Winter in Swoope. I walk along the banks of Middle River on our farm in search of treasure. Dexter, our Border Collie usually walks along with me but he passed on and I sure miss him. Cold air seeps through the opening in my collar; the brown, frozen grass crunches under my feet. The water in the river is clear today – that’s because there are no cows in it upstream.
Dexter was one of my heroes. If we could all be like him: fearless at work, tireless, always happy to see you, playful and a great companion. I told people he was worth 1.5 men and 2.0 husbands. In retrospect I think he was worth far more than that. We live and work on a beef cattle farm with 120 brood cows and their babies, he was our right arm. I saw him swing from a bull’s tail one time when he was asked to bring them in.
One of the famous Dexter stories is when Jeanne asked him to bring all six bulls in from the “front field”. It was June 1st, the day we put the bulls in with the cows. Dexter, Jeanne and I walked through the barnyard, through the field with the round pen in it to the gate at the southwestern corner of the “front field”. She opened the gate and we walked through.
It was early morning, the grass was wet with dew and knee high. Dexter was smiling. I think he would rather work cattle than eat or play. His eyes were on Jeanne, eagerly waiting for a command.
“On out“, she said as she pointed to the bull furthest away.
All we could see was a small wave of green grass moving because the grass was taller than Dexter. The bull was at the other end of the field and it was amazing to see this little wave of grass moving toward the big black bull just standing there over a hundred yards away. It took several minutes for Dexter to arrive a few feet behind the bull. There he stopped and waited for another command.
“Walk up!” Jeanne shouted. I don’t know how he heard her but he did and a few seconds later the little green wave burst toward the bull’s hind legs. Our hero nipped the leg of a bull weighing at least a ton. The bull immediately began trotting towards the gate.
It was a sight to see; Dexter working side to side to bring all six bulls through the gate and into the barnyard. He was wet, tired and happy.
Never doubt that sixty-five pounds of fearless enthusiasm can move two-thousand pounds of testosterone.
He passed on January 28th, his heart was bigger than ours will ever be.
I move on alone along the river bank. There is always treasure to be found.
A Snow Goose forages along with the Canada Geese in a neighbor’s field. That’s a rare sight around here. Thorns on the Hawthorne trees wait for Shrikes to return. The Loggerhead Shrike is the smallest bird of prey in North America. It uses thorns to impale its prey. Our native Hawthorne is excellent habitat for them. We have not seen one in since 2012. It’s a mystery as to why they are gone. No doubt its anthropogenic.
I’ve noticed the resurgence of Virginia Wild Rye along the banks of the river. When the cows were in the river I never saw this native plant. Now it has come to help anchor the soil and please the eye. It’s one of the few native “cool season” grasses.
Time to go feed the cows. I feel Dexter herding me towards the truck.
Sorry to hear of your loss of Dexter. Good and loyal workers are hard to find. It is good that you are keeping an eye out for the birds and plants. Take Care.
That’s a great post. It’s really hard to eulogize a dog well; the stories are often too long, too involved, too emotional. It’s also really hard when it’s a working canine partner. I’ve never had a cattle dog, but I had a great hunting retriever I lost many years ago. Your Dexter story is great; Thank you for that.
And also Thanks for the reminder about the importance of livestock exclusion……As a friend of mine once said, “Everybody Wins.”
All the best, and I look forward to the puppy pictures…..George
Smartest dogs I ever met Bobby and I have met plenty in my previous career. Very sorry for your loss once again. I remember the first time I met one in California on a huge ranch in California. I went to jump in the truck with the rancher, and he apologized for his 3 Border Collies in the front seat. Smartest dogs I ever met…..
Beautifully written to honor a miracle that touched a lot of lives. Dexter is and always will be with us in spirit and love. Next time you see that wave of grass know that Dexter is still on the job. Love to you and Jeanne.
Man, what a dog! Take care.
Fantastic story! Thanks for sharing it. I could picture Dexter clearly in my mind chasing the bulls. What an awesome dog and friend. Sorry for your loss.
Beautiful post. So sorry about Dexter.
Sorry to hear about Dexter. I remember seeing him when I visited. Good article.
Great memory of Dexter Bobby, sorry for your loss. The snow goose is a real treat. The outdoors is wonderful for giving back little gifts of nature when we least expect them and when we most need them. I guess why a walk in the woods is a good cure for many ills. Thanks for your continued stewardship of your land and that of others. Judy O
Thanks Judy. We could use some Border Collie herding to get some forest buffers in couldn’t we? Thanks for your kind words.
Hi cousin Bobby and Jeanne, I am so sorry to hear that Dexter passed away. He had such a great life with you all that any other dog would be jealous of. Love you both. Kelli
It’s worth saying that bulls parked for the winter in a bachelor group don’t get moved every day or two like the cows do and aren’t accustomed to taking orders from a dog. Good work, Dexter. His neighbor, Benson, sends him good wishes on his journey.
Beautiful Dexter story and wonderful winter observations, great healing power for you, no doubt.
Good stuff, Bobby. The last shrike I’ve seen, years ago, was in Swoope. Ominous that they’re nowhere to be found anymore. And I’d never heard of Virginia wild rye!
Have only seen border collies in sheep herding competitions and marvel at their abilities and connection with man (won’t say their owner because I doubt anyone really owns a border collie 🙂 ). I can only imagine the emptiness you are feeling now as you walk your land but he will always be with you. Your story showed the love and respect you have for Dexter and made me love him too.
Thanks so much Sidney for posting your kind words.
I’m honored to have known Dexter, Bobby & Jeanne. My best memory of him was one evening at the edge of dark three years ago, seeing him in silhouette against the night sky on the ridge in the field behind your house. He was making one last check on the cows in that field. He loved his work as much as you and I love ours.
Living with and loving dogs means goiing through this process every ten to fifteen years. Louise and I miss our last red setter, Hooligan, very much, but we have our hands full with her 2-year-old successor, Loora. I hope you find a great puppy to carry on Dexter’s tradition…and work.
John Page, thanks so much for your kind message and words of encouragement. We need to get a puppy soon because I don’t respond to Jeanne’s commands as quickly and I get tired too fast attempting to do what Dexter did. Keep up the good work, my friend.
So sorry for your loss, but what a beautiful tribute, thanks for sharing. Pat
Really enjoyed this—we should all be so loved and missed to have such a beautiful eulogy!
Regarding the loggerhead shrike–do you submit sightings to Cornell? You can access an interactive map from here: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/loggerhead_shrike/id
Great news about the successful riparian restoration work and return of wild rye!
Laura, thanks for your comment. About the Shrikes, yes, I post sightings with the Division of Natural Heritage here in VA. As a matter of fact, the sightings were the reason we landowners here in Swoope were able to stop VDOT from cutting down mature trees along the roads here. In addition, they were instrumental in getting funding for several conservation contracts through NRCS.
Sorry about Dexter. We’ve all lost great dogs. We never stop missing them.
Thanks for the photo of Virginia rye grass. I’ve seen that a few times and didn’t know what I was looking at! Diane Holsinger (Rockingham Bird Club) has been seeing one somewhere north of here. I’ll see if I can find out where. I’ve never seen an article on why they’ve grown so scarce, but they are fond of many things that are poisoned on farms and urban properties–mice, grasshoppers etc. I found a barn owl far from roads, not a mark on it, but at the edge of a farm. Quite dead. Anne
Sorry, switched subjects, but talking about loggerhead shrikes. dumdum Annie
Interesting. A friend in Columbus Ohio suburb found a hawk under a tree in her back yard – dead without a mark either. Aren’t we getting omens about the use of poisons on food, then in prey???
“Gin a body meet a body
Comin thro’ the rye,
Gin a body kiss a body —
Need a body cry…”
Dear Mighty. I believe his spirit will come back to you in countless ways.
