Snuffer -- The Lighthouse Beagle
Snuffer I -- The Keeper’s Keeper
As the wind rose from the water, climbing up the steep rocks from the ocean, the small, shadowy figure cautiously approached the cliff's edge. The approach was very deliberate and purposeful. The figure paused at the edge of the precipice. Something was amiss. The feeling permeated the extremities of the compact body, and was the driving force giving courage enough to approach the brink of danger. Deep, discerning eyes scanned the dim horizon, carefully following the beam from the lighthouse as it searched the clouds which hovered above the tops of the white-capped waves. The world was all gray and foreboding. The sky, the sea, the rocks, and even the clouds seemed to have been painted with the same brush. Distinctions between images were vague and merely suggestive. But there was something definitely out of place. It was becoming apparent that all sensory and investigative expertise would be necessary to flush this one out. The eyes had done their work. It was now time to discern what the wind had to tell. Nostrils flared, taking in the oceanic perfume: a salty sweetness, the slight aroma of seaweed, wet sand, and rock. There was a foreign aspect to the message delivered with each blast of chilling air driven up from the crashing surf below. Things were starting to come together as the pieces of a puzzle. The wind had still other messages to deliver, however. A slight tilt of the head placed the ears at just the right angle to allow the message of the wind to be heard.
A sharp pain between the shoulders shattered all concentration. Responding to the sudden burning, attention was immediately redirected from the unfolding mystery to the more critical and obvious problem at hand. Having experienced this before, the source was unmistakable.
"Danged fleas," she thought, dropping to her haunches and scratching furiously at her shoulder blade with her back foot.
"Ooooooooooooooooooh.... that feels sooooooooo good!" she thought, her voice rhythmically reflecting the movement of her leg. "rrrRrrrRrrrRrrrRrrrRrrrRrrr...."
As she raised her nose in ecstasy, the wind caught her ears and flapped them against her cheeks. "It is amazing how many different ways one can derive pleasure from the wind," she thought. A fierce gust of wind brought not only fresh scents, but also salty spray from the sea below. The shock of cold water on her face brought her again to a standing position and, exhilarated, she began running in concentric circles around the grassy area at the foot of the lighthouse.
Every muscle in her body stretched and strained as her dainty feet dug into the damp sod. The faster she ran, the smaller the circumference of the circle became. Her ear almost touched the blades of grass as she leaned into her turns. Panting and snorting, she moved faster and faster, finally taking off across the lawn in a straight line, directly for the lighthouse.
The lighthouse is a wonderful place. It's like a combination giant fire hydrant and night light attached to the house. It's also a huge bulletin board for the many wild animals that wonder up to enjoy the sounds, sights and scents of the ocean. The small dog jumped and landed on the gently sloping wall of the lighthouse like a frog on a wall. But not having the advantage of sticky feet she quickly slid the short distance to the ground. With her front paws pressed against the whitewashed brick, and stretching her body to its longest possibility, she scanned the various scents with her ultra-sensitive nose. Just above the noise of the wind could be heard the short, piggish, snorting noises typical of beagles. She continued her sniffing dance for a distance of several feet around the base of the lighthouse until she was satisfied that the new messages had been received. She would leave a few "notes" around the area before she continued her evening exploration.
A metallic screech interrupted the natural sounds of the night and a pale yellow light spread over the area, casting a strange aura on everything within its reach. A deep, gravely voice added to the inventory of sounds vying for attention. "Snuffer.... treats!" called the voice.
"Ah," confirmation signals reaching the beagle brain. "Mysteries must be solved, messages must be answered, and the perimeter must be secured..... but NOT until treats have been eaten," thought Snuffer, the beagle. "The wall will still be here," she concluded, "but the treat box will close if the hoomin is not properly coddled. Must eat! Must eat! Must eat!"
The rhythm of her thoughts became the rhythm of her gait, as she quickly covered the distance between the lighthouse and the kitchen door of the keeper's house. As the sound of her little feet on the grassy carpet signaled her approach, the weathered hand of the keeper pushed the screened door open, allowing the flash of tri-colored fur to zoom into the kitchen. She skidded to a stop and spun around facing the kindly man, her tongue hanging from the side of her mouth.
"You're such a cutie, little Snuffer," he said, extending his closed hand.
