George and I had heard about a covered bridge a long distance away from us, the longest distance we would drive within the state, one that supposedly had a breathtaking view. While the location of nearly every bridge we visited was rural, this one seemed uniquely remote, not close to any town. Naturally, we took the long drive and the obscure location as a challenge and proceeded before daybreak on a Thursday in our continuing quest.
I used a vacation day to go with George and I had worked the previous evening and slept part of the drive, an action I knew might lead to navigation disaster, but when I awoke after a twenty-minute nap, I discovered George had somehow managed to say on the correct route.
“I’ve been flying on autopilot,” he said, chuckling because he knew my concerns about his ability to remain on course.
“Well, I figured I’d have to recalculate our course,” I replied, yawning and stretching. “Especially since it’s still dark.”
“If necessary I can navigate by the stars,” he replied straight-faced, which was an interesting statement considering it was impossible to determine which way was north on our map.
As has been previously related, the maps we had were considerably inaccurate most of the time, and once again, after not finding what should have been apparent, we elected to find the nearest town and ask for directions, hoping we were at least within an hour of the sought-for bridge.
A middle-aged man sat in his front yard in a lawn chair, and a well-mixed dog rested peacefully at his feet, so we elected him to be our direction-giver due to the lack of any other individual within view.
“Morning,” the man greeted us. “You strangers passing through?” The dog remained silent.
“Yeah,” said George, “we’re looking for Darr Creek covered bridge. You know where it is?”
The man spat on the ground near the dog, which did not move.
“You’re in the wrong part of the county, boys,” he said. “That bridge is about twenty miles southwest of here, along county road 575 south. It’ll take some figuring to get you there from here. No easy was to get there. I said twenty miles, but you may have to drive thirty or more to hook up with the right roads.”
We groaned and shook our heads.
“That’s a mighty fine bridge, though,” the man continued. “Why did you want to go there?”
“We take pictures of covered bridges,” I said, “and heard about that bridge. It’s supposed to be really pretty, we heard.”
“That it is. That it is,” the man concurred. “Name’s Dixon. Glad to meet you. Too bad, you shouldn’t go today.”
“What’s the matter?” asked George. “Is is closed off or being repaired? It hasn’t burned down, has it?” he said, recalling our recent outing at Carver’s Mill.
“No, nothing like that. The bridge is fine and still as lovely a place as ever. Just kind of stuck out in the middle of nowhere, though. When they built it, they put a lot of money into it for no reason. Probably aren’t five cars go over it a day. That’s because nobody lives out there, just a half dozen or so families. Really strange they’d build a nice bridge like that for a few people. People always said that the Monroe family paid for it. They’ve lived out there for a hundred and fifty years, and they’re the richest people in the county. Guess they didn’t want to drive their buggies or cars over a rinky-dink little bridge.”
He paused and George looked at the dog.
“Then why shouldn’t we go out there today?” I asked, hoping this time for a direct answer.
“Well, it’s like this,” Dixon continued, as I wondered whether Dixon was his surname or Christian name. “The weather’s not going to cooperate with you today. You’ll be taking pictures from inside your car to stay out of the monsoon.”
George looked at a partly cloudy sky. “It doesn’t look threatening,” he said. “In fact, this type of weather is ideal for picture taking.”
Dixon bent over and scratched the dog’s head. The dog turned inquiring eyes to him but remained in the same position.
“No, it’ll be coming down in buckets before you get there,” he said. “You haven’t got much time before the heavens open up.”
We could not disguise our unbelief. I peered into the sky and shook my head.
“You don’t see anybody outside this morning, do you?” Dixon took it up again. “That’s because they know a big storm’s coming. If I was you, I’d find me a nice place to ride it out. You’re welcome to come inside my house until it’s over if you want. I’ll be going in shortly myself.”
George laughed, but I studied the man.
“The weather service have a bunch of equipment out here?” George asked.
“No,” the man smiled, exposing big teeth. It looked like he may have had 40 or 50 of them in the confines of his mouth. “Got something better. Alfred tells us what kind of weather we’re going to have, and he’s not been wrong in fourteen years.” He bent over again and scratched the dog’s head. “This here’s Alfred.” He snapped his fingers and the dog immediately went into a sitting position.
“That’s pretty good,” I said. “How does he tell the weather?”
Alfred looked at me not unpleasantly, then he looked at the man, barking once.
“There, there, boy. They’re just curious. Guess you’ll have to show them.”
