But poor old Tracker got hit by a car. I heard him hollering down at the highway, which was way off from the house. I went down there and picked him up and brought him home.

Tracker immediately crawled under the porch, which is the universal domain of dog health and recovery. Maybe they could do a study on sticking sick folks under porches. Maybe what sick folks need are a few fleas to suck the whambeezle juice out of them.

If nothing else, it would cut down on the high-toned doctors who come around getting their Medicare and Insurance chits cashed in, because no high-toned man or woman in the world would crawl under the porch to see somebody, and the only people who would crawl under there would be real doctors.

And there would have to be something about the sheer energy involved in crawling under the porch, and I don't mean that crawling under a porch is necessarily a hard thing – it's not – watch any dog and you'll see -- but there would be an energy released by the act of the Doc crawling on his belly in his little white getup with his body sticking halfway out in the flowerbed, dragging his little kit with whatever they have in there in there, flipping up his little whatchamacallit and holding a flea-bitten person's hand and asking: "How are you feeling up under here?"

Now of course a high-toned woman would say: "I beg your pahdon, suh, under where do you mean?"

But how many high-toned women would be laying up under the porch getting flea-bit? Not very dang many, I bet, and not for long, anyway, even if it did cure cancer. People would tend to get well pretty fast, I would bet.

So a poor little old regular person would be laying up there, having given up scratching the fleas because they had achieved the state of mind a dog achieves when he's been hit by a car and just lays up under the porch without moving for several days. And that certainly must be some sort of elevated state of consciousness, which of course the thinking and reasoning man will say is pure malarkey, but I say: Have you ever watched a dog lay up under a porch for a few days after being hit by a car?

I don't mean to ask if you've just sat there and watched him, because if you had done that you'd be dead now from pure boredom and wouldn't be reading this.

But what I mean is have you ever watched how they will handle their own business, and no, I don't mean the business of licking themselves in the places dogs lick themselves, which they always manage to do when the preacher comes by to invite you to church. And of course that has nothing to do with the dang preacher but simply what a dog will do when he has nothing else to do, which is most of the time because dogs don't do much, really.

But a dog will lay-up, and look pitiful, and every once in a while he'll just sort of breathe out in a "oh, this hurts so bad" sort of way, and they breathe that way even when they're not hurt so I believe this method of breathing has nothing to do with pain but rather is the dog's way of chanting "om" or something.

But old Tracker crawled up under the house and laid up. And I crawled up under there, and he wouldn't even look at me, which was a fine how-do-you-do considering I was on my belly with my legs hanging out in the place where a flower bed would have been if I'd-a had one, but I didn't because I was 18 years old and stoned as a bat most of the time and besides that, the land I lived on was covered with these big round rocks.

The place was known as Rock Hill. There used to be a grocery store on the corner of the property. I know it was called Rock Hill because the old man I rented from had the grocery store sign leaning against a tree down by the drainage ditches where the black folks dumped the entire contents of my house back when the old man who once lived there died.

And one time it snowed pretty good, which in Lizella, Georgia, was not only a treat but just dang shy of a miracle. If some gal had gone walking into town that day they would have thought she was an angel appearing out of some sort of divinely inspired dream.

Of course all the gals were stuck at home because there was enough snow to where people couldn't get out of their driveways.

But the boys from over in Macon found a way to get out there. They were teenagers and didn't have enough sense to know they couldn't drive in the snow. They just figured they'd get stoned and drive on out. And they did. They had the whole highway to themselves.

And we took that Rock Hill Grocery sign and hauled it around to the front of the house. That sign was a big piece of sheet metal. I guess it was probably 4 feet by 8 feet, like a sheet of plywood, so it was heavy as rip and cumbersome as could be, particularly for four stoned teenagers.

But we weren't lifting a heavy, cumbersome thing.

We were lifting an idea.

