A few weeks ago, with fresh snow on the ground, the air felt crisp and the snow crunchy, squeaky underfoot. A bright, sunny day beckoned me and my one-year- old liver-brown, boxer / lab mix, Brooke to take a little hike. Her bright red harness hit a striking color against the snow. A black drag line bounced behind her as she bounded thru the snow, eagerly following a snow mobile track while I marched along the same trail on snowshoes. She stopped to look back, being sure I was with her.
When she got too far ahead, I whistled, and she spun around, running back to me, legs a bit jumbled in her young developing muscles and bones.
I LOVE hiking with my dogs. Their joy in nature infuses me with the same. Brooke is still learning the deal, and she thankfully has had a school master older brother, Carson, to teach her. Carson, a black and tan, 65 pound lab/hound/shepherd mix, has covered miles and miles with me: overnights, lost trails, rainstorms, and hot, hot days.
In the past when I lifted his orange backpack out of my hiking supply box, his brown eyes grew wide, and he danced, barely able to hold still while I buckled it on. The backpack has saddle bags on each side. Big enough to hold his food for a few days and a bedroll.
Once the backpack settled on his back, he took on a business persona. His job: hike with Mom, sniffing for the trail ahead of me. Or, pacing next to me, smiling up at me, encouraging me when the hills are steep.
A year ago when Carson was 7, I noticed an intermittent lameness in his left hind leg. He remained his happy, dancing self, but he couldn’t travel more than a few miles with me without significant lameness and pain. After testing and consulting an orthopedic vet, he had surgery to repair a torn ACL. It felt like torture for us both. I slept half in his crate with him his first two nights home from the hospital.
As the leg healed, I knew he would never be the same rock star hiker. I didn’t tell him. Then his “good” leg ACL tore last fall. No surgery this time, instead we opted for an orthotic, designed and molded specifically for his anatomy.
Carson can only tolerate a one-mile walk now. Brooke trots along next to him, sometimes grabbing at his collar or nosing his face. He stoically walks on, teaching her how to stay on the trail and listen to my commands. He eyes her red harness; maybe he feels jealous he’s not wearing his backpack.
I’ve decided Carson is officially retired and so is that orange backpack. I still haven’t told him, but I think he knows. And as only a true hiker would do, he’s passing on his wisdom and skill to the next generation.
Brooke is a willing student. But she’s going to need her own pack.