The Moon rose at 9:48 tonight, a dirty-bright yellow, only 96% of her face shining, being several days past full. The light was filtered by thin, ragged clouds, making everything look a pale yellow. For the next couple of hours, the moonlight came sideways across the landscape, lighting it dimly and leaving deep shadows. It’s on nights like this that I can almost see Sampson up on ‘Possum Ridge…
The western edge of our property here at Prairie Paradise has always been a good place to find opossums foraging for food around the many trees along the creek. During all those years that I walked Sampson the Golden late at night, he would often get excited as we crossed the creek and started uphill, in this area I call ‘Possum Ridge. He could smell the ‘possum trails, and if he was lucky, he would pick up the scent of one of those nasty-looking critters and engage in pursuit.
Sometimes Sampson would catch a ‘possum, snatching it off the ground and joyously flipping it in the air before throwing it on the ground. He would then stand in astonishment as the darn thing would seem to be dead. Unmoving, not resisting a bit, it was no longer fun to play with…I would lead him away, and when we’d return later, Sammie would frantically sniff around for his prize, only to find just a ghost of a smell of it, as the ‘possum had scampered away to safety.
Many nights, though, Big Sam would catch the scent of a ‘possum in the distance, and the chase would be on. Dragging me along, Sampson would close in on his prey, only to find that –hey, it’s not here! “But I smell it…it’s so close…it’s gotta be here!!” I could hear him think. He’d look all around for the critter, finally raising his big Golden head to see — ‘POSSUM IN THE TREE!!
That would begin a dance that might last 40 minutes; longer if I didn’t eventually drag my Big Guy back into the house. Our glorious 80 pounds of Golden Retriever would stand on his two back legs and stretch as far as he could to get at the ‘possum. He would prance and dance and twirl around and stretch upwards and…bark. For someone who lived out a vow of silence most of the time, he would sure bark! That’s what mostly prompted me to get him away from there, as the neighbors are just 250 feet beyond the Ridge, and Sam’s basso profondo bark was an attention-getter. All the while, that nasty ‘possum would just sit up there, clinging to a limb, and glare at the both of us with disdainful annoyance. Man, those critters did NOT like being treed by Sam!
Eventually, I would convince Sampson that the fun was over, and it was time to go inside. We would come out the next day, and Sam would lead me over to check for his quarry, only to find the tree empty. I could feel Sampson thinking that the previous night had sure been fun. Those nights spent watching Sam dance beneath trees were the best of times.
Now, nine months after he died, I walk these moonlit woods, and in the dim light, I can see him out there. I’ve got different Dogs in tow now (or do they have me in tow?), and together we walk ‘Possum Ridge…but I can almost see another Dog under the trees. I seem to be looking through a mist in the corners of my eyes…this is the shadowy light I saw Sampson in so many times, in so many good times… I don’t want to leave. So long as I’m here, I can almost see Sam dance under those trees again. When I finally take our Dogs back inside, I feel like I’m leaving a piece of myself out here, out on ‘Possum Ridge. Perhaps it’s the piece of me that died with Sam.
If you should ever come and quietly walk around Prairie Paradise on a yellowy moonlit night, you might just catch sight of a man and his Dog up on ‘Possum Ridge….a man and Dog who are both one with the misty moonlight. If you see them, please, say a little prayer that they will always be together.
By: Jim Merrick