In Gertie’s opinion, there is little in life more enjoyable than swimming in an Ozarks stream or lake on a hot summer day.
So swimming in four streams in two days?
“That’s what I’m talking about,” Gertie said.
A couple of weeks ago, the well-traveled Pembroke Welsh Corgi – a.k.a. the Permapup – got to do just that. It started when she and her buddy Scotty (the Scottie) took a Saturday afternoon outing to the Big Piney River and Paddy Creek in north-central Texas County. Providing the availability of opposable thumbs for the day were me and my friend, Steve.
Our first watery stop was on Mark Twain National Forest land near the U.S. Forest Service’s Slabtown Access on the Big Piney.
Things got interesting as soon as we arrived, as our presence startled a large spiny softshell turtle that had apparently been sunning itself on the rocky shoreline. Looking somewhat like a Frisbee with legs and flat head attached to a long neck, the oddly shaped reptile ran quickly toward the river and disappeared into the water.
“For cryin’ in the mud, what the heck was that thing?” Gertie said.
“Just another cool example of all the wildlife that can found in these parts,” I said.
“Cool? I don’t know,” Gertie said. “I think stuff that’s alive should be more three-dimensional. That contraption looked more like it should be used to cook pizza or serve appetizers.”
Odd life forms notwithstanding, Gertie and Scotty both walked straight into the clear, slow moving water without the slightest hesitation. They cruised back and forth about six feet from shore, Gertie floating like a surfaced submarine, with much of her body above the water and her tail positioned like a periscope, with the tip pointing toward the bow of the SS Permapup.
Scottish terriers are not known for being swimmers, but Scotty loves getting into the water even though little more than his head stays above the surface.
“Slabtown, eh?,” Gertie said. “Too bad it’s not Crabtown, because I can eat crab 24/7, 365. But I’m glad it’s not Stabtown, because I don’t care for large knives or sharp objects.”
“Um, right,” I said. “Interesting observations and both hard to argue with.”
Our next stop took us a few miles further into the forest to the Paddy Creek Campground adjacent to the Paddy Creek Wilderness. The two dogs were happy to take a nice, cool dip in Big Paddy Creek.
The 7,035-acre tract was named after Sylvester Paddy, who began the first logging operation in the area in the early 1800s, and became federally designated wilderness in 1983.
“They would float logs all the way to St. Louis,” Gertie said. “There must have been a lot more water in the Big Piney back then.”
“No doubt,” I said. “You’ve seen for yourself that when we’ve gone paddling in the Big Piney, you can’t always float a kayak the whole way, let alone a bunch of huge pine logs tied together.”
“I wonder if Mr. Paddy liked paddling,” Gertie said. “If he did, he would have been Paddlin’ Paddy. And hey, if he paddled the Big Piney, it would have been Paddlin’ Paddy paddles the Piney.”
“No Corgi has a way with words quite like you, girl,” I said.
“Just sayin’,” Gertie said.
On the way out, we noticed the road sign said “Patty Creek Road.” Gertie wasn’t impressed.
“Were they referring to Mr. Paddy, or his girlfriend?” she said.
“I’d say that was just an honest mistake by whoever makes those signs,” I said.
“Maybe,” Gertie said, “but I’ll bet old Sly rolled over in his grave when they put that up. You know, nobody ever really does that; if they did, that would make them alive, right? That’s creepy.”
“I think it’s simply a figure of speech to illustrate something being a bit off center,” I said.
“A figure of speech,” Gertie said. “That figures.”
The next day, me, my wife Wendy, and four friends (two from Georgia) packed up a picnic and the dogs and headed for Big Spring, near Van Buren in Carter County. I hadn’t been there in many years, and seeing it was a stark reminder of just how big it is. Basically, a large river just explodes out of a cliff.
“You know, Big Spring is aptly named,” Gertie said, “because it’s the largest spring in the Ozarks, and one of the three biggest in the U.S., along with Silver Spring in Florida and the Snake River Spring Complex in Idaho.”
“As usual, I’m impressed with the breadth of your knowledge of, well, everything,” I said.
But Big Spring is definitely big. Its average daily flow is an almost unbelievable of 286 million gallons, and the water that feeds it comes from as far as 45 miles away.
“I gonna need a bigger water bowl,” Gertie said.
That water maintains a temperature of 58 degrees year round, and is estimated to dissolve and remove 175 tons of limestone during an average day.
“Wow, it probably won’t be long before Missouri washes away,” Gertie said. “Then North America, then the world!”
“How can the entire Earth wash away?” I said.
“I don’t want to know,” Gertie said. “It’s the only planet I have at the moment.”
Big Spring was a state park from 1924 until 1969 when the people of Missouri donated it – along with state parks at Alley Spring and Round Spring – to the National Park Service to become a part of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. The flow from Big Spring enters the Current River less than a mile from the cliff.
Gertie didn’t notice a “no swimming” sign posted near the shore of the branch not far from the picnic table where her six human tour guides were enjoying a meal, and the Countess of Corgis slipped into the teal-tinted water (colored by the limestone content).
“Um, I don’t think you’re supposed to be doing that,” I said. “There’s a sign.”
“Dogs can’t read,” Gertie said, “so it must be OK for me to get in there.”
“Yeah, but dogs’ owners usually can read,” I said, “so maybe the sign isn’t there for dogs.”
“So maybe there should be a sign for dogs,” Gertie said.
“But you just said dogs can’t – oh never mind,” I said.
Scotty passed on the opportunity to swim this time, but it wasn’t long before the canine companions were both wet again. After leaving Big Spring, we stopped for a while at Riverfront Park in Van Buren, which is located on a wide, deep stretch of the Current River next to the U.S. 60 bridge.
The current was pretty strong, and Scotty didn’t stay in the water for long after realizing he couldn’t make much headway against it. Gertie gave it a shot, too, but quickly headed for shore instead of ending up back at Big Spring.
“No wonder it’s called the Current River,” she said. “I was dog paddling as hard as I could and was going the wrong way.”
Before we left, our friend Mike swam all the way across and back, using the swift current to his advantage on the return trip by starting well upstream from where he had started. Gertie took notice since Mike is 70 years old.
“Not bad, gramps” she said. “But can you fetch a tennis ball or chew up a rawhide stick in under two minutes?”
“Whoa there, queenie,” I said. “This isn’t some sort of competition.”
“Just askin’,” Gertie said.
On the road home, both dogs spent plenty of time asleep. But as always, Gertie was ready for more.
“I say we visit the Bigger Piney and Bigger Spring,” she said.
“That’s a fine idea,” I said. “I’ll see what I can arrange.”
Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Gertie is a female Pembroke Welsh Corgi. Email Gertie at email@example.com.