Then looking at us he said, “Alfred and I been telling people the weather, like I said, for a long time. I think he’s been able to do it all his life, but it took me awhile to figure out what he was trying to tell me. Once I ask him to tell me the weather, he sniffs the air, turns his face into the wind, and does some other things. Then he gives me the signs.”
“Signs?” said George. “What do you mean signs?”
“Signs,” replied the man. “Kind of like a baseball coach gives batters or base runners signs. Alfred has signs and that’s how he tells me. For example, after he does his thing, if he lays flat on the ground and puts his front paws over his head, there’s going to be a thunderstorm. If he runs under the front porch and does the same thing, there’s going to be a whole lot of rain and a whole lot of lightning with it. If he just sits there and looks around at things, it’s going to be a nice day to be outdoors. If he curls up around my feet, it’s going to be really cold. If he goes inside the house, snow’s on the way. He can even tell if there’s going to be frost or fog, hail or strong wind.”
George and I made some sounds, attempting to stifle a belly laugh and not insulting the man.
“Don’t you worry about thinking I’m crazy,” said the man. “The people around here they thought so too for a couple months before realizing Alfred’s amazing ability. Now everybody stops by in the morning to find out what the day’s going to be like. You want a demonstration? He can do it anytime. Just remember what I’ve already said. There’s going to be a pretty good storm today.”
“All right,” said George. “I think I’d like to see him predict the weather. This is interesting.”
Dixon addressed Alfred, told him he was a good dog, and explained in English that he was going to have to tell him the weather again. The dog remained impassive, waiting for a command.
“All right, Alfred, what’s the weather? What’s the weather?”
The dog sniffed the air a few times, emitting a low growl, which produced a quizzical look on the man’s face. Then he turned on an axis slightly to his left, directly facing the wind, emitting another low growl. After this he turned 180 degrees and stood, tail in the air and sniffed again. Finally he turned his head to the left at a right angle.
“All right, boy. Tell me,” said the man.
The dog barked five or six times. Then he dug a small hole with his front paws and put the muzzle of his nose in it. The man grunted, “This isn’t good.” Suddenly the dog whirled around, his rear end facing the wind, and took off running as fast as his legs would carry him for a hundred feet or so. He then turned abruptly to his right and ran another hundred feet. Then he stopped for maybe three seconds and ran to the street and down it to the right, barking the entire time.
“The school!” the man yelled. “The kids are in danger! Help everybody!” he yelled at the top of his lungs as suddenly the wind picked up. “A tornado’s coming!” he yelled and heads popped out of houses. “A tornado’s coming!” he yelled again, “and it’s heading right for the school. Quick! Let’s get the kids out of there before it’s too late!”
The rain commenced, falling from a horribly black sky, which seemed to have materialized out of nowhere. It came down in huge drops, and then started falling at a slant as strong winds propelled it.
People frantically ran or drove down the street, going towards the school, we assumed. George and I jumped in the car and followed those in cars, stopping twice to pick up people on foot.
When we arrived at the school, Alfred was barking madly at the door. As people from the town arrived, they ran inside the building and brought crying children outdoors.
“Where do we go?” inquired someone to Alfred’s owner.
“Go southwest,” he pointed in the direction of a community building a number of blocks away. “Alfred says it’s coming from the northwest and going southeast. Take them that way. It’s the safest place.”
The citizens took the students to the place the man indicated. Everyone sat with their hands over their heads as we heard the storm rolling through, with the typical freight train sound. The wind diminished a few minutes later and people ventured outdoors, though it was still raining.
“Look! Over there at the school!” exclaimed a woman.
“I don’t believe it!” said another. “Flattened.”
“The kids would’ve been…would’ve been…” sobbed another woman, unable to complete her sentence.
Dixon called for his dog, but was distraught when he could not find him.
“I saw the dog standing at the school door like a sentry,” said a neighbor.
“He wasn’t going to leave until everyone was out,” said Dixon, and then he broke into tears.
However, those tears dried quickly as we heard barking from a couple of blocks farther southwest of us. Alfred came running in, straight to Dixon, who hugged him with all his might.
The story became a sensation and was picked up by several news agencies. Alfred and the man had their pictures in local and regional papers and magazines, and a feature story appeared on a television newscast.
George and I did not get to take a picture of the covered bridge that day. We saved it for another trip later in the year. When we returned later that summer, we were pleased to find that the citizens had erected a small monument to Alfred right in the middle of the main intersection of downtown. We visited Dixon again, and Alfred, who seemed to remember us, wagging his tail as we approached, and then he came and stood next to us, nudging his head underneath our hand until we petted him. The man assured us Alfred still predicted—completely accurately—every day’s weather for the town, and no one ever doubted him.