.” But he didn’t ignore us. As we passed, he whirled around and began trotting right alongside us just off the side of the road. Now I knew we couldn’t out run him, and we didn’t dare stop – he might not like that. So, we just kept jogging along. Have you ever tried to run with your heart in your mouth? It ain’t easy. I just hoped he liked the pace we were setting. It’s pretty disconcerting to have a couple of tons of raw power running beside you, thinking that at any time he might get perturbed at something and decide that we were the cause of it. It couldn’t have been more than a mile, but it seemed much longer, when he suddenly surged ahead of us and took a sharp right turn and started walking across the road. If Henry hadn’t grabbed my arm and screeched to a halt, we would have plowed right into his side, or ducked our heads a bit and shot underneath him. As it was, we crouched right beside him as he ambled across and then wondered off into the pasture, not giving us as much as a backward glance. I guess he’d had his morning run and that was enough.
Running with the bull was a bit scary, but another companion we picked up while on the ranch turned out to be somewhat unsettling. Mornings were usually fairly cool, but it was summertime and Henry and I were in the midst of a long extended run. Now in running, I’m not very fast, and don’t get many style points either, but what I can do with the best of them is sweat. We still had a ways to go and I was sloshing along in my shoes, leaving a long wet trail in the dirt road. Suddenly, an ugly squawk sounded as an unsightly black buzzard cruised along just over our heads. In itself, this wasn’t surprising as we had just run past a section of fence that many of the ranch’s idle buzzards used for a hangout. But this nasty bird didn’t just give us a casual fly-by; he continued to fly along with us. Crisscrossing our trail, sometimes surging ahead and then looping back around behind us, he followed along, occasionally swooping just overhead squawking out malicious comments. I’m not fluent in buzzard, but he certainly wasn’t passing out encouraging words. In a few miles we reached the turnaround point hoping that he would fly away, but no, he simply wheeled around gracefully in the sky and came along after us. I soon began wondering if we had indeed bitten off more than we could chew, and that that ugly bird knew something we didn’t. It was hot. Our pace had slowed to a mere stagger. And to make it worse, the slower we ran, the lower became the bird’s swoops. One pass, I actually felt the brush of air across the top of my head. I wanted to ask Henry what he thought about carrying me home on his back, but I was too pooped to talk. Well, we obviously made it back since I’m telling the story, but that darned buzzard stayed with us all the way to our home gate. He shot us the dirtiest look too as he flew away; we had ruined completely his plans for breakfast.
Perhaps the strangest of my jogging friends showed up when I was once again running with Patty who was on her bicycle. At the time, we were living at Eagle Lake just outside Slidell, LA. I usually confined my runs to around the lake, but for an extended course, I found a long quiet country lane, with only a few wide spaced houses set far back from the road. We had just turned down the lane, when a large colorful bird strode out in front of Patty’s bike. “There’s a peacock running in front of us.” she cried. You could hear the tap – tap of his feet on the pavement as he trotted along just ahead of us. “This is really neat,” Patty said, “having a peacock come along with us.”
Neat or not, I thought the pace was a little slow, and I wasn’t going to have it said that I couldn’t outrun a silly peacock, so I called to Patty, “Come on, let’s pass him.” But when I tried to speed up, Patty would suddenly put on the brakes. “What’s the matter?” I cried. “Let’s go.”
“I can’t,” she called back; “He won’t let me.” And as hard as we tried, that dumb bird wouldn’t let us pass, lunging right and left every time we swerved, keeping directly in front of the bike. We gave up after a while, having to run along behind until he eventually turned off the road onto a long gravel driveway. Peacocks are rather puffed up with pride. That one certainly shot us a self-satisfied smirk over his shoulder as he trotted home. Well, I wasn’t impressed; after all, he may have beaten me but he had to cheat to do it.