Her eyes could not see it, but her nose knew, and her memory knew, that inside of that closed hand was a goodie just waiting to be quickly swallowed, and possibly chewed. She knew what he wanted and was happy to oblige. ("Hoomins are so predictable," she thought.) Her rump bounced up and down on the wood floor as she quickly shifted from foot to foot, quite a maneuver when your sitting down! Her tail wagged rapidly. Excitement is the key to hoomin rewards!
The keeper opened his hand and let the treat roll toward the waiting mouth. SNAP! The treat disappeared.
"Ya gotta know the rules, " she thought. "Points off if it hits the floor."
Snuffer smacked her beagle lips and wiped her dewlaps with her tongue.
"More wagging... more wagging," she thought. "More wagging (if properly executed) yields more treats," she recalled from her vast store of beagle knowledge.
Again came the closed hand with the hidden treat.
"More wags," she thought, "gotta get that tail going real fast." She concentrated, making alternating steps with her front paws on the kitchen floor, and then redirected her energy to her eyes, making them as large and pleading as she could.
"Please, oh please, oh please, oh please, oh please, oh please, oh pleeeeeeeeeeeeease," she projected onto her hoomin's psyche (another beagle trick for treat retrieval). The hand began to open.
"PLEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEASE," she thought, and magically, the hand opened. SNAP! Again the treat disappeared.
Her eyes met the loving gaze of the keeper.
"Such a nice man he is," she thought. "I'm such a lucky dog. Even without my pack, things are great."
Using her powerful hind legs, she sprang up toward the old man. Although along in years, he was quick to respond, opening his arms to catch the hyper ball of fur.
As he clutched her in his arms she pushed the top of her head against his chest, pushing as hard as she could. His hands encircled her dainty body and his fingers slowly stroked her stomach. It's one of life's most pleasant moments for a beagle.
The mantle clock provided a comforting heart-like beating from its home above the fireplace. The flames in the fireplace seemed to flicker in response to the rhythm of the clock. Snuffer twitched her ear each time the keeper's page turn brushed the top of her head. The keeper's ample, muscular legs offered a surprisingly comfortable resting place. The deep breaths of the keeper were accompanied by the regular snoring of the beagle, both signs of comfort to the other.
Snuffer awoke as the keeper placed his book on the end table with a heavy clump. Ah! It was time again. Snuffer's mouth opened wide in a waking yawn. All good stretches had to begin here. All beagles know, pleasure of any significance begins at the mouth. Minor pleasure can be smelled or simply rolled in. Anyway, a good stretch begins with a yawn. Then, after the legs are stretched out full length, the back is arched. The final phase was to curl the toes under and then exhale... mmmrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeesssssssssssssssssssss.... that's it! The keeper watched this ritual and then straightened his legs, providing a slide to deliver Snuffer to the floor, on her back, feet in the air.
As soon as Snuffer's back touched the floor, she flipped over, stretched her front legs out, stuck her rump into the air and streeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeetched. A vigorous shake, making her ears flap against the side of her head brought her to readiness for the mission ahead. It was time to trim the lamp in the lighthouse. Every four hours the wick must to be trimmed and the oil container filled to make sure that the light continued its warning to the ships at sea. The fall night was brisk and getting cold, so the trip to the lighthouse would be made across the lawn. The lighthouse was connected to the living quarters years ago by a long hallway so that the keeper did not have to trudge through the driving fall rain, or the snow in the deep of winter.
The keeper stood next to his chair and did his best impression of a stretch (hoomins just don't really get the idea). He crossed the room, taking the large flashlight from the table behind his chair. Cold wind blew his hair as he opened the door. Snuffer was immediately there, nose against the screen. Her dewlaps puffed back and forth as she snorted against the screen. Her ears flapped in the strong wind forcing its way into the room. The keeper turned the ancient handle and the mechanism clanked inside the door, allowing the door to open against the force of the wind. As soon as there was enough space to insert her nose, Snuffer threw her entire twenty-pound girth against the door. Possibly with the help of the keeper's strong arm, the door swung open and Snuffer propelled herself into the cold, windy night.
Filmy gray clouds paraded rapidly across the sky, as if in a hurry to remove themselves from the path of an encroaching danger. The moon occasionally appeared from behind the clouds, but was quickly hidden by the next group of clouds. Snuffer broke into a run and, as though chasing the beam from the lighthouse, took off across the lawn toward the high cliff.
