Sunday, August 27, 2006

Trip Update & the Story of Gretchen and the Mama Bear

We’ve been on the road for two and a half weeks now, and I have a bit of down time (more on that to come), so I thought perhaps I’d start the process of downloading my trip here. This may get long and boring, and I’m doing it mostly for my own benefit, to record the things I don’t wish to forget, so no one is forcing you to read.

I left you last outside of Cloverdale, Indiana, where Andy was teaching at a woodworking retreat center. His class went really well. Eight students with varying levels of woodworking ability were each able to build a rocking chair, finishing every part of the process save the final sanding and finishing. They were all very pleased with the project and with Andy as an instructor, and he has already been invited to return next year to teach the class again. Several more students have already committed to taking the class, and are just awaiting our decision on dates. We are tentatively looking at early June, right after the kids get out of school.

If you go to the American Sycamore Woodworking Retreat’s website, click into the forum discussion board and hit the thread on the sculpted rocker, you will find many, many photos of our time there, including some great ones of our kids finding creative ways to fill their time.

There is one image from our time there that exists only in the memories of my daughter and me, never captured on film or digital file, but etched into my brain forever. Hopefully my daughter will forget about it in time. It is the image of Gretchen, the resident brindle and white pit bull (whom the owners of the retreat center had rescued from an abusive situation, feeling badly for the dog that the pound was about to put down and assuming they could rehabilitate her) charging my daughter at full speed.

We had been warned when we first arrived that Gretchen was not fond of children and that the kids should not approach her. It made me nervous enough that there was a pit bull known to dislike children on the premises, but I became even more wary when I found out that she could actually climb the eight foot tall chain link fence of her kennel whenever she wished to get out. The owners of this retreat center seemed to be very nice people, but I thought this dog situation should concern them more than it did. They seemed to think that as long as the kids kept their distance, they would be fine. She is a sweetheart with adults, they assured me.

The first time the kids tried to leave the shop/lodge building, our first morning there, Gretchen stopped them in their tracks in the driveway, growling and barking at them. Fortunately, the kids had the sense to come right back inside. I went to the truck for them to retrieve the books they wanted. Gretchen kept a wary eye on me, but didn’t make a sound.

Later that same day, I had taken the kids outside to explore the grounds and they had come bounding down a trail only to find good old Gretch at the bottom, snarling viciously again. I told the kids to stay where they were and not to turn their backs on the dog. I placed myself between the dog and the kids and talked her down as I motioned for the kids to walk behind me to the safety of the shop again.

By this time, I was very nervous. I kept the kids indoors for the rest of that day and all of the next. We had hoped to explore the sights in the Indianapolis area, but with the starter out on our truck and Andy too busy with classes to replace it, we were stranded. By the end of the second full day, I was feeling like we were prisoners, albeit prisoners with deluxe accommodations, top-notch meals and enjoyable company to visit with. Perhaps many people wouldn’t have felt confined in such nice surroundings, but I did. I was working hard to come up with interesting things for them to do indoors, but I wanted my kids to be free to go play outside, to wander down the scenic dirt roads winding through farmers’ fields on all sides of us. Don’t fence me in and all that.

On day four, our third full day there, Gretchen was allowed inside. I wasn’t thrilled with this idea, but it was raining buckets and the owners thought it might be good for them to get used to each other in an environment where the dog is generally very calm and has plenty of space to do her own thing, i.e. nap in a corner. The kids were busy with their musical instruments, Elli with an African drum and Tano with a cool wooden flute, and they weren’t paying the slightest bit of attention to the dog.

I sat in a chair to Elli’s right as she thumped away happily on her drum. I had noticed that Gretchen didn’t seem to be enjoying the kids’ music as much as the humans in the room. Even though the building was very large, she kept getting up to move to different far corners of the room. Eventually she began to pace the floor. I noted that she was watching my daughter as she paced. This caught my attention and I kept a careful eye on her, sensing a danger I couldn’t quite verbalize.

