Ella Ratcatcher and other stories

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A couple of weird things happened yesterday. The first came relatively early, as Ella and I were out on our Sunday morning walk. Laura and I usually walk Ella together on Sunday mornings, but Laura had a cough and a fever so I was walking Ella alone. We try to walk her for a couple of hours on weekend mornings, to wear her out for the rest of the day. I took Ella on a long loop to the Lake Michigan shore (about a mile and a half from our house) to run around on the sand, then to a big adjacent park to chase squirrels.

At the doggie zoo
We were on our way back home after nearly two hours out when Ella communicated to me that she would like to explore the alley we were passing. She did this by stopping at the mouth of the alley and looking down it pointedly. At this stage in our walks, I'm usually eager to get home so my custom is to tell her no and make her keep walking. But we had plenty of time that morning and I'd made her leave the park before she was quite ready, so I relented.

Ella spent a lot of time sniffing around a group of black plastic trash bins in the alley before she'd let me move on. Her fascination with squirrels is rivaled only by her fascination with rats, so I kept a close eye on her. We continued through the alley and then back up the next block where a squirrel with a peanut in its mouth taunted us from a tree behind a fence. Soon we were back on our original route home, but Ella tugged me into the next alley we passed. She made a beeline for another group of black plastic bins and darted into a gap between them.

I saw a little shadow with a naked tail flash through the gap. Ella struck, and when she drew her head back a rat the size of my fist was wriggling in her jaws.

Several things happened very fast all at once, or in such rapid succession that I couldn't tell any differently. I let out a low, loud, gutteral yawp of surprise and fear. The rat let out a squeaky shriek. Ella released the rat. The rat flew through the air, flailing all its limbs, and scurried away behind the bins.

I dropped to my knees to check that Ella was okay, that she hadn't been bitten. (Of course she hadn't—she would have yelped, I'm sure.) She was fine, if you ignored the look of utter disappointment and contempt she leveled at me. Ella has been chasing squirrels and rats and rabbits and even the occasional opossum or raccoon for all of her eight and a half years. This was the first time she had ever caught one.

And I yelled like a scared puppy and made her drop it. "Oh, Nice Bill," she seemed to say with the contemptuous expression she turned upon me. "Are you ever on my whatever-smells-so-bad-even-I-won't-go-near-it list now."

I swear to God, she pouted all the way home.

The other unsettling thing yesterday was something I saw while I was out biking. Laura and I are training for one of the crazier things we've ever attempted—RAGBRAI, a 7-day, 470-mile bike ride across Iowa this July. I'll post more about that another time, but suffice it to say that I've been doing my best to adhere to the recommended training schedule with increasingly long rides along the Chicago Lakefront Trail. Yesterday I was supposed to ride 25 miles, but since I'll be working in California for the next several days, I decided to push it to 36 miles instead, my longest day yet this year by far.

That was fine, but as I was rolling south on the outbound leg of my trek I saw a police SUV parked on the grass between Lake Shore Drive and the bike trail. Off to my left, a small yacht was beached in the choppy surf, rocking back and forth. Down the slope, a police officer was talking to two men who looked, at least from a distance, to be in shock.

I passed the scene, then pulled over and watched the yacht rock for a minute or two, waiting to see if anything else interesting would happen. I figured that two unlucky or foolhardy boaters had tried to get a little too close to shore and had run aground. I shot a brief video and continued on my way.

I reached a good turnaround spot a couple of miles later, at the 63rd Street Beach. We live way up on the North Side, and I had come 18.5 miles from home. Definitely time to go back. (Especially since my phone battery died while I was taking pictures there, and I wouldn't be able to text Laura for the rest of the ride to keep her apprised of my whereabouts.)

So I headed back north, into the wind (sob!). As I approached the site of the boating accident, I saw a Chicago Police boat not far offshore. Two officers in lifejackets were making their way like commandos toward the prow of the boat. The first one there picked up some kind of long boat hook and readied it over the water. I couldn't see anything in the water. Apparently they couldn't either, but this made me worry that someone had been lost overboard in the accident.

Virgin America - I feel like I'm taking off ... for the future!
There were at least three police vehicles parked near the boat as I passed. I didn't stop this time, and I have no idea what happened before or after I happened on the scene. I haven't found any news reports about a boating accident. I suppose I might find something in the police blotter if I knew where to check on Everyblock.com. I keep thinking about that boat, though.

Anyway, I made my 37-mile round trip in about three hours. I'm a little stiff this morning as I sit composing this on my Virgin America flight to Los Angeles. More on this trip later.

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William Shunn

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This page contains a single entry by William Shunn published on April 30, 2012 12:08 PM.

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