TITLE: Tale Waggers - Trailblazers  PHOTO: Arthur and the woods of Northern Michigan


When all around him panicked and ran,
Arthur kept his head.

...It didn’t do him one bit of good.


It was early morning and the dogs and their people were motoring along the Northern shoreline of Lake Huron. The early start was the result of mama’s little adventure at the motel earlier that morning (see "Travels-with-dogs-woman" for the embarrassing details). So, there we were, headed for yet another lighthouse. The book said that there were "lighthouse ruins" near the shore in the State Park just south of Cheboygan. A lovely June day. A walk in the woods. Why not?

No other cars were visible as we entered the forest. A nice young ranger in a crisp uniform greeted us and offered to answer any questions. We asked about the trail to the shore. We were a bit concerned because we had an old dog with us (Arthur was 12 then, and getting a bit rickety). Was it really just a mile? He assured us it was a very well-kept flat trail about a mile long. A minor smirk marred his friendly and earnest expression. I thought nothing of it at the time…

We doused ourselves and the dogs with bug repellent designed for the deepest darkest woods - just like these.
We were so smug.

About 20 yards into the glorious canopy of trees, they found us. A flock of Michigan’s state bird - the mosquito. Tristan and I were admiring a frog nestled in a bank of wildflowers when a shadow fell over us. It was a cloud of mosquitoes the size of Buicks. They penetrated our protective shroud of bug spray in seconds. Being city folk, we had not had the foresight to spray our eyeballs or inside our ears and nostrils. In moments we were breakfast for bugs.

We ran.
We ran past all the splendor of the forest.
We ran through the pines and the hemlocks.
The dogs' noses disappeared under the beating wings of those devils.
We swatted as we ran, leaving spatters of blood on our faces and clothes.
We ran for the shore hoping we had enough blood left to get to safety.

Near the shore, we passed what the park service calls a "rustic cabin". It means no screens and no indoor plumbing. We figured the inhabitants had already been sucked dry. We ran on. We were almost to safety, with the swarm keeping pace nicely, when Papa suddenly stopped. "The ruins must be near here", he said, as though he’d forgotten our peril. His forehead was covered with blood and mosquito bodies. I thought for a moment about leaving him there, but the pack must stay together. We stopped and searched for the elusive ruins. Reinforcements came out of the woods in waves. We must have been the only fresh blood supply for miles (we suddenly realized why we hadn’t seen any deer). Finally, unable to see through the mosquitoes on our eyelids, we ran for shore. They did not follow. It was a magical moment. I told Papa he could swim to Canada, buy a boat and come back for me - I would not run that gauntlet again!

The dogs walked busily along the beach, sniffing dead fish, while Papa photographed a lighthouse so far off shore you couldn’t really tell it was a lighthouse. I imagined "Ranger Rick" back at his station, laughing at our naïve spritz of Deep Woods Off.

There is little to do huddled on a remote and rocky beach, hiding from the terror of the woods. Eventually, we faced the fact that we could not live there because we had no dog toys with us. Back we went.

They’d waited right where they broke off the attack. Just before we broke into a dead run again, we noticed we were walking on slippery old bricks. The "lighthouse ruins" were only 6" high…We were standing on them!

Running again, dragging the dogs behind us, we reached a fork in the trail. Papa, running ahead, turned left. I didn’t remember the fork at all, but I followed. To slow down was to die. Art stopped dead. The jerk almost dislocated my shoulder. I thought he just couldn’t go on, so I scooped him up in my arms and ran, dragging Tristan behind us. Arthur looked surprised and irritated. He squirmed. I was more than happy to let him down. He balked again. I tugged. He persisted. I picked him up again. Drenched in sweat and spattered with blood, we finally saw the road ahead. Our car wasn’t there. It was about a block down - where the trail opening was. The fork we had taken led to a drainage ditch. Guess what breeds in drainage ditches? A new army of mosquitoes rose ahead. The pursuing cloud caught up. Trapped between the two, we were savaged by the bloodsuckers. We picked up the dogs and splashed through the ditch. It was the fastest way out. As we ran down the road, the swarm followed. Some made it into the car and Papa killed them slowly, making them suffer. We’d gone miles before we got them all.

Later that year, on a trail leading back through the dunes from yet another lighthouse, we noticed that Arthur was walking erratically, weaving from side to side down the trail. Suddenly we realized he was tracking the path we had taken in as we wove back and forth around patches of soft sand. He was following our scent -making sure we did not make a wrong turn.

…like the one we made, despite his warning, on the Mosquito coast...



Copyright 1997 Elizabeth Cusulas
Tale Waggers - Stories for Dog People
All Rights Reserved
Reproduction without written permission is expressly forbidden