"Got to check the news," she thought, raising her nose into the wind. Her muscular little legs carried her rapidly into the night. The wet grass soaked her feet as she ran and little pieces of grass flew into the air from the force of her stride. It was great and wonderful and invigorating.
"AAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO," she howled, pointing her trumpet-shaped doggie lips toward the moon. "AAAAARRRRROOOOOOOOOOO, AAAAARRRRRRROOOOOOOOOOO, AAAAARRRRRROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO," she continued as she ran in circles. With each completed circle, the circumference tightened, and her speed increased. Her left side was almost touching the grass as she ran.
Suddenly she stopped. A tapping sound had interrupted her concentration. She sat for a moment, intently looking around. The tapping sounded again. She jumped, spinning her entire body around so that she was facing the source of the sound. The keeper was rapping the brass door knocker against the heavy wooden door in the base of the lighthouse. It was time to go up to the light. Snuffer bounded across the lawn and screeched to a halt at the keeper's feet. She raised her head to make it easier for him to do "scritchies" on her head. The keeper's large, rough fingers gently treaded on the soft fur of her head. Snuffer shook her head and stood on her hind legs, her tiny paws pressed against the great wooden door. She scanned the door with her nose and sniffed at the many scents imbedded in the wood.
She danced backward as the keeper slowly opened the heavy door. Following her nose she edged her way toward the open doorway, and then scampered into the darkness. The keeper followed her inside and flipped the light switch next to the door, causing a dim yellowish glow upward along the staircase. Snuffer deftly ascended the winding stairs, adjusting her gait so that her movement was constant and graceful. Her toenails clicked on the stone steps in rhythmic contrast to the regular steps of the keeper, who patiently and steadily followed behind. As she reached the one-third mark, she paused to attempt a peek out of the window, but she was unfortunately still too short. She tried to stretch each time she passed the window, but, alas, she was just not growing any more. That is one of the hazards of getting old. She had reached the mature age of three!
Again, reconciled to the knowledge that she would not enjoy this view, she turned her attention back to the stairs. Snuffer knew that she would get the good view when she got to the top of the lighthouse and could walk around the walkway, enjoying the wonderful smells of both land and sea. Her little legs worked steadily, together with the rest of the well-toned muscles in her compact little body. She could hear the steady scuffing sound of the keeper's leather shoe soles on the cement steps below. He would not be much longer getting to the top than she. Just like the story of the Rabbit and Basset Hound that the keeper told Snuffer when they were sitting in front of the fireplace, the persistence of the keeper would assure his completion of the course. But there was a rule of beagledom: two commands must always be obeyed--the scent of the nose and the rumble of the stomach! So, in obedience to these canons, Snuffer paused periodically to take stock of the aromas drifting in the leaky windows.
As the stairway became very narrow, Snuffer knew the victory was almost hers. The top of the lighthouse was within a few moments reach. The lantern was at the top of the stairs, above the keeper's cabin, and provided a nice warm place to lie down and stretch out while the keeper finished his upward journey. The heat from the flame which sent its light through the lens and into the darkness kept the lantern comfortable, in spite of the frigid winds whistling around the top of the tower. Snuffer circled the lantern, following the beam of light as it circled, until she came to her bed box, a very historic wooden cask which had brought scotch all the way from Scotland, and had been retrieved from a wreckage. The brewery name was barely visible below the blanket that spilled over the pieces of aged wood. She stepped over the low sides onto the old wool blanket, circled the traditional three times and dropper her body into place. She rubbed her nose against blanket, savoring the years and years of aromas which defied even water and detergent. Her highest pleasure was to press her very sensitive nose up against the fragrant wood, inhaling the very faint scent of perfectly aged scotch. With her senses happily satisfied, Snuffer drifted into a light snooze awaiting her keeper.
The creaking hinges on the door to the cabin below the lantern brought Snuffer to consciousness. She sat up, stretched her body to its fullest extent, yawned, then stood and shook her head making her ears slap against the sides of her head. The shake continued down the length of her body, finally appearing to escape by being expelled from her body with a final flip of her tail. As the keeper ascended the final turn of the stairway, Snuffer gingerly hopped over the side of her cask and went to greet him, her eyes bright, tongue hanging out of the side of her mouth, and tail wagging. As the keeper entered the lantern room, he bent forward and gave scritchies to Snuffer's head.
