Saturday, July 12, 2014

Waterdogs


Our waterdogs were MUCH more stocky than this fellow, more like a coastal giant salamander but they weren't spotted. For all we know, they could've been a new species. —Wiki

When I was a kid, there were giant (Pacific Coast) salamanders that lived in a creek that ran down from the slopes of Mt. Barnabe, behind the Stone's house.

Three salamanders were dressed in different shades of liver, brown and russet. And they were built like small stocky bulldogs—about a foot long. They looked much bigger to us then, and of course we thought they were Loch Ness monsters, or Sumo wrestlers. We made our first unoriginal metaphor: we called them moving poops. Unfortunately Stephanie's little brother probably killed them. You know how it is with little boys and rocks and slow moving targets.

I still feel bad when I think of those salamanders. Even then, we knew it was wrong to lob rocks at them. We were probably 7 or 8 years old. We had no idea that they were rare prehistoric creatures. When teacher said that dinosaurs were extinct, we knew better, they were alive and well and living in the gorge at the foot of the mountain.

Apparently the giant salamanders can bark too. Hence the name: water dogs. It was probably their barking that attracted our attention. Because they were so far outside our experience of the known world, not like the regular salamanders—petite, delicate creatures that came out after a heavy rain, and they barked, I was shaken.

The terror of unknown was suddenly real. We hiked up the gorge many times looking for those strange monster waterdogs, but we never saw them again. They reappeared in dreams, barking, as if beckoning me towards the unknown. Or alerting me to danger.

I chalked the memory up to a collective bout of wild unreined childhood imagination, until Trane DeVore posted a photograph of a giant Japanese salamander, and at that moment I realized that my childhood monsters were indeed real, and they were barking like wild dogs.

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