And the idea was that we'd take this sign, bend up the front one foot of it just fine – and we had a little debate about which end looked like it ought to be the front, which sounds ridiculous now because the sign part was facing down into the snow and so what we were looking at was just a danged old piece of gray metal laying there. But we noticed that one end was already sort of bent a little, and after trying it we found that any sort of bend was a good one and so we took advantage of that bend and raised the front one foot of that piece of metal along the four foot way, and bingo: we now had a big sled.

So carrying that big heavy, cumbersome thing was not hard at all. We weren't carrying a piece of sheet metal. We were carrying a great idea, and if the idea worked then we were going to have a mighty big time because right in front of the house was this big hill, and as luck would have it, it was going down, and I mean it went way down.

Now this hill was covered in tennis ball size round rocks and piles of cowpoop, but over all that, for the time being anyway, was a nice thick covering of snow.

And so we drug that metal to the end of the yard, and slid it under the barbed wire fence. And then we eased her – and I say her because this thing was as much a ship as I'd ever seen – out onto the beginning of this hill. Now you have to realize that this snow had a little ice in it.

The part of the hill we were on was curved and sloped and had little gullies in it, which were not really visible since the snow was sort of piled up there. And so we drug the metal out there, and it was just like we were walking it out into the sea almost, though I think our anticipation level was much higher. If that had been the sea, particularly if it had been sloped like that hill was, I wouldn't have gone out into it. But this was just a pasture hill that I walked in all the time and there wasn't nothing out there but round rocks and cowpoop and I knew it, so we finally got the stupid piece of metal situated without busting too much of our butts and without letting go of the stupid thing, which almost happened once but we quickly realized that the piece of metal just naturally wanted to go down that hill, gravity being what it is and all, and apparently pieces of metal just naturally love to slide on the snow.

And then, we stopped and rested.

And we were all squatted there grinning, looking at our piece of metal and holding on to a bit of it, our ship for sailing snow, our cruiser, our Cadillac, where the only thing missing was Santa and a bunch of presents or even better one of the many gals that was holed up in the community, stuck in their parents' house and not able to get out of the driveway because of the snow and even if they could their parents wouldn't let them because on the face of it they were afraid their daughter would get hurt driving, which is fairly ridiculous since they wouldn't have drove fast enough to get hurt though they would have probably run the car off in the ditch and Daddy would have had to get the tractor and chain out and go get her. But what I know nowadays is that Mama and Daddy knew she would go see those boys she knew who played in that rock band over on Rock Hill, and both Mama and Dad were thinking of what they would have done at that age and probably did do when it snowed for the first time in that period of their life and they were together without adult supervision.

And so we stood there grinning, looking at the metal and each other and finally realizing how steep this hill is and how far down it goes. And then Billy, the smart boy of the bunch says: "Sure is gonna be a long way to haul it back up."

And Bobby, who's dead now, said: "Oh, you can handle it." And that was Bobby's way because he wasn't much on helping haul metal uphill, if you know what I mean.

The trick was how to get it started.

That seems ridiculous when you think of it, because we were on the part of the slope where we could hardly stand up it was so steep, and the tin was pitching and bucking like it was some squashed-out flat kind of horse that just wanted to run away from us.

And so Billy, the smart one, says: "All we got to do is sit on it and she'll take off with us on top of it."

So we all sat down, except the last person (whose name I can't remember) held on to the pitching and bucking squashed-out flat horse while everyone else got on.

And we were laughing and nervous, and the person holding on was having a hard time of it because the metal was heavy to begin with and then three growing boys got added to it, and Tracker was running around the metal as best he could in the snow, barking and wondering what the rip was going on.

So we put Tracker on there with us. He was one of us, after all, and he knew all the songs we knew, and besides that, his barking was breaking up that amazing silence that covers the world when a good snow has fallen and none of us had ever heard that silence but maybe twice in our whole life and never while we were stoned, so the silence was even louder, which makes sense if you're stoned. So I called Tracker over and he hopped right on and put his head in my lap.

