Welcome to another edition of Marsh Musings. We are nearing that time of year when we find ourselves thinking about all that we are thankful for. Dr. Witt and I are so grateful for the opportunity to write about our friendship and adventures at Cheyenne Bottoms and for those of you who read our column. Cheyenne Bottoms definitely holds a special place in our hearts and has fostered a friendship neither of us could have imagined. We started writing this article in hopes that you would venture out and experience the Bottoms for yourselves, hoping you too would discover the magic of such a special, beautiful place.
One of the neatest results from writing this column is the feedback we receive from all of you! Hearing what Cheyenne Bottoms means to you has touched us in so many ways, and this week we would like to share with you a moving, special story we recently received. We are honored to feature a submission entitled "Pippin at the Bottoms" written by Julie Stielstra. Stories like these are the very reason we write Marsh Musings and we hope this story touches you like it did us!
"Pippin at the Bottoms"
"We discovered Cheyenne Bottoms as we passed through Kansas on our way to Colorado. There was a blue blob on the Kansas road map marked as a wildlife refuge, and as birders and hikers, we decided to stop. A windy, shimmering space full of sky and water and wet earth and rippling plants, and birds – amazing birds! That was years ago, and now we own a house five miles from the Bottoms where I fully expect to die if I’m lucky.
We also had a dog. A weedy, skinny, filthy tan and white pup popped out of the bushes in a Chicago forest preserve one day and jumped into my husband’s truck, smiling. Forest came home, stood at the garage door and announced to me: "His name is Pippin and he’s come to live with us." He became the dog of our hearts, that once-in-a-lifetime, brilliant, gallant, independent companion of our walks and travels, who came to know and love the Bottoms as we did, even when a baby muskrat bit him in the toe. He stared down a coyote once, the two of them sizing each other up through the truck windshield, with much the same intense look in their matching almond eyes. Once by the obervation tower, a rabbit blinded with springtime lust veered off from the hot pursuit of a lady and actually chased Pippin, who ran, looking back over his shoulder in utter disbelief. To this day, we call that the Crazy Rabbit Place. We ended each evening with a walk out to the handicap-accessible blind, and watched the sun go down as Pippin raced and snuffled and zig-zagged through the grass.
Last December, two days before Christmas, Pippin woke up cold and shivery. His gums were pale and cool. I rushed him to the vet, and the xrays showed tumors – on his liver, on his spleen. He’d never missed a meal, had been hiking two days before with all his usual gusto, he’d never had a bad day in twelve years. Until that day. By afternoon he couldn’t stand up. The tumors had broken open and were bleeding. He was bleeding to death inside and there was nothing we could do. With both of us weeping our love into his beautiful ears, a gentle vet eased him out of his suffering, and we lost him.
One week later, we walked through a fresh snow in the Bottoms. Dusk was falling and a few harriers were still tilting and gliding over the marsh. We ducked under the gate leading to the blind. I was crying, not sure I could make that walk now. And then I saw the prints. One set of pawprints, about the size for a 35-pound dog with slim legs and a tireless trot, headed out into the snow towards the blind. Unable to speak, I pointed to them, and Forest and I both cried out, "Pippin! Where are you? We’re here!" We stood under the icy stars that night, crying and calling his name. If Pippin’s soul is anywhere, it’s there. Right there in the Bottoms, chasing crazy rabbits, and I hope he’ll wait for us there. It’s that kind of place."
On behalf of the both of us, we wish you and yours a very Happy Thanksgiving! Until next time.
Eric Giesing is the Education Director for FHSU at the KWEC and Dr. Dan Witt is a retired urologist and nature enthusiast/photographer.