She attacked with such speed and such ferocity that the image in my mind is hazy. She went from pacing to charging in an instant, teeth bared in hatred as she lunged toward the little girl who hadn’t even had time yet to look up from her drumming. From her throat came a noise I hope to never hear again. I don’t even know how to describe it. But her intention was clear—to take out the little girl once and for all.

I have felt the overwhelming mothering instinct before. It defies logic and breaks every rule of self-preservation. I can recall the winter when Tano was a newborn when I tripped on a curb while carrying him. I fought to regain my footing, but knew I was going down. I took a hard fall, bruising and scraping myself up badly, but landed “safely” with the child still cradled securely in my arms. He cried, but only from being jostled around, not from any physical injury. I remember thinking, as I lay there on the sidewalk trying to get my wits about me, how powerful and truly amazing the mothering instinct was. For, as I fell, knowing there was nothing to cushion my landing except for cold, hard concrete and some large steel pipes, it never once crossed my mind to drop the child and use my hands and arms to break my fall. It wasn’t a conscious heroic decision at all, just instinct—save the child.

It was this same instinct that took over when I saw the pit bull charging my defenseless daughter. I leapt to my feet and threw myself into the dog’s path with the lightning-quick speed only adrenaline can produce. As I flew, for that is what my motion felt like, the noises coming from my own throat were as terrible as the dog’s. I became the Mama Bear in that instant, ready to fight off a predator to the death, if it meant saving my cub.

It wasn’t until I found myself standing between them, my arms raised in some sort of fighting stance and my throat still raw and tingling from the growl I’d just released, that I felt any sense of reality take over again. It was then that I felt the fear, the understanding that this dog could maul me as easily as she could the child. But I was the Mama Bear; I would stand my ground. Within only a few seconds, I could see that the dog was duly intimidated and was shrinking down under my crazed glare. I was again filled with courage and continued yelling menacingly at the dog and moving toward her until I had chased her to the door and put her outside.

I crossed the room and sank weakly into my chair again, trembling with fear and rage and the lingering rush of leftover adrenaline. My daughter was crying and crawled into my lap to be comforted. My actions had scared her as much as the dog’s, but I had the distinct feeling that I had just saved the cub’s life. I hugged her tightly and leaned down to kiss her hair.

All the noise did attract the attention of Dana, working in the office upstairs. I think she finally understood the danger of this dog when I recounted the story for her. For the remainder of the time we were there, Gretchen was locked away securely and the kids were free to come and go as they pleased. We have been assured that Gretchen will not be around at all the next time we come.

I should hope not.

You may think I am being overly dramatic in the retelling of this story, as I can tend to be sometimes, but reading back over this, I think I have told it accurately. It was dramatic, after all, and my heart is racing again, as I relive it even now.

I will need to take a break before I can move on to the other events of our trip so far.


Break taken.

Eventually, Andy was able to sneak away from his class and replace the truck’s starter. Sadly, he is an expert at replacing starters. It seems like we have gone through more than our fair share of them.

With the truck as good as new—or rather as good as a ’95 truck could be expected to be—the kids and I took off for one day in Indianapolis before we were scheduled to drive to Michigan to visit family and friends. The kids had a hard time deciding what to do with their one day. We had three good options; the zoo, the Conner Prairie living history village, or the children’s museum.

In the end, they opted for the children’s museum, said to be the largest museum of its kind in the world. It was a great choice. We opened their doors in the morning and then closed them again that night, and didn’t even come close to having enough time to see everything. The building contains five floors of wonder and amazement. Great stuff. We will go back again someday, I hope.

After an early morning good-bye to husband and daddy at the counter of the car rental place, the kids and I loaded up and drove to Michigan. We spent the weekend at Alison's house. How fun to be in her home again, for only the second time in my fourteen years of marriage. The last time was seven years ago. I had a two year old and she had a three year old and a baby. This time, we had a ten, nine and an eight year old, a six year old and a three year old between us. The kids got along wonderfully. You would have thought they were cousins the way they meshed together. I think I enjoyed watching our children play together as much as I enjoyed catching up with my old friend.

Another friend, Karen, also flew in to join the fun. So crazy to have two such great friends, from such different parts of my life, in one place--and in Michigan, at that. We had such a nice weekend, doing nothing but sit by the pool all day, every day.