So we were all set and ready to go, and all we lacked was for the last person to figure out how to get on without letting go of the thing and having it slide out from under him.

So the three of us sort of pitched our hands down into the snow. I'm sure most of us, me, at least, plunged their hands directly into a pile of cold cowpoop – which in a case like this is better than a pile of warm cowpoop – but I didn't care because I had already learned to wear gloves in questionable situations and this was a questionable situation if I ever saw one and that was before the cowpoop came into the picture.

So we plunged our hands down through the blanket of snow, through the cold and almost frozen cowpoop, and tried to figure a way to pitch our fingers into the ground to hold on or at least brace the thing for a moment so the last guy could get on. Somebody said: "Let's count and you jump." So we plunged our hands and counted one, two, three, FOUR, and the last guy jumped on and we let our hands up at the same time, and that big old piece of metal squatted down in the snow and sat as still as the sound of the world.

That boy's weight was the critical mass, you might say, which is weird to think about now, because we were all skinny as a rail back then.

And there was a moment there, right after the last guy jumped on, where we all stared into space, because we were waiting for the great whoosh of downward movement.

Then there was another moment right after that where we were all sort of embarrassed and looking around to see if anyone was watching us.

Then there was the third and final silent moment where we were casting our eyes towards each other and all of us noticed Tracker sitting there looking at each one of us in turn, because the counting had startled his head off my lap, and Tracker had that look that a dog will get that just plainly says: "What the hell are y'all doing, exactly?"

And all of us were sort of jiggling our butts forward, trying to get that metal to take off, like a person who stomps the gas pedal when they're trying to crank a car that's out of gas.

After the third and final moment of silence and the little butt-jiggling attempt, we finally all caught each other's eye at the same time, and we exploded in laughter the way people will do when they're stoned. This outburst scared Tracker and he leaped from where he sat and out into the snow and he began barking again.

So we just sat there for a little while because we were laughing too hard to move, and then we sat still because we were tired out from laughing deep down in our gut.

And Billy, the smart one of the group, said: "Well, I guess that didn't work."

And he was very serious, of course, because Billy was a thinker and an analyzer of data, so to speak.

But he said that, and we gave him about a split second to follow it up with some bright idea, but he didn't, because he was just making the initial observation a stoned person will make.

And we all busted out laughing, Billy included, because there we were, after having worked on hauling this tin for a half hour and worrying about busting our butt on the side of the hill, and Billy states the obvious, which is sometimes the funniest thing a man can say.

After the laughter calmed down, somebody said, real serious-like: "Nope, Billy, it doesn't look like it did." And we all busted out laughing again.

Well, these were good moments and all that, but the whole point of the thing is that we drug this big-you-know-what piece of tin up the hill and across the pasture and through the pines and under two fences so we could slide down the hill, not so we could sit out there and laugh like a bunch of nincompoops shouting at a sideways tent revival.

So we crawled off the piece of metal.

And then we sort of squatted down beside it, pondering our great dilemma.

We all thought the other was holding it, and little by little we sort of let it go. We were able to grab it quick, but the great truth hit us: all we had to do was run, sort of bent over double-like, push like the dickens and then jump on.

Now to all the snow-experienced in the world this will sound silly in its obviousness, but one must remember that we had zero experience in propelling ourselves through the snow. The last time it had snowed we were all so young we were just happy to be alive and besides that, it was mostly flat in the places where we lived. But this was later on and we were grown, sort of, and this was Rock Hill and we were stoned as a bat. So it took us a minute.

But the minute was over quickly, and we leaped up as the unit that we were and ran bent over double-like, which has got to be a comical thing to see, and we ran and pushed and hauled and Tracker was barking and trying to get on because he was a smart dog in his way and part of the gang and all and he had figured this drill out after having watched our miserable failure to begin with.

