Category Archives: Life

As the Crow Flies

cloudIt’s stormy again today.  My phone beeps at regular intervals, letting me know that we are under this severe warning or that, but like most people who live inland from the coast, storms are a part of our life and Mother Nature has to do something pretty spectacular to get our attention.  From my desk I look out to the south and I know that past the fence, the fields and the far tree line, across another small town, then an inlet bay, lies the Gulf, her ever churning water stirring up the sand and silt.  As the crow flies, it’s not that far and we know her by the gulls that fly inland, the ancient sea shells we dig up now and again that say she once breached our borders, and by the clouds and storms she tosses across the coastal grassy plains of our home.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor a time, my husband and I owned a small plane and I remember flying home, watching for her, watching for the faint line of darkness that signaled a vastness 151beyond, and as we flew closer to make the turn that would lead us back to earth, a reflection of light over moving waters would welcome us. We loved to fly along the coast, heading east over towns with names like High Island,  Boliver, Oak Island, Gilchrist, over beaches, wildlife preserves and empty places where homes used to be, claimed by the waters when the great storms struck.  Just along the edge of the sand, where the water washes up and recedes again, you can make out the shadow of an old highway that once ran the length of her shore, but now dormant and broken, slowly giving itself up to the sea.  Sometimes as we rose from the runway, we would point the nose southwestward, climbing up over Burnett Bay, rising across Kemah OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAwith Galveston a sliver of sand in the distance, slowly coming into focus and then we’d bank to the right over Surfside heading due west as we leveled the wings. We would head towards Matagorda, sailing on air over the sands and jetties, the inlets and canals punctuated with fishing boats. Out the right window oil rigs and the dark silhouettes of ships far out to sea offered themselves up to us, and to the north, clusters of small fishing communities surrounded by fertile green inland fields beckoned, back-dropped by the shadows of cities and the broad expanse of Texas beyond.

I’ve known her all my life, I feel her presence just past the horizon.  I’ve lived through her storms, first Alicia, as a young wife, bracing against the storm in a small frame house with my husband. A hand-held radio and flashlight between us in the darkness, the sound of a hundred trains barreling outside our walls, tossing debris and swirling, cutting a path through our town.  The silence of the eye of the storm, the strange brief interlude of sunlight, neighbors cautiously stepping outside to see how the world had changed and then quickly back ihurricanenside again when the other wall of wind arrives.  I can remember the stillness and the light rain that was still falling when the wind finally passed.  It was a different world then, no cell phones or social media, no online reports of damages or loss of life, so you just waited until the world came back on again, until the lines were connected once more.  You opened your windows, sat outside with neighbors and shared what you had.  There were rumors of barges piled up on the freeway that ran behind our house along with tug boats blown inland from the ship channel, so groups of the brave, curious and bored hiked the distance down the highway to see for themselves.  It would be seventeen days before we had water or lights, but youth lends an elasticity to tolerance and we coped with the help of family and neighbors.

Hurricane Ike was a storm of a different kind and by that time we had lived in this small town and on this land for  almost ten years and our children were now adults.  Of course, after witnessing the human suffering and tragedy of Hurricane Katrina and the panicked evacuation of Rita, everyone paid attention when reports started coming in of athCAOF0VM4 possible storm in the Gulf.  If you live on or near the Gulf coast, you understand how it plays out as the winds of Africa push unstable air out into the ocean, as it bubbles up into tropical waves and you watch to see where it goes, how it grows and if the Gulf will pull it in and slam it against the land.  You watch the storm track, those wildly erratic colored lines creeping in every direction until the lines begin to come together and you see if it’s your time to worry.  We live far enough inland that storm surges cannot reach us, our worry is the wind and the tornadoes that the walls of the storm toss out, the wind that uproots trees and crashes them into roofs and windows, the wind that flattens metal buildings and wood houses, consuming the lives within.   The land we live on is flat and much of it treeless, we have no natural barriers to the wind and debris, but we have a sturdy home, built with storms in mind and there are many in danger that must evacuate so it’s reasonable that we stay put, off the roads and out of the way.

ike_041It’s the solemnity of the hours before it hit that I remember, the unknowing hours of wondering what life would look like tomorrow on the other side of our boarded up windows.  We watch the skies, recognizing the dark outer bands of clouds as the storm moves closer, we worry about our older son on duty out on the streets, whose only shelter will be a patrol car.  From the television we learn of those choosing to stay on Galveston and other islands, mostly older people who would not leave. They insist they will be okay at home with a beloved dog or cat, and thastorm pict their shelves are stocked with water and food and they tell of past storms they have weathered in their stilt houses on the beach overlooking the storm barreling inland.  I believe that in spite of reassurances, their greater fear was being swallowed up in a shelter at the mercy of agencies and strangers, terrified their pets would be taken from them, so sadly they threw their lot in with the Gulf and let her decide their fate.  Twelve hours later we would hear that those that stayed behind were simply gone, their homes nothing but beams and posts sticking out of the sand.  Just gone.

027I’ve walked her beaches as a child, braved the waves as a teen, honeymooned at the Flagship Hotel, and held the hands of my two little boys and now my grandchildren at the edge of her brown-tinted waters.  I have dug countless pennies and bottle-caps from the warm sand while treasure-hunting the beaches with my father. When I’m there, I feel the history of that city that sits on her shores, the beginnings and endings and the starting over, time and again.  Beneath my feet, I am aware that far down below lies the original elevation of the island, as it was before the Great Storm, before the city was raised and the sea wall was built. The stately houses and century-old buildings along the Strand have not bowed, though great losses are evidenced in the high water marks documented on small brass plaques far above my head.  I know from history passed down that some of those houses hide scars as well, under the fancy rugs and carpets, are the marks of axes where the floors were opened in the hope the rising water would anchor the house down and they might be saved in the rooms above, only to be washed away through attic windows when the angry Gulf waters reached the roof.

The cries of those lost in those terrible years, 1900, 1983, 2008, stillmemorial carry on the wind there, blowing in a mist off the water, winding through the streets and alleyways, whipping the sails of boats and beach umbrellas, and then back to the water, always back to the water.  She is a constant, that vast unknowable body of water, both wonderful and terrible in turn, but always there, past the fence, over the tree line, across the bay, as the crow flies.

©2014-2015 itsa5doglife/Rhonda Alford Owens All Rights Reserved

Even Now

56Even now, as I travel the highway that carries me over the river, over the turnaround, along the creeks and bogs lining the road, I always look.   Just past the bridge through the clearing you can see it, the place where the gravel road wraps around the lake, where he always lay.  He was one of five dogs dumped at the same time, dumped to die at the hand of nature, fate or cruelty. 

He was an odd-looking dog, more like a pit bull than a boxer, but there was something else in the mix as well and we called him Ross.  Of all the dogs, he had the most presence and he seemed to be the leader, the dog the other ones followed in spite of an injury to his leg.  If he came to eat, they all came to eat and when he was done they all left together.  This was back when it all began, when we were wringing our hands about what to do with five dumped dogs. Having little money and no fosters, we came up with a plan, a plan that would allow us to save them all.  We set up a den for them in the dense woods, with shelter, food and clean water and checked on them each day, hoping to draw them closer and gain their trust so we could take them to a better life.

We came to know the dogs well, but they would never get close enough to touch and I believe this was because they took their cues from Ross. Across the lake we would see them, sitting together in the morning sun or under a small willow tree by the small clear lake. As we entered the den, we would suddenly hear them in the woods around us, pacing and circling.  We contacted a rescue trapper named Kevin who has helped so many animals and with his help slowly we got them one by one, except for Ross. He watched from a distance as we loaded up his last friend and became distraught, running after the truck as it pulled out, and then stopped suddenly and ran back to the woods. 

For weeks Kevin would set the trap out before the earliest light each morning and after dusk each evening, but the food in the trap remained untouched. We hired someone to dart him with a tranquilizer in order to save his life, but 5but Ross stayed hidden and became unpredictable. Kevin kept trying with the trap and we kept checking on Ross each day and although he was eating the food we put out, it was obvious he was not using the shelter anymore.

It was also obvious he was deteriorating both physically and mentally and we didn’t know what to do. Some days I would sit on the road outside the den and if I were still enough, he might show himself at the edge of the trees and I could feel his eyes on me. We would stay like that together until the sun grew too hot and then he would be gone again.

There came a time when we realized no one had seen him in several days so we met at the site, fanned out through the woods around the den, and walked and drove the dusty road around the lake.  We carried binoculars in one hand, smelly delicious food in the other and left it at various spots along the way, hoping to draw our boy out into the open. Days turned weeks, then to months with no sign of Ross. Other dogs were dumped, caught and rescued, we left his den in place, but we never saw him again.

I want to believe he left to wander and found the houses on the other side of the river, that someone he learned to trust took him in and that as I IMG_0658write this he knows gentle hands and a soft bed.  I like to think he’s with a pack again, leading them around a backyard until he’s called in for the night with a treat and pat on the head.  That’s what my heart wants to believe, but my mind knows better.  It knows that in spite of our efforts, somewhere out in those woods he laid down a last time, sick or hurt, tired of being alone, not starved or beaten, but tired and broken by his short and sad life, betrayed by those who dumped him, unreachable by those who would have helped him.  It’s the not knowing that stays with you.

In dreams I see him, a spot of white on the dirt road as I go by and I turn my truck around and drive back to that bitter place.  I walk to the fork of the rutted road and raise my hands to shield the light and I see him, whole and healthy. As he gets to his feet he turns to look at me, willing me to understand that he’s at peace now, we don’t need to look for him anymore, and in a cloud of dust he is gone, back to the woods, and I let him go forever.

©2011-2012 itsa5doglife  All Rights Reserved

If you would like to help the small group that is saving the lives of dumped animals in Crosby, Texas, please visit


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