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"20 Years"

by Jamie Sims Coakley

(Excerpt)

In 1972, a decades-long and bitter struggle over the fate of the Buffalo River finally ended with the establishment of the first National River in America.   My new dad, John, had recently become a national park ranger and was assigned, in 1978, to that river.  I was almost five and he, along with my mother, loaded my big sister and I into his green Chevy Blazer and drove us half way across the country to start our new lives together.

Our new home on the Buffalo was a small brick house with white trim that sat a mile and a half back from the paved highway, down an old dirt road on the edge of the forest and surrounded by a large grass field.  About a hundred yards down the road, stood two old abandoned “homesteader” shacks full of long forgotten books and mattresses, dusty and scattered throughout the now crumbling rooms.  

The Brick House, as we would call it in later years, was a newer, two bedroom home with a formal living room, a den and a large concrete porch off the back where we would sit in the long hot summer evenings and eating watermelon and listening to the tiny green tree frogs fill the air with their shrill songs, or sometimes, as dusk approached, the coyotes howling in the distance.  It was a short walk down to the Buffalo River and because it was the late 70’s and my mother was liberated and worked full time as did my new dad, my older sister and I were allowed the freedom to run wild in the surrounding forest and along the river.  Of course we were to be careful of the rattlesnakes and the water moccasins and my sister was to keep a close eye on me, which she always did.  Other than that we were afforded an amount of freedom to roam that would be almost unheard of in modern times.

Shortly after we had arrived at the brick house, a large Doberman Pinscher wandered onto the property.   t might have been his property for all we knew.  He was skinny and clearly abandoned and my mother's soft heart for animals quickly lead to dog food being put out for him regularly.  He was skittish at first, as if maybe he had been abused long ago in a not so far away place, but soon he warmed up to us and before we know it, we had been adopted and were part of HIS pack.  He wasn’t just any old dog though, he was a boss!  The dog was always close by when we were on the patio or playing in the river.  He came on our adventures to the big moss-covered rock (which my sister and I pretended was the carpet in our fairy house) and he always protected the property and us.  Any foreign intruders such as, the postman or friends coming to visit, were not inclined to get out of their vehicles when Boss’s giant paws were on the window-sills of their car doors, or while he was barking and slobbering and baring his large teeth like a vicious killer.  He was our protector and he was unlike any other dog I’ve ever known.  I suppose he had lived in the wild for so long, fending for himself, that he was more wolf than dog, or maybe that is just how mountain dogs are—-they have seen things.  They are wise.  Despite his rather vicious demeanor when confronting cars on the dirt road leading to the house, he was very gentle and playful and dare I say, he even had a sense of humor.  Boss knew the difference between the common poisonous and nonpoisonous snakes and had a special way of dealing with each.  

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