Socrates, the Lovable Buffoon

He was not much of a dog. I called him Socrates because he had such a pensive look. I assumed that look meant he was deeply philosophical at heart. I was wrong; that was simply a blank stare. The dog was kind of a buffoon.

He was half St. Bernard, half Collie, and who knows what the other half was. He had the noble character of a mouse, and at the first sign of danger Socrates would hide behind me. If there was any further indication of trouble, he would head for the house like he was being teleported.

He was lovable, however. At just over one hundred pounds, Socrates understood his job was to keep people's laps warm. The secret signal, that would get him into someone's lap, was a glance in his direction. That dog knew an invitation when he saw one, and he would RSVP instantly, and in person. At least he would reward his host with lots of long hair on their clothing.

Socrates was not overly active. In fact, he would eat lying down. When a car came down the driveway, he would bark lying down. When wild critters got too close to the house, he would make his threats lying down. Most of his aerobic exercises were accomplished lying down, unless he thought there was danger to someone, then he would hide.

One cold winter day, in northern Minnesota, I decided Socrates and I were going to do some dog sledding. I harnessed Socrates as he writhed about on the floor, calling me Benedict Arnold. I hitched up the dog sled, which heretofore had only been pushed or pulled by myself or my brother. And I rounded up my youngest sister who, fully bundled for the outdoors, weighed in at probably thirty-five pounds. It was all a simple process that took no more than two hours.

Our road was extremely rural. The road and the township were so rural, neither had a name. When we heard a car, everyone stared to see who was driving down the road. It was also a nicely snowpacked surface with a gentle hill. It was the perfect starter path for training Socrates how to pull the sled.

It would be an overstatement to call that singular attempt at dog-sledding a fiasco. It was more like a fizzle. No one got hurt. There was no runaway sled. My sister was not scarred for life. She may not even remember the event. It was simple, Socrates plopped down and looked at me like, “What? What do you want? Can't you see I'm, doing my only job? Lying down.”

Socrates as a puppy, leaning against me. sitting up was such effort.

Socrates as a puppy, leaning against me. sitting up was such effort.

I tried to inspire, cajole, even pull the dog, to no avail. The best I could do was push the sled down the hill and Socrates would leap aboard when the sled passed him. My sister would squeal with delight and the dog would smile in that deeply philosophical way of his.

Maybe, maybe he wasn't such a fool after all. Maybe he had that all planned out, to spend the afternoon getting sled rides down the hill. Come to think of it, when I finally put everything away and dragged my exhausted self into the house, Socrates was lying by the wood stove.

Well, at least I got a good midwinter workout out of the deal.

We fell for it!

Raising Rabbits for Fun and Profit, the booklet title read. My brother and I fell hard for that one. We read the book. We did the math. We got excited. We managed to negotiate a trade of I-don't-remember-what to get a rabbit hutch with eight or so compartments and a white rabbit in each. We must have talked our parents into footing the bill for the feed. And just like that, we were in business!

Multiplying rabbits turned out to be really easy. All the math and care instructed in the book was really unnecessary. We just dropped the buck into a female's cage for a five minute visit and in a few weeks, we were rich in baby rabbits.

I know you get the biology part, it's the profit part that you want to know about. Well, it so happens, we want to know about that part too.

Our expectations of prosperity did not exactly go as planned. It turned out finding a market for a gazillion rabbits in rural northern Minnesota in the 1970's was, let's just say, challenging. It was farm and hunting country, for crying out loud. There were wild rabbits in abundance everywhere. And everyone we knew lived on a farm … where they raised their own livestock, including rabbits if they so desired. Okay, it was not challenging, it was ludicrous.

In a few short months we had more rabbits than we could imagine how to get rid of. Our dream of affluence had become our bane. So, we made the only wise move left to us. We released the rabbits.

I wish I could say that was the end of the fiasco, but it was actually just the beginning. Rabbits have two annoying hobbies. You already know about the multiplying one. The other is, they burrow into anything soft. Not that anything soft in Minnesota was important, like insulation.

At this point I just heave a deep sigh as I recall the relentless rabbit “witch hunts” we conducted. If only we had eaten those first eight rabbits, I might still enjoy a meal of rabbit now.

The last vestige of the rabbit plague was routed on Christmas day. The well house was their final stronghold. And yes, it froze up and we lost water.

I'm not sure it's fair to blame the well house fire on the rabbits, since technically they were gone. We were just thawing the pipes out with what we called a torpedo heater. It was a long day by the time we got the well house rebuilt.

Every once in a while someone will offer me free rabbits. I just smile and walk away.