Lessons from an Old Dog, Part 1: Canyon and Ridge Explorations

Despite all the snow photos in my last post most of winter 2020-2021 was dry and left the ground largely bare. Warmer than usual temperatures meant most days were sunny and in the 40s – devastating for the ponderosas, firs, and aspen, but absolutely perfect for hiking. And hiking we did.

Though I’ve written quite a bit about Abby’s reduced capacity what I don’t think I’ve mentioned is that her enthusiasm for hiking never waned: she was as eager a puppy to get out there every morning. Despite our decreasing speed and mileage she never gave up on doing what she loved. Having trailed behind her for years I suddenly found myself waiting on her, but the lessons she taught me in patience were rewarded by watching her prowl around new canyons and finding new bushwacking routes – and then watching her settle in to a satisfying nap when we returned home. I won’t lie, after years of hiking at maximum speed in an effort to keep up with her it took some adjustment to slow my pace and enjoy the outdoors from a standstill, but this new way of exploration ultimately altered my relationship with hiking permanently and provided new ways of seeing my surroundings. But more on that in a later post.

Other than learning patience, I observed how much fulfillment can come from doing even a small fraction of what you love. In her last year Abbs never shied away from route finding, rock scrambling, animal/scent tracking, and generally observing while we were out there – she just did many of those things at a slower pace. She adjusted to hiking smarter and with less effort, all the while happily engaged with what she was born to do. These memories continue to serve as an important lesson when considering my own limitations, in hiking and beyond.

In any event, I still depended on her to help me navigate as we explored new places together. Most of these hikes were not on trails, and we thus worked as a team to find the best way in and out of canyons, over water crossings, and navigating across treed ridges. Her wisdom at finding the easiest route is something I’ve been sorely missing lately, and her ability to sniff out threats right through the very last week of her life (when she insistently informed me that we were following a bear and needed to turn around RIGHT NOW) always brought me great comfort. I came to value her companionship, her partnership, in a new way and I gained even more respect for her during this last winter as I recognized that she didn’t dwell on what she couldn’t do, but rather stayed fully engaged what she could do.

Jobs complete. Time to rest: