Jhamuna
by
Chris Maser


     "Jhamuna" is a Nepalese name for a most beautiful, fragrant flower that grows in the hardwood forest of Nepal. Jhamuna was also the name of a small, dark brown and white female dog. She was half Fox Terrier and half Boston Bulldog with slightly "buggy" eyes and bowed hind legs.


Jhamuna, I love you.

     I met Jhamuna in late April 1968, but it wasn't 'till early Summer that she came home with me. I was at the house of my friend, Wayne Hammer. Wayne was a "government trapper" working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, whose job it was to control coyote predation on livestock. I'd known Wayne and his feisty, little trap-line dog, Buster, for at least seven years. Anyway, I don't know who gave "Jill," as Jhamuna was called before I got her, to Wayne or why, but I fell in love with her the first time I met her. I can't tell you why. But since Wayne already had Buster, it was decided that I would take Jill home with me, and from then on she was Jhamuna, or "Roony" as she was often called.
     The trip home with Jhamuna was memorable. I was living just west of Junction City in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. It usually took me about seven hours to drive home from Wayne's house in Bonanza, a town on the Oregon-California border that was so small the entering and leaving signs are on the same post. But my trip home with Jhamuna, with all the stops to accommodate her fear of riding, which culminated in her being carsick every few miles, took 10 hours.
     Periodically, over the next few months, I took her for rides, each time hoping she would get over being carsick, but alas, to no avail. One day I happen to take my neighbor's little dog, Mitzy, Jhamuna's friend and playmate, for a ride. Mitzy, who loved to ride in a car, was a veritable live wire, going from window to window so as not to miss anything. On this particular day, however, Mitzy simply lay down on the back seat and went to sleep. I could see the thoughts going through Jhamuna's mind: "So that's how you do it." Then, she also lay down and went to sleep--never again to get carsick.
     Jhamuna was young dog when I got her, not a puppy, but young and in need of training. Since I'd trained Buck many years earlier, I was confident that I knew something about it. Like Buck, Jhamuna was exceedingly easy to train, but with one unexpected twist. She neither liked nor needed the little rewards--miniature doggie biscuits--that I gave her when she performed as I wished. Where Buck had loved them, Jhamuna dutifully took them in her mouth and trotted out of sight. For a long time, I thought she was eating them. Then, one day, I saw her look around, and not seeing me, quickly dig a hole and bury the biscuit I'd just given her. The deed accomplished, she returned with a joyous, well-satisfied expression on her face.
     It took me a while to catch on to what she was doing--buring the biscuits because she didn't like them. I figured it out, however, and stopped giving her treats. From then on, I just petted her and told her what a fine job she'd done. She was content.
     I was studying the mammals of Oregon at that time and was trapping beaver for museum specimens. Beaver, the largest living rodents in North America, often weighing over fifty pounds, were well known in some areas for obstructing culverts under roads with their stick dams. It was these "problem" beaver that I was trapping. Beaver are solid, heavy-set rodents with rich, dark meat. I always ate the meat when I caught a beaver. Unlike Buck, whose favorite meat was that of muskrat, Jhamuna's favorite meat was that of beaver, and it didn't take her long to decide that either.
     I was living in a "house trailer" or mobile home, which is somewhat akin to living in a railroad car as I had done years earlier when I'd worked on the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad in Colorado. The house trailer, which was twelve feet wide by forty feet or so long, had a kitchen at one end with a linoleum floor that stopped abruptly at the living-room carpet.
     Jhamuna had either been taught to beg or allowed to beg for food before I got her. I didn't like her begging, however, but since I couldn't change her habit, she was not allowed in the kitchen while I was eating. She had to stay in the living room, behind the line of demarcation between the carpet and the linoleum. This she did, albeit reluctantly--until the first time I had beaver for supper.
     That evening, I saved a beaver's leg bone to chew on at the end of my meal. As my teeth scraped the bone for the first time, I heard a low growl. In amazement, I glanced at Jhamuna, who by now was half-way into the kitchen and creeping forward, not only looking at me all the while but also uttering low growls lest I eat too much of what she had decided was her portion. And thus she claimed her first bone of beaver.
     From then on, the bones of all beaver were hers--cooked or raw, it made no difference. But I must say, there were times that I questioned her sense of taste, particularly with raw beaver, which she immediately buried in the moist soil of the forest in which we lived. She dug up her buried "treasure" every few days and checked it. If not quite ready, she reburied it. When the process of putrefaction had aged the meat to perfection, she dug it up again, removed it to some hidden place, and dined in peace. What delighted her culinary palate, however, was to me an olfactory catastrophe whenever she got too close and opened her mouth.
     As I've said, we lived in a forest, actually more at the edge of the forest, which meant Jhamuna felt it her solemn duty to protect both me and our mobile home. Every now and then, when I came home at dusk and walked up the gravel road, she would come roaring out of the shadows snarling and barking at the top of her lungs. She was in fact running right at me with great presence of mind, because, when I spoke to her, she would swerve just enough to race past me and give the unseen boogie behind me a good, professional barking, after which, she would come to greet me, "knowing" all the time that it was I.
     Jhamuna slept outside in a house I made for her out of bales of straw. I covered the bails with a roof of plywood to keep the rains and the dripping of the Douglas-fir tree under which it was situated from soaking it, while at the same time allowing the straw to breath throughout the normally damp Winter. And I finally built a wire and lath pen around her house within which she was supposed to stay during the day while I was gone.
     During the winter of 1969, we had just over three feet of snow, which was an irregular occurrence in this part of Oregon, especially since it all fell in one night. Judging by her behavior, this was the first snow Jhamuna had ever seen.
     On this particular Saturday morning, I awoke to a gorgeous snow-covered world. I put on my clothes and went outside to get Jhamuna. Stopping at the gate of her pen, I called her, and she greeted me from the doorway of her house. That is, she blinked at me with sleepy eyes, which just peered over the foot or so of snow that had accumulated under her tree, yawned a most luxurious yawn, and disappeared within her cozy abode. I went back into the trailer to have breakfast, and Jhamuna presumably went back to sleep.
     After eating, I again went outside and called her. She came to the door of her house and stopped. She looked at me and then at the snow. She sniffed it, poked her nose into it, touched it with a paw, and once again disappeared within her house. Again I call her. This time she came to the door, stopped, and then, with some coaxing, leapt out into the fluffy white stuff that almost buried her. I opened the gate to her pen, having freed it with a shovel, and she ventured outside.
     At first she followed the trail I broke as I waded through the snow, but she was soon pushing and tunneling her way into it to investigating this odor or that. Every now and then she would stand on her hind legs to look over the snow--as she did in the tall grasses of Summer--to see where she was going.