On Tuesday morning, my Aunt Diane came and picked us up from Alison's, and the next chapter of our vacation was begun. We spent the rest of that day at the beach at Grand Haven, my aunt's favorite spot. I had been hoping we would be able to spend some time there again. My cousin, Dan and his daughter, Ruth Ann, were able to join us for the day, as was cousin Annette and her three kids. So fun for my kids to get to know a new group of cousins. Tano was glad to have Dan present, as he was feeling a little overwhelmed by the presence of so many girls. It was a gorgeous day to be on Lake Michigan, and we closed the place down after sunset on the pier.

Back at home the next day, Dan spent quite a bit of time teaching Tano about the technology that he uses to assist him with his blindness. Tano even got to use Dan's Braille typewriter to write the alphabet and his name. Even now, several days later, he is still practicing with that page and trying to learn to recognize the letters by touch.

We also got to spend a day at Annette's, all the kids again in a pool for the day. Tano and Hopper, Annette's girls' pet frog (who lives on a ledge in their pool), had a little love connection going on. The boy was smitten and the frog seemed equally fond of the boy. They spent much of the day together. Elli, on the other hand, discovered that her second cousins had pretty much every Barbie house and vehicle imaginable--filling most of a room--and she spent as much time as possible there, basking in the pink Barbie girliness.

That evening, Annette's husband, Earl, plus my Uncle Chuck and cousin Brian joined us for dinner and a campfire, with Earl toting the kids around their property in a hay-filled wagon pulled behind his quad. Good family fun, all around.

Andy, having finished his rocking chair class, drove up from Indiana the next day and we said our good-byes once again. From there, we headed to Timberwolf Lake, a Young Life camp property in north-central Michigan, for a three and a half day family camp. They only do one weekend of family camp per year, and the timing was perfect for us, so we thought we would enjoy some family down-time before the long trip home.

The first afternoon was overcast and grey, but we didn't care. We sat on the beach at the side of the lake and built sandcastles with the kids. Very relaxing for all of us. We went to dinner and club (the evening meeting), and then to a crazy carnival. The kids were invited to play carnival games for tickets, which they could use to send a parent to a pie-in-the face booth. I knew Tano would get Andy for sure, but I didn't think Elli understood the system at all and would be content to munch her cotton candy and play fun games.


As I watched my son smash my husband in the face with a plate full of shaving cream, laughing and relishing the fact that my dear son would never think to do this to me, I heard over the loud speaker, "Sherry Chidwick, to the pie-in-the-face booth!" I looked over to see my daughter, grinning from ear to ear as she turned in her fistful of tickets. She was so pleased to get me. Someday I'll post the photos.

Day two of camp dawned drearier than the first, grey, windy and cold. I woke my daughter for breakfast, preparing myself to make the most of it anyway. She awoke in tears. One ear was hurting badly. After breakfast, the nurse confirmed my fears--swimmer's ear had led to an inner ear infection. I spent the day pumping Motrin into her and laying low. Eventually, Andy took her to see a doctor off-site and got some antibiotics prescribed.

Day three was grey again, plus foggy and rainy. It rained, sometimes softly, sometimes violently, for the entire day. All activities were cancelled. It didn't matter much, though, because the girl and I spent most of the day in our room anyway. I caught up on some reading and started this post. She napped. The guys tried to enjoy playing outside in the rain.

This morning, Sunday, the last day of camp, Elli woke up feeling a little better and the sun finally came out and dried out the camp. Turns out, it's quite pretty. But by then, we could only clean our cabins, eat brunch, and pack our vehicles to leave. Maybe we will try family camp again someday with better results. I suppose we are really well-rested for our trip home. That's something, I guess.

Oh, and Tano's ear ache showed up this morning. Nice.

After leaving camp, we realized our route north would take us directly past my mom's Aunt Mollie and Uncle Bert's house, so we called them from the road and ended up stopping to visit for an hour or so. Very nice. The kids were amazed to learn that these people were their great-great aunt and uncle. Andy was amazed to finally meet Aunt Mollie and see for himself the striking resemblance she bears to her sister, my grandma, who died a couple of years back. Uncle Bert, a woodworker, enjoyed seeing one of Andy's chairs, which happened to be in the back of the trailer.

