Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Devil Seed

miles and miles of espigas

Nature is cruel. Beautiful as the world might be, it is fraught with bad design. Factor in "the Law of Unintended Outcomes," and your best dog ends up with Devil Seeds lodged in his joints.

Yes, Tim had his right rear paw opened up yesterday at the university veterinary hospital in Leon. (they soon will name a building after us, we´ve endowed them so generously.) He is now at home, recovering slowly and grumpily (crankily? crabbily?) (enough parentheticals already!)

His journey began back in July, after the oats and rye were cut.
When oats and rye are cut, the seed-heads fly, along with several tons of dust, up into the sky and back to earth, where the wind drifts them along the fields and roads like dry, golden snowflakes.

These grains being seeds, they do what they can to travel far, so they can populate new fields and make more rye and oats. They are engineered for hitch-hiking, their husks studded with needle-sharp tips and pointy, backward-facing barbs. They are tiny fish-hooks. They are Devil Seeds. They get into the laces of your boots and they itch like crazy til you pick them out, one by one, from where they´ve worked themselves into the fiber of your shoe-collar or sock or pants-cuff.

Rye espiga, up close. Yow.

Unless you are a dog. In which case, the Devil Seeds will lodge in the spaces between your toes and foot-pads. And if you are a Brittany dog like Tim, your toes and pant-legs have decorative tufts growing on them, beautiful sweeping soft fur that rye seeds find irresistible. Every year we pull espigas from our dogs´ ears and from between their toes. When Bella showed up in July, we thought she was blind in one eye. She would have been soon, but just in time the veterinarian pulled two devil seeds out of her cornea.

Tim, being a fastidious and dignified dog, fusses over his tufts as a matter of course. We did the usual espiga-checks, but didn´t worry too much about him til his toes swelled up. We clipped the tufts, put some Betadine on the swellings, and eventually took him to the vet when things did not improve.

Three times we took him, and each time was more horrific. The vet made an opening between Tim´s toes and went in after the espiga with a medieval-looking tool. He took out some bits. He made Tim scream. He worked with no anesthesia, and we were expected to hold down the dog while he worked.

Tim was not the only creature in need of anesthesia. 

I interrupt this blog for a moment of Divine Providence: Last week some Dutch pilgrims discovered the peanut butter stash and wiped out our last scrap. I asked Santi to send some more, so I won´t have to go back to America while an election is on. And just now, an hospitalero from California on his way to serve two weeks at Foncebadon stopped here for a coffee. He brought along what? Jif Extra Crunchy. He gave me an entire jar. There is a God, and He brings His beloved peanut butter.

Back to dog feet. Despite the vet´s enthusiastic work, the rogue espiga traveled around Tim´s foot-bones and ulcerated itself behind his ankle. His leg swelled up like a balloon. Poor Tim still did not limp, but his energy level dipped. He took to lying beneath the apple tree out back, where everyone but Momo left him in peace. The infection was confined to his foot, but he was clearly unwell.

The veterinarian went on holiday. The university veterinary hospital in Leon went on holiday. There was nothing to do but feed the dog more antibiotics, and wait. So I went on holiday too -- to my annual five-day sand-and-surf break in the Portuguese Algarve. (That´s when the marauders got the peanut butter.)

When all of us got home, Tim was taken off to Leon for contrast X-rays. The espiga showed up right away, just above the open wound behind his ankle -- it was heading north. The doctor took it out, bound shut the incision, jacked him full of pain-killers and sent him home. Today Tim takes his ease in his bed. He snores. We are confident this is the end of his espiga odyssey. Please, God.

Tim in his favorite place in the world

It makes me wonder, though, about design. These seeds are so good at boring into live creatures, evidently an ability developed over millions of years of survival. How does that serve the plant? It´s not like it can sprout inside a dog´s ham, or between its toes, or in the tops of my socks. (althought it is kinda fun to envision Tim with tall stalks of rye growing from his folds, I do not think he would enjoy  that so much.) Does an espiga in a field of dirt bore into the soil the same way it bores into muscle and skin?

And just why do Brittany dogs, bred for hunting and running in fields, have toes and ears so susceptible to this ever-present threat? Whose idea were those fancy toe-tufts and curly fringes?  Our other dogs, with their short coats and bare toes, only rarely pick up Devil Seeds, and they are easily seen and dealt-with. 

I would continue to conjecture, but that might be boring. And it is time for lunch. Paddy made vichysoisse. It will go perfectly with peanut butter crackers. 


Anonymous said...

dang that devil seed....glad Tim is feeling better....I'll have to come see for myself!, love, k

Timecheck said...

Evolution can be bizarre, caring little about stabbing me through my sneakers or poor Tim in the toe, just striving for those fields of golden grain. Our cats are long gone, but we had those little burrs that would tangle so firmly in the cat's fur that scissors were the only remedy. At least they were barbed on all sides so didn't burrow.

Anonymous said...

A lovely comment on the small things that matter in our daily lives, and an antidote for me to all the nastiness in our news these days. Take your pick.

On why such seeds should lodge in areas unhelpful to the seeds - it's nature's profligacy, like the fish eggs laid in millions yet where only thousands survive. Or the multiple broods of birds which delight us in a good summer, only for 90% not to make it through to next year. But the species survives. Seeds which are so well fitted to hook on a passing mammal's hair will also stick to areas where reproduction/distribution is not going to happen.

Keep on observing the little things - it's important.

claire said...

Glad Tim is feeling better, delighted you got peanut butter, so happy to read your post.
Thank you for Good News :-)