Loggerheads. There was a certain spot outside of Rodeo NM where my friend Dale and I would stop and watch them impale grasshoppers on barbed wire. Gruesome, but fascinating.
“We read to know that we are not alone.” quote from a movie seen long ago.
With your posts of thoughts from an attentive mind, I’m not alone. Thanks, Bobby, as always!
I teared up when reading your homage to Dexter. I never met him, but from your writing, he truly was a special guy. Sorry for you and Jeanne. Thanks for all you do for our community, Bobby.
Dear Bobby, What a moving tribute and beautiful expressing of love for Dexter; and as usual for you in words and deed for our Earth and each and all on it. AND what a rewarding morning walk. I wish I had had and could have more walks and work for the good of Life with you.
For weeks I have intended writing you to let you know how much I’ve enjoyed reading, re-reading, and relishing the articles you’ve written, one appearing in the Winter edition of “Save the Bay”, the other in the January/February “Virginia Wildlife”. Mighty informing and good reading!
I wish you and Jeanne All the Best together with your next pup being a worthy student and successor of Dexter.
Don, you have a been such a joy to know and follow. You encourage and enable so many of us and I thank you for your kind and very generous words. Thanks also for taking the time to read those articles. There is much to do and so many to empower.
Remember that gallon of maple syrup you gave us years ago….we are still working on it. We freeze the container and pour out a ration of what we need. Will never forget that….
So sorry to hear about Dexter. I have always thought that we can learn a lot from dogs and the way they show us their love. No doubt Dexter was a very talented dog and a skilled worker. Hope you and Jeanne will take comfort in all the wonderful memories you have of his life working along beside you on the farm. Take good care.
Thanks Pettis, hope you, Roger and boys are doing great.
Dear Dexter: I’m so glad to have met you, even if just barely and only through words. Your people have loved you.
(Dear Dexter’s people: I’m John Jaske’s daughter, formerly of Virginia and now from Oregon. My dad sent me the link, guessing (rightly) that I’d enjoy your article.)
Kelly, you are so sweet, thanks for taking the time to read and post. I’m on a conservation board with your dad. He’s cool.
Beautiful tribute and winter tale, Bobby. Like George O., I am waiting for the puppy pictures. For Libby and me, it’s two generations of black labs, and now three golden retrievers later. The love so far out weighs the loss. You gave Dexter a wonderful life. – Bill
Bill, thanks for your comment. Yes, a puppy is in the works. I get too tired trying to do Dexter’s job.
Great Dexter story! I hate that I am allergic to dogs!
As noble as any woman or man he was. However, many a person would probably swing from a bull’s tail for Jeanne.
I had not thought of the possibility of a puppy until someone here said it, but you may have to control me from frolicking with it and spoiling it if left to my own devices.
Bobby! When I saw a few Canadian Geese with one white goose coming through Greenbrier or Bath County today I remarked to Roger about the uniqueness of seeing a white goose with them. I bet it was a Snow; the scene was very similar to your photograph.
And I love walking the fields with you as I read.
Bernice, I read your comment to Jeanne and she immediately started laughing out loud. And yes, I would swing from a bull’s tail for her. We await word on the puppy. I understand we are first on the “wait” list and have our fingers crossed. If you have any pull with the owner, pull really hard for us. I get really tired when Jeanne commands to me “On out”….I miss Dexter so much.
Hope you two are doing great. We miss you.
Feb. 14, 2015
Dear Mr. Whitescarver,
I have just reread your beautiful tribute to Dexter and am sending the article to our daughter in South
Carolina. She had such a great part Border Collie named Logan who died a few years ago and am
sure she will enjoy your touching article as much as I did. Thank you for your wonderful writing and
for all you continue to do for conservation.
Emily, you are very kind. Thank you for reading the article, sending to your daughter and for posting on the site. We still look for Dexter.