a dog fight on the farm

by tobias crabtree

i don’t know if i ever would have been involved in farming if it weren’t for two distinct influences; one was a fellow marine, Brian Foster, and his lady, Summer; the other, Nick Mahmood, a dyed-in-the-wool wildman and his lady, Elizabeth. the personalities involved here are books in the making. i have the knowledge in my gourd but i don’t know if i have the skill to bring their stories to life. for now, i’ll stick to story-telling which is my favorite cop-out.

i lived with brian and summer for years. one year i lived in a tree in their backyard…yeah, i’m that guy. i’m the guy wives usually do not want around because i can live on a square meter of space in the backyard and be smiling with coffee at 4:30am. i’m the big, stinky, hairy dog in the window. and so i must pay homage here to both summer and elizabeth for not only allowing me to be in their lives, but also for wanting me there. so much love.

i will write about brian and summer in time. i will tell about how brian owns a successful tattoo business and how he has been a professional fighter all over the world and how summer rocked his world and how they made a baby (maybe not in detail, but…well, you know what i mean.) but for now i’ll tell you a story about nick and elizabeth….

i don’t know who’s tougher, nick or elizabeth. i sometime wish they would just duke it out so that i could know, you know, like a scientific experiment. they don’t really fight though so it’ll just have to be a tie. i learn a bunch from both. i’ve seen nick grow tomatoes on a plot that other farmers had given up on. they had said the soil wasn’t good. nick mended it and grew tomatoes for the town. he knows dirt. he loves it. he spots manure from a mile away. last year, elizabeth and i made huge compost piles together and i learned so much. making good, lively soil is an art and is so, so important for life. elizabeth raises goats and i got to help them mate, which is stinky and hilarious and very, umm, goatish. she makes cheese and salve and mead and wine and pottery and wonderful drawings….sheesh, what a show-off.526066_3487923635901_1461821758_n

nick and i met years ago in the mojave desert. we were both spending huge amounts of time haunting the same area and climbing the same rocks. i never wondered if i would be friends with nick after i had met him; i was completely sure of it. i can laugh with nick for days. one year, for elizabeth’s birthday, we asked elizabeth what we could do for her. “whatever you want that we can do!” i stated boldly. she asked for 24 hours without any nonsense from either of us. we did our best to comply…i kinda failed, but it was nick’s fault.


the farm we worked on had three, huge anatolian shepherds. the two biggest one’s were so tall that they seemed to look me in the eye. i’m not afraid of dogs, i grew up with all kinds. those big dogs were brought in to guard against the mountain lions that had run off with a pig or two the year before. they belonged to the owner of the property, who was gone a good bit, and they were more than a little unruly. nick and elizabeth took care of them when the owner was gone. thus was the case on this particular day in october when the applegate valley in southern oregon is choked with blackberries and pot farms and wild turkeys and trout. nick and i had just sweated in the dry sauna. we were shirtless and shoeless, which is our preference most of the time. i walked out behind the shed because i heard an unusual sound. Alphy and Ewan, the two big dogs, both males, were locked in mortal combat in the belly of the dried up pond. i shouted to nick.

now, i’ve broken up some dog fights. sometimes they are not really serious and so it’s not too difficult to get them to stop. if they are trying to bite the front legs, it’s a bad sign; it’s an attempt to maim and finish. Alphy had Ewan’s front paw locked in his jaws, Ewan was latched onto Alphy’s neck. there are many opinions among the “dog-whispers” of the world, but i’ve found that it’s good common sense not to get near the business end of the dogs while they are fighting. the best technique i’ve found is to loop a line (preferably long enough to put a bit of space between you and the thrashing dogs) around the low belly, in front of the hips, and pull. when the dogs weigh in at 190 pounds, you gotta pull hard. nick’s cord was really short and mine was good enough. neither nick nor i are huge dudes…we are a buck-fifty on a full belly at most, so it turned into an endurance test for the four of us; the massive, sweaty dogs (that seemed more like polar bears when they were growling and snapping) and the naked, struggling simians. time could have dropped away and the scene could have been reconstructed a couple million years ago when man and dog were moving symbiotically across the shifting land masses. if a helicopter would have flown over, as they often did as a “we see what you are up to” to the pot farmers, it would have looked suspiciously like two guys involved in some kind of dog fighting ring. i guess we were…reluctantly. i vividly remember looking across the pond at nick, who looked almost like he was riding Alphy, and seeing the sweat streaking down his forehead. i imagine he was seeing something very similar on the other side as i struggled with Ewan. as i think back on it, the only thing we both kept yelling was, “elizabeth!”

well, the dogs tired. the fight ended. elizabeth never heard our cries. nick and i jumped in the swimming pool, which was really a holding pond for farm water and so was green and cold. nick, the wildest of the wild, with his long locks matted across a dark and furrowed brow, looked at me with bright blue eyes, “coffee?”