A number of years ago, I lived in a semi-rural area with narrow, winding roads lined with acres of fields as far as the eye could see. In those days, my schedule permitted me to ride midday when most people were at work or school, leaving the roads virtually deserted.
In this environment, I would fall into steady rhythmical pedaling and ride half in a dream and half alert for any sign of danger. In my reverie, I could be startled by a car sneaking up on me from nowhere. Sounds drifted off and got lost in unhindered air over the building-less expanses surrounding the road. Not until the car was nearly on top of me did I hear the din of its engine followed by a radio blasting loudly in a feeble attempt to fill the emptiness.
Several miles from my home, which was located in the more suburban part of the town, there was a large farm, complete with animals. Unlike some of the other farms in the area, this one didn’t focus solely on growing crops, it bred livestock, and produced meats and dairy products on a small scale.
As I passed the cows — who always stood in an abstract pattern encircled by a fenced in field containing high grass — rocking and mooing in an improvised chorus of cacophony, I thought about their fate. Some of them would produce milk and others would be slaughtered. They seemed so stupid due to their lumbering gait and deep, guttural communications, but I had been assured by an experienced farmhand that they were intelligent — just not as smart as pigs.
Remembering his words brought back the scent of a pig farm. Pigs stank. Unlike cows, whose waste could only be smelled in the fields, the pigs’ foul aroma filled one’s nose, eliciting a profound queasiness in the gut upon nearing their quarters. Their scent was carried for miles on winds that blew over the corn stalks swaying in the fields.
They were bound to end their days on a dinner table, yet they looked content waddling through dirt which rose up in thick clouds under their pointed feet and clung to their short hair. Could their indifference have come from living in the moment, I wondered.
Only the horses seemed noble and free from the obsequiousness engaged in by the other farm animals. They grazed gracefully in green pastures, their heads bent low below arched, muscular necks as their tails swished back and forth, swatting flying insects who wanted to land on their hindquarters.
A deep brown horse always approached a fence bordering the road when I rode by on my bike. I had begun to wonder whether he recognized me. He would hang his head over the fence and stare in my direction, his big black eyes encased in long lashes, and follow the movement of my bike until I was out of site. I never failed to greet him by the name of ‘curious horse,’ which I thought suited him well.
Riding along this road was always peaceful until I reached a certain point. Beyond the animal farm stood a house with a small garden alongside it. I never saw anyone outside of this house. The door was always closed and the window blinds drawn all the way down, blocking out daylight and creating what I imagined was a perpetual artificial night.
Every time I passed that house, the same thing happened. I would reach the edge of the house when, out of nowhere, a loud barking would commence. It was a vicious bark, a territorial howling signifying that this jurisdiction’s self-proclaimed sole inhabitant had worked himself into a fury over the arrival of an intruder.
My heart would begin to pound as I realized that the contest was on. In anticipation of a battle, I placed my hands on the drops and crouched low as I dug in with my right leg, the stronger leg, first. With taut muscles, I pulled up on the handlebars as I pressed my weight into the pedals to begin my escape.
The barking grew louder and closer. Soon, I knew, the sound of multiple feet pounding on the ground would arise directly behind my saddle. Sure enough, the familiar pattering of padded paws approached, accompanied by a loud growl.
Before long, the barks became interspersed with the growls until the latter replaced the animal’s broader repertoire. As he reached my rear wheel, he let out a harsh bark and I could hear him exerting himself in an attempt to catch me.
Despite my best efforts, he was gaining ground. I could feel his body running alongside my bike. His nozzle was reaching for my right foot as he widened his jaws in preparation for chewing a chunk of my ankle. I felt the sharpness of his teeth as they grazed the bony protrusion above my shoe. Somehow, he managed to avoid getting hit in the face as my pedal rotated backwards towards his head.
The dog was close enough to lunge at my bike. More than once he had tried to attack my bike, nearly knocking me to the ground. Watching for potholes and obstacles in the road was difficult with this animal nipping at my heels.
Half a mile would elapse with him still in hot pursuit. I wished I’d had pepper spray or some other deterrent to stop him in his tracks, but I had little in the way of a weapon. Luckily, this happened in the days before miniaturization, so I had a full-size frame pump attached to my bike.
This pump was the type that fit snugly in the frame with integrated parts holding it in place; almost by magic, it sat along the seat tube wedged between the junctions of the down tube and the top tube. With my left hand I steadied the handlebars while with my right hand I pushed down on the top of the pump to release it from the frame.
As I took this action, the growling intensified as if the dog knew to rev up his aggression a notch to prepare for combat with a mortal enemy. Just then, I felt drooling on my foot as the dog’s mouth rested close to my leg. I wound up my arm, and with an arching motion, swung downward in the direction of the infuriated beast.
I thrashed the pump wildly, not to harm the dog — as I understood its natural tendencies — but out of self-preservation and a desire to be left intact. Out of dozens, a single blow caught the dog on the side of his body. The force of the contact wasn’t sufficient to disarm him, but he was unnerved enough to re-estimate his enemy’s potential.
Free from the hindrance of his jowls, I cranked up my pedaling a notch to flee from the dog’s territory; for an invisible point, I sensed, existed where he would fall back, content to have defended his turf. My heart rate would return to normal, and I would resume my enjoyment of the bucolic scenery as I rode off into the distance, unscathed.