"You beat me up here again, my little wickie," he said. "Wickie" was the keeper's pet name for Snuffer, a wickie being a nickname for a lighthouse keeper.
Originally named "Doodles," she had been renamed by the keeper shortly after her rescue. She had been found wondering along the coast road one rainy afternoon, hungry and cold, apparently separated from her hunting pack. During her first excursion up the tower to the lantern, Doodles has circled the lens, snorting and drawing in the pungent odor of the oil used to fuel the lamp. The keeper had sensed at that moment, had she been just a bit taller, she probably would have been an excellent "snuffer" to extinguish the flame each morning. She was officially dubbed "Snuffer" and preferred it to "Doodles." Her recollection was that the previous name had been derived from a less attractive habit which she had since outgrown.
The keeper circled the lantern performing the ritual of adjustments to the lamp, filling the oil container, and trimming the wick. With a rag he made sure that the lens was free of smudges and smoke film.
"OK! Snuffer," the keeper said, moving toward the door to the walkway which allowed the keeper to have a clear view of the reefs and ocean beyond. "Let go see what's going on outside."
Together they moved into the cold wind which whipped around the top of the lighthouse. The keeper leaned against the rail, letting the wind blow in his face.
"Poor thing," thought Snuffer. "He doesn't have ears to flap against the side of his head. It feels so great." Snuffer thrust her nose over the lower portion of the railing, snorting into the wind. She closed her eyes, pretending that she was flying through the air like a bird, sniffing all of the enchanting aromas that circled the world on the winds. The sound of the waves beating against the rock below excited her imagination. She could see them far below as her body soared through the air, poking holes in the clouds. Her reverie was interrupted by the voice of the keeper.
"Come on, Snuffer," he said. "Let's go see what's up for dinner."
As the keeper took his first steps toward the door, Snuffer shot past him, propelling herself around the lantern, through the door, and down the stairs to the cabin below. In typical beagle fashion she sped around the room, leaping from chair to sofa to chair, springing high above the end tables and magazine racks, deftly dodging the lamps and models of sailing vessels which gave the cabin an appropriate nautical appearance.
"Silly, silly beagle," the keeper said as he stepped into the cabin. "So much energy, and nowhere to put it to work." He swung his hand, barely touching the tip of Snuffer's tail as she lept across the room and onto the stairs descending down through the tower. The keeper followed at his own pace. As he negotiated the steep stairs, he could hear Snuffer's toenails clicking along, speeding her way to her beloved dinner bowl. She made her obligatory stops at the three windows which constantly caused her to lament her small stature, petite and conforming to standard though it might be. The trip down was always faster than the one up. After all, she had gravity on her side. Well, okay, there was also a dinner bowl waiting!
Snuffer waited at the door, not really patiently. After all, it had been almost an hour since they had gone up into the lighthouse tower, and Snuffer had, well, needs. Doing her "St. Vitus dance," Snuffer twisted and turned, stood and beat her paws against the wooden door, and otherwise did her best to demonstrate the immediacy of her condition. The keeper chuckled at the performance of this ritual. He stood with his hand poised over the doorknob, looking at Snuffer, teasing her with his eyes. She stomped her feet in her best beagle tantrum, and pressed her front paws to the floor, raised her rear end wagging her tail, and then, aiming her nose upward, pursed her lips and held forth with her best beaglese arrroooooooooooooooooooooo. Laughing at this typical silliness, the keeper turned the knob and pushed the door open. The first blast of cold air was signal enough for Snuffer to leap to the freedom of the grassy area between the tower and the keeper's house. This was one of those times when Snuffer longed to have a companion: another beagle to chase around the green, another beagle to share the enjoyment of rolling in the wonderful creatures that washed up on the beach or were dropped by the gulls on their way home from hunting dinner, another beagle to snitch food from!
Snuffer's legs pushed at the soft ground with all their might. Her little body sped off into the darkness. The sky was deep black. Stars were starting to pop out in the heavens. As she ran in circles her tongue flapped out of the side of her mouth, and little puffs of steam blew from her nostrils into the cold night air. Around and around in ever-tightening circles she ran, chasing nothing, yet chasing everything.