From there, we drove on north, across Mackinac bridge and west along the northern shore of Lake Michigan. We waded in the pleasant water, enjoying the soft, rippled sand underfoot, and then pressed on to Munising, on the shores of Lake Superior.

What a wonderful town Munising is! It feels like a hidden treasure, a gem of a town. We had a late dinner at a nice fish place right on the water and are now settled down for the night at a cute little roadside motel. Fortunately, even the cheap little places like this often have Wi-Fi now.

Tomorrow morning, we will take a three hour cruise along the Pictured Rocks National Shoreline. I am really excited for this, as I have always wanted to see this lesser known national park. Everyone we have talked to says it is well-worth the price of admission. Photos eventually.

So, from room twelve of a little red cabin-style motel outside of Munising, goodnight. Maybe tomorrow night, we will have Wi-Fi again.


Jeannie said...

Ooooooh, I am so totally, absolutely jealous of your wonderful travels in Michigan this summer--especially in the Upper Peninsula! I had to grab a tissue to wipe a bit of drool, as I read about Munising and the boat ride along the Pictured Rocks, because, of course, I know all about that area--my "old stompin' grounds", and have done the boat ride many, many years ago. (I can still picture it!)

But, my biggest feeling is relief that no one was harmed by the pit bull! I'm so sorry to hear of that experience! You scared me outta my wits just in the telling of it! Thanks be to God for keeping you safe!

Ruth C said...

Hi family! It's great to hear about your travels around the country - wish I could be there. Sherry, I'm speachless at your account of the dog. I'm not in the least surprised at your reaction, though, because I trust and respect your maternal instincts implicitly.

I was in danger too, y'know: I saw two Rhinos. I s'pose they could've charged if they had wanted, but they didn't. Oh, and there were hippos. ;)

Hug the kiddos from Auntie Ruth. Miss you all.

Sheila said...

I hate those dogs. I don't doubt a word of your re-telling of the events - I have felt that motherly unease of approaching danger, felt the mama bear wake up and start to take over. I am so glad that you acted swiftly and bravely. When dear Ellie tells this story, as I am sure she will, it will remind her just how much you love her and the lengths you will go to protect her.

Anonymous said...

Maternal instinct is God-given. I've seen it in action, its automatic and virtually unstopable.
Glad everyone is have a great summer.

Eagle-eye Di said...

I enjoyed hearing how things went with your time after leaving here from Aunt Di's.I am so sorry about the weather being awful for family camp.I had oh so hoped that the terrible rain storm that took place here in Grand Rapids had already gone through Cadillac area.We prayed for beautiful sunny weather for your time at the camp.It's good that the owner of the pitbull has assured you that it will be elsewhere next time.That attack time is something that would leave lingering bad dream moments for a long time.We are very thankful you all ended up alright,not torn up physically.I am so sorry to hear about Ellie and Tano's swimmers ear situation.That sure put a bummer on some of the time.Look forward to hearing about the rest of the trip and seeing pic's.Love you Sherry.

Anonymous said...

Oh Sherry, thank God for your alert & instant response to the danger Elli was in and that Gretchen backed down to your fierceness. I cringe to think what could have happened had you been out of the room. On a happier note, I'm so glad you're having such a good time with the kids, family and friends-precious memories, indeed. You all have had quite a busy summer. I kept visualizing that your days at YL Camp would allow everybody some relaxing, prayerful and reflective moments together and that you will return home refreshed for a new season. That is our prayer for you ................Love, Mom C.

colleenet said...

Wow! So much excitment in your lives. Thank's Sherry for posting everything about your family's trip. Did you take pictures of the pictures rocks, and other time at Grand Haven, and just "everything" surrounding where you went?

Oops! I think I remember you saying something about pictures. But those were of Andy's woodworking stuff, right?

I would love to see pictures. please, pretty please??

I am very thankful you got between your daughter and that dog. Wow, tha was not a good situation.