And we ran and pushed for about twenty feet, and somebody hollered something and all of us dove onto this big piece of metal, which really meant we all dove for the center of it and this meant we all hit each other square on but it didn't matter because now we were immediately flying. I think it mattered just a bit to Tracker because he followed us in the dive, and he got sort of squished but someone grabbed him by the flappy part of his neck and we all squirmed around and found a place and by the time we looked up we were going down this hill very, very fast.

And I truthfully think that if we could have stopped everything right then and taken a poll, all of us would have agreed it was too fast. I know for a fact Tracker would have just soon been watching from a stationary position.

But you just don't stop a big-ass piece of metal from going down an icy snow-covered hill once it gets going, so we held on and hollered and held on and flew down that hill just like we were experts at the thing.

Gravity has its advantages.

It was one of those times when everything is going in slow motion while it's happening, like the way it happens when you go into a spin during a car wreck.

About halfway down the hill, which means we were moving at a good clip, we hit a sort of raised up part that was really a little bitty cliff. We all knew that place was there but I think we all were operating under the mistaken illusion that we would be able to steer this stupid thing somehow. I know that sounds dumb, but we were stoned and that's just how folks think when they're stoned.

And we went off that little rise and up through the air and it was great fun until a second or two later when that big piece of metal with six hundred pounds of young men and dog came flopping down on the cold hard ground and rock and cowpoop. It dang near knocked the wind out of all of us, but not quite, which was good because the hill veered off there and got even steeper and the rest of the way down that hill was as much fun as I've ever had in my life. It was long enough for each of us to look at each other in that way you look at someone when the world is perfect and a goal is reached and you all know you have defied gravity together.

The funniest part was when we finally hit the bottom where it leveled out, and it sort of clunked to a stop. Old Tracker went rolling across the snow like a cattywhompus basketball dumped out of a basket. We laid in the snow and laughed hysterically for a long time. Then we had to drag that dang big-ass piece of metal back up the hill.

Then we did it again and again and again all afternoon long. And Tracker rode with us every single time.

Now all this happened before Tracker got hit by the car.

When he got hit by the car, he laid up under the porch without moving for about three days. Then he finally crawled to the edge and ate a bit and crawled back under the porch. And I ground up brewer's yeast and zinc and vitamin C, and put it on his dog food. And he got well in about two shakes after I did that. A week later you'd never know he had been hit by a car going 70 miles an hour.

And another year went by and one year later, almost to the day, I guess Tracker had to go down and celebrate his survival of the highway.

Tracker and I were sitting on the porch. And all of a sudden Tracker jumped up and bounded off the porch and over the bushes, and I watched Tracker jump all of a sudden off the porch and run across the yard and under the fence and down the hill like he heard some sort of cosmic dog whistle.

And Tracker ran down the hill and past the old well house in the bottom where our big-ass piece of tin ended up every time, and he shinnied under the fence the way dogs will do, and he bounded up the embankment.

Out of the corner of my eye I could see a maroon Monte Carlo heading west, and I sat forward in my chair and then stood up, because I had a bad feeling about this whole business all a sudden.

And Tracker bounded up that embankment as fast as he could go, and the Monte Carlo headed west about 70 miles per hour, and I'll be danged if I didn't stand right there and watch Tracker, the great old singing dog who was smart in his way but dumb in others, I watched Tracker run full throttle right into the right front fender of that Monte Carlo. The Monte Carlo's horn honked and he sort of swerved but he even never slowed down. And Tracker tumbled down U.S. 80 like he was falling off the big-ass piece of tin.

I hauled butt down there in the truck, crying my eyes out and running the stop sign coming off my dirt road and almost getting hit by a woman from Crawford County.

And getting out of the truck was another one of those slow motion things like the sled ride and the car wreck, because I was approaching my best friend in the whole wide world laying there with his head cut dang near all the way off by the sheet metal of the Monte Carlo fender.

He looked at me one more time with that "what the hell?" look, and then he died with his head in my lap.

I buried him out back in the garden.


David Clark's website is www.outofthe sky.com

©Copyright 2004 David Ray Skinner/SouthernReader. All rights reserved.