Miles before we turned into our neighborhood Abby knew we were home. She’d been snoozing in the backseat but suddenly her ears appeared in the rear view mirror and I glanced back to see her alternatively surveying and raising her nose to the air. She soon laid back down, seemingly satisfied that she knew where she was but one we began the series of turns towards our street she was up again, eyes focused on the road ahead. Once I had parked the truck and lifted her down she moseyed over to her favorite spot in the grass and, with a big sigh, put her head down and rubbed her neck in newly green blades. Minutes later when Tom drove up in the RV she was contentedly napping, happy to finally be home.
In the following months Abby spent hours in the grass everyday, alternatively napping and surveying the neighborhood happenings; afternoons were often spent in the shade on the back deck, lying on her cushy memory foam bed. Though her hearing wasn’t what it used to be she remained as alert as ever, interested in everything going on around her. Each morning she impatiently waited for one or both of us to fill water bottles, gather keys and hiking packs, her gaze trailing us expectantly around the house until we’d finally put on shoes – whereupon she’d go stand near the door. Despite the pain caused by arthritis and the gradual shutting down of her body in her last days she never lost her enthusiasm for getting outside and exploring. We continued to average over a mile a day through the summer months though it would take us more than an hour. But we were happy to oblige, bringing her to dozens of her favorite places in the woods where we’d mostly stand around, watching her enjoy doing what she loved best as we slowly strolled along. Though we spent most of the time watching her mosey we had plenty of time too to see many of the easily missed things along these now-familiar routes, enjoying the wildflower season and plentiful mushrooms beginning to sprout. It seemed at least to me that these strolls made me even more present, and it certainly let all us appreciate the moments we had left together.
And on what was to be her 11th to last day, Abby once again proved she was an A+ bear detector. We’d left the trail about a quarter mile from the car and were wandering on a treed ridge when the crashing sounds came from the gully below. It had sounded exactly like elk to me however and so I continued my forward progress, glancing back at Abbs who was attentive to the noise below. Her attention and body language weren’t the slightest bit unusual however – paying attention is what she did – and I continued on for another hundred yards or so as I listened to her trek behind me. Crouching down to photograph a log I noticed her intently sniffing but once I stood up she was suddenly in front of me, giving me a very hard stare. I stepped forward towards her but she stayed firmly put, nosing me in the knee one I was close enough. I had misinterpreted that particular brand of stare but the nosing was adamant: we were following a bear and needed to turn around. And so I did, catching her in my peripheral vision as she trotted around the side of me, between us and the noise, in an attempt to speed me up. Apparently I wasn’t moving fast enough and I received two more nosings in the leg as we backtracked towards where we had gone off the trail. And so, even at the very end of her life she remained the best hiking partner a person could have. A protector. A companion. And forever my best friend.