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Howling with Dessie: A Farnival Tradition

Do you howl with your dogs? I’m not even a little embarrassed to admit we howl with ours frequently. And we’ve been doing it for years. Every few months, Mason and I call all our dogs on the porch and howl until our vocal chords are sore. It’s nice if our sessions fall on the full moon, but it isn’t necessary. It isn’t even necessary for it to be dark because occasionally we cut loose in the middle of the day. A beagle mutt named Dessie inspired this tradition on a cool spring night ages ago.

Mason, Dessie, and I had been sitting on our deck in front of a steel fire pit. The fire cast an orange glow for a ten-foot radius. Everything outside the circle was pitch black. Back then, we were new to the country, so the amount of stars flooding the sky still enchanted us. In Nashville, the multiple streetlights had smudged their shine, but not in Robertson County. Out here at night, the moon and stars are the only lights.

Dessie suddenly lifted her head and strained her ears forward. Up until then, she’d been snoozing close to the fire, so I immediately noticed her reaction. Her whole body tensed, then stilled. Seconds later, we heard a coyote’s high-pitched wail. It turned into a series of shrill yips that crested in an otherworldly howl. A rash of goose bumps scurried down my spine.

Seconds later, the pack answered. Their eerie song was so loud and clear that it was hard to judge their distance. It sounded like fifty yards, but I’m sure they were several football fields away. For a moment, I didn’t know if I should hurry in the house or simply listen. The look on Mason’s face said he felt the same.

Dessie decided for us. She lifted her muzzle, threw her floppy ears over her shoulders, and howled right back at those coyotes. Her voice had that hound dog timbre, and it sounded so out of place against the coyotes’ high-pitched wildness that it bordered on comical. Dessie didn’t notice. Instead, she bayed with every ounce of her thirty pounds, intent on letting those coyotes know she also had boundaries.

But as the howls continued, something changed. Dessie’s voice stopped sounding so competitive, so territorial. In fact, her baritone notes started to meld with their falsetto ones until it all sounded like a harmony. Even to my human ears, it was obvious the message had changed, what had started as a turf battle turned into a truce.

The irony of a dog who slept on a pillow-top mattress singing with a pack who had probably just finished sharing a deer carcass wasn’t lost on me. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all resolve our issues with a howling session under a starry night? Solving problems in the animal kingdom seems so much easier than in our human one. Maybe its because differences don’t matter as much as what unites them.

Their song was contagious. I couldn’t help myself. I threw my head back and joined. Eventually, Mason did too. Amazingly, no one, not the coyotes or Dessie, missed a beat when our off-key human voices rang out with theirs. The coyotes finished howling first. Just as suddenly as they started, they stopped. The night went back to being countryside quiet. Our focus shifted back to the stars and fire, but that memory of singing with coyotes still lives on at the Farnival.

Now, whenever Mason and I cut up on the porch, when we’re howling with gusto, I always hear, ever so faintly, the baritone notes of a hound dog named Dessie.

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