Jhamuna doing her best to navigate in deep snow.

     The snow lasted in a fluffy state for a week or more, during which time, Jhamuna became a real "snow dog" in that she loved to worm her way through its fluff. She rolled in it, ate it, raced through it, and in general played in it.
     Before Spring turned into Summer, Jhamuna had formed the habit of digging under the fence of her pen during the day while I was gone. This habit caused me great concern, because a county road lay a scant hundred feet to the east of the trailer, and although not terribly busy, was a potental danger. So when I could not find a way of prevent her from escaping the confines of her pen, and not knowing if or when I might find her dead on the road, hit by a car, I call Wayne from whom I'd gotten her.
     Buster, Wayne's gentle, old, trap-line dog, was getting stiff and could no longer trail coyotes as in days gone by, so Wayne was happy to take Jhamuna while she could still learn her work from Buster and carry on where he left off. I thus took a well-trained, well-loved, and loving Jhamuna back to Wayne.
     I had great difficulty looking at Jhamuna's house after she was gone, knowing it was empty and cold. When I could stand it no longer, I dismantled the pen and house, but as long as I lived in the trailer, Jhamuna's place under the tree looked desolate. It seems strange that the joy I'd had in building her pen and house while she frolicked around me when I first brought her home was offset by the sadness I felt as I not only remove what I'd built but also remove any and all physical evidence of her ever having been there. Joy and sadness tend to strike a balance, or so it seems.
     It was several months before I saw Wayne and Jhamuna again. Buster had died during the interim, and Wayne was exceeding glad to have Jhamuna's companionship during his long days in the field. She, of course, knew me the instant I arrived and tried her best to wash my entire face, even unto my tonsils.
     The next morning, Jhamuna, always more than eager for the day's work, followed Wayne everywhere, somehow afraid she might be left behind. She went to the bathroom with him, to the breakfast table, and when she heard his lunch bucket, she shot out the door and into his vehicle--taking no chances. Since "her seat" was the passenger's seat, guess who sat in my lap?
     Once in the field, Jhamuna was all business. Wayne, who over many years had learned to outsmart coyotes, had also learned to love and respect them more than any other animal. Therefore, he almost always attached his traps to a toggle, which as Wayne used it, was a large rock with a hole in it, a small log, a piece of iron, anything to which a trap could be wired and pulled by a trapped coyote without allowing it to escape the trap. He did this so a trapped coyote ccould get into shade during Summer and out of the wind in Winter. But this meant that each trapped coyote had to be tracked, which was often a difficult task and could take hours without a good trap-line dog. Like Buster before her, Jhamuna was excellent, and it seldom took her long to find a trapped coyote.
     The first coyote Jhamuna had to track came early in the day, and it took her little time. As we approach it, however, I notice that she was exceedingly cautious around it. When I ask Wayne about her behavior, he said: "She was over confident, and got too close to a coyote about six months ago, and got bitten in the foot. You'd have thought it killed her from the noise she made. Ask her how her foot is now."
     "Roony, how's your poor foot?" I ask, upon which she immediately picked up her right front foot and limped over to me, whimpering all the way. I'd never realized what an artful actress she was.
     I saw Jhamuna every few months. Then, about two years later, I was going to Wayne's to spend a week in the field with him. I arrived in the evening after Wayne had gotten home, but Jhamuna didn't come to greet me.
     "Where's Jhamuna?" I ask as I walked into the house.
     "She was chasing a cat out of the yard two days ago and got hit by a car right there at the end of the driveway. Killed her instantly," Wayne said in a quiet voice, his chin quivering. "I took her out in the hills and buried her under an old juniper tree."
     I didn't ask where. I knew it was a beautiful place, a place that was special to Wayne, a place where Jhamuna's spirit was free to trail coyotes, run with the wind, and sleep in the sun.
     Wayne, too, is gone now. Yet I can still see him with his crew-cut of snow-white hair; Wayne, who was so skinny he had to stand sideways twice, nay thrice, to make a shadow. And I can see Wayne with Buster and Jhamuna, three friends with whom I spent many happy hours storing up memories. Now, it's those memories that help sustain me.


© chris maser 2002. All rights reserved.

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