As she came out of a turn her nose caught a familiar scent. She had smelled this earlier while standing on the cliff's edge. But there was something else. There was an extra chill in the air. Snuffer knew it, and the hair on her back knew it. Standing at the cliff's edge, her nose barely protruding into infinity, Snuffer took a deep, deep breath. It was there! She didn't know what it was... but it was there. There was only one way to find out, and that was to use the beagle secret weapon. This was a very carefully guarded secret that beagles had long held back from their masters. It was something that the masters would never, ever, discover on their own.
Snuffer sat, gently lowering her bottom onto the damp grass.
"Ooh! Cooold!" she thought as contact was made.
Her ears lowered, her eyelids squinted against the wind, and her mouth opened just a little. Her secret weapon was now fully engaged, and would remain activated until the mystery was solved. Clouds slowly drifted by and the stars twinkled beyond them. Every now and then the moon would peer from behind a cloud casting a bluish glow over the night. The yellow beam of light from the lantern above sliced through the sky. It was all so hypnotic, but Snuffer remained engaged and alert. The weapon would work.
The air around Snuffer grew very cold. Snuffer knew! The weapon was working and the waiting was almost over. The beagle's secret... if they only knew. As the wind climbed up the rocky cliff, the strange scent enveloped Snuffer. As if by reflex, Snuffer's nose took aim at the clouds, and from deep within her chest the low bay began. With her lips pursed, and her ears back she began:
The sound floated out over the waves as they swirled around the jagged rocks below.
"Aaarrrrooooooooooooo," she called again. "Three is a charm," the keeper was fond of saying, so one more should do the trick. As she took a deep breath to load up her lungs, Snuffer inhaled the distinctive scent again, but it was fresh and very present.
"Aaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrooooooooooooooooooooooooooo...." she called into the night. The secret weapon of beagles would pay off.
The mist of the evening settled around Snuffer. It was heavy with that strange scent, and seemed to thicken even though the wind continued to blow up the side of the cliff, making her ears flap. As she directed her gaze in to the mist, Snuffer could hear the sound of panting over the sound of the waves below. She knew she was not alone... but who was there?
She heard footsteps behind her, and the scent dissipated, drifting away over the swells of the ocean. The footsteps were familiar. Snuffer turned her head, facing the keeper as he approached. As he knelt in the damp grass he extended his hand, taking her small head between them, her ears between his large, rough fingers. Her ears made a flapping sound as the keeper tousled them. It was really strange how something like that could feel so good!
"Ah, Snuffer, my little wickie," the keeper said looking into Snuffer's eyes. "You look as though you'd seen a ghost. There is one, you know." Snuffer's eyes grew larger in anticipation, and her forehead wrinkled as she pulled her ears together (beagles have such amazing ear muscles!). She could look quizzical and perplexed at the same time.
"Come on, my girl," the keeper said as he stood. "I'll fix your din-din and then we can sit in front of the fire and I'll tell you all about "Patch," the pirate's pooch."
"Sitting on the keeper's lap, with a full tummy, and listening to sea stories," Snuffer thought with a deep sigh. "All we need is rain beating on the roof of the house and the night will be perfect!"
Snuffer stood, turning to give one last look out over the ocean where the mysterious scent had returned, and then stretched to her full length.
"Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr," she groaned, as all of the tension was released from her muscles. "Only two more sets of muscles to stretch," she thought as she spread her jaws wide in a long and slow yawn.
"You are such a strange little critter, my Snuffer," said the keeper, giving her head scritchies. "You are just too cute. Let's eat!"
He turned as quickly as an old man could, and began running toward the house in great, slow strides. Snuffer gave chase, running in circles around him and barking. It was another of their very special games.
Snuffer arrived at the screen door first, and stood on her hind legs, yipping and barking to be let in. The keeper was only a few steps behind her.
"Moosh! Booby!" he commanded, and Snuffer scamper sideways into the flower bed next to the low brick stoop. The keeper opened the door, and again commanded, "Moosh! Moosh!"
The flower stalks, now in their pre-winter sleep, rustled as Snuffer maneuvered her way through them, back on to the stoop, and through the doorway.
"You are just too weird, Snuff! ... too weird!" the keeper said as he followed her into the kitchen, closing the large wooden door behind him.
--- end ---
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