Vignettes of a Traveler

Aaron A Schultz. Writer and Photographer

Category: dogs

Trail Report-Being Prey I

Being Prey. Mile Twenty-Four.

Lightening jukes and strikes far down the canyon, moving away, out over the valley. I hike through a light rain, blowback from the hot day. My legs and feet are numb and heavy. I am one mile from the Spanish Peaks trailhead—one mile from the truck, flip-flops, and beer—and fifteen minutes from absolute darkness.

I am in some kind of zone, some definition of perfect, some form of idiot sensuality. Another hot, jagged streak sideways, outline of thunderhead and foothills. Echoes rumble up the canyon. One fat raindrop hits my forearm, then another, making a cool mud out of the day’s dirt and salt.

Beautiful and unnerving, dusk slowly closes down my sense of sight, transforming the broad and flat canyon and its erratics, trees, and bushes into black lumps, lines, and scuffmarks. Fifty feet to my left, burl on lodge pole pine, a beach ball sized silhouette, catches my attention. I like how the black shape inlays the dark grey of mountainside.

Suddenly, the burl moves further up the tree.

“That’s weird…” I mumbled to the dog, then alert, “oh shit, where’s mom?”

I look around, squinting, sucking in the last bit of light, and resting my hand on my bear spray. Thousands of black shapes sit in the deep, dark grey of the forest.

I pray momma is bear behind me and push forward, adrenaline wringing the day’s mileage out of my body.

Old Dog Shaky Legs

(I wrote the following last December, 2015. The photo was taken during Winter’s last camping trip, the weekend before she died. Last Sunday, Jen and I picked up Winter’s ashes, a paw print, and a lock of her fur.)

An old dog lies in a campsite by a campfire.

Winter Dog, my friend of 13 years during her last camping trip.

Winter Dog, sweet Winter Dog.

Her hind end has been shaking more and more. Lately, when we go for walks in a Portland park, and she knows it’s a walk and not a sniff and stroll through the hood, Winter follows behind me, her hind legs only there for balance. They move like her pads are sticking to the ground, some herky-jerky movement, a stiff swinging motion uncomfortable when not in contact with the earth.

I love her eyes lately. They’ve always gotten bright with joy every time we go for a hike, or the local park during the last few years. But, there is an extra spark in them, a wisdom, a knowing that something is different. Maybe Winter knows her time with me is limited. I sense this from her. But it’s different, it’s some doggy awareness, its meaning far different from mine.

Dog on a trail

Winter heads towards the Columbia River during one of our trips to 1000 Acre Dog Park.

I think about Winter dying a lot lately, or at least her death is always close to the surface of my thoughts. Sometimes she lies so still on her bed and I reassure myself that she’s going deaf. So, I call her name or give a command like “lets go,” and she still lies there. And, I think, “Oh shit, is she dead? Is it time?” but just for a second, or until I touch her and she startles, looking up from the bed, then slowly, shakily, Winter smiles and rises, ready to go wherever. (December 2015)