By Al Gray
Red and Georgette were the plug-eared rabbit’s nemeses out on Owens Road in Evans. It was an age in which there was no Rhineharts on one end of the road and an Academy Sports on the other. Only 5 years separated those days from the time Owens road was dirt. Beyond the by-then-abandoned old Owens Place, the families along that stretch were folks named Strickland, Fleming, Thompson, and Cone. The term “Brandon Wild(e)” might have been figured as some punk rich kid from the Augusta hill throwing a drunken party brawl at the American Legion lodge over by Reed Creek. There were plenty of those.
Sometime in mid-1968 a red and white rag top Ford Bronco pulled down the drive to a new home for the beagles and their aging mentor, Penny. One can sense the wonderment of those three, because the trip was not in hunting season and the beagles never went hunting with Penny, as much as she might have fancied herself a rabbit huntress. Moist noses would have been held high, trying to get a olfactory clue of where they were. Maybe they detected fresh asphalt, a smell alien to their former abode down on Stevens Creek Road. Perhaps it was the fragrance from all of the broomstraw and blackberry vines across the road. Whatever it was, it spoke of a new life in a new place.
As happy-go-lucky and adventuresome as beagles are, Red and Georgette were soon poking noses in brush piles, trying to roust out a cottontail for a chase. Old Penny was another case. Penny was a lemon and white English pointer who had roamed free alongside her siblings for nearly a decade. The move was traumatic. Penny slept every night for two months under her reliable companion, the Bronco. It was her security blanket – one supposes she figured that when that wagon left, she was going with it.
Eventually she decided to get as close to the family as possible which meant a position in the garage near the kitchen door. That garage opened to the rear of the house onto a large parking area which also served as the neighborhood basketball court. Alongside the home were the obligatory shrubs of hated holly (trimming was torture), pittosporum, ligustrum, sasanqua, azalea, gardenia, and boxwood. In places they were several tiers deep. Snakes, lizards, and birds loved the habitat.
The first time the plug eared rabbit was seen he was tipping around a pile of freshly-cut saplings from clearing the yard. Later it would be found that the brush pile was one of his hide-outs. Curiously, that particular brush pile was closest to the dog pens. It was almost like Plug Ear had his very own sense of daring. Most of the time the beagles ran free, but that rabbit did not know when those times were.
There is no substitute for experience and those beagles got plenty of it chasing Plug Ear and his relatives. The next winter Red and Georgette would team up with Jinks and Blue for some sizzling races down below Girard, Georgia. Practice on their home boy rabbit might not have made perfect, but it made for very fast beagles. The poor rabbits down there in Burke County paid dearly for trying to escape over some hill. Unlike Plug Ear back home, they didn’t have ponds to swim or culverts to run into when the chase found the bugling beagle foursome nipping at their heels. The teamwork between the hounds in pursuit of an open field quarry was stunning in speed and effectiveness.
At heart, old Penny was a rabbit dog, too. Our family of quail hunters had to be greatly disciplined with her rabbit pointing. One could tell when it was a rabbit that she had pointed, for her tail would have a pronounced crook in it. If it was really, really twisted, that meant “snake,” not “rabbit.” One didn’t dare reward Penny by shooting a rabbit she had pointed, especially early in the day, for if you did, she would spend most of the day pointing rabbits instead of quail.
Back home, Plug Ear was getting more inventive with his escapes. Red and Georgette had started strategies to cut off his pond swims, runs on smelly asphalt to hide his scent and bolts through Mr. Cartledge’s hog wire fencing. He came to run up to the house, slip and weave among the shrubs, and hug the foundation. He got by with that one day.
The next day he didn’t.
The hounds struck Plug’s trail down where he got a sip of water coming out of the Cartledges’ pond overflow. He shook them for a moment at the fence, allowing time to scoot into our pond’s far side. From there he jumped in, swam to the dam, crossed over, and ran a flanking trail down the cane break. Plug doubled back on his trail and leaped over the creek. After crossing the dam again on the near side, he made a run up to the house and tipped along the base of the wall. Then he stopped in an opening to listen for Red and Georgette.
It was in front of the garage.
A lemon and white energized bundle named Penny lunged at Plug Ear from his blind side, but the combination of pointer toenails on asphalt and one intact bunny ear provided salvation. The gaping maw of Penny’s mouth snapped at Plug’s head, but caught his fleeing tail instead.
It was a shame that Red and Georgette were still down by the pond when Penny made her charging lunge. They would have screamed approval. Plug Ear survived. If he were seen after that day, one would have branded such a species as a Plug Earred Nothingtail.
There is a human moral to this tail.
Sitting on your haunches gloating is not Penny wise.