Posted by: highmountainmuse | August 9, 2009

Homeward Bound

Alan rides with me on Flying Crow into Ditch Camp

Alan rides with me on Flying Crow into Ditch Camp

Home again… It’s a fine, crisp and chilly Sunday morning.  Last I looked, the thermometer read 26 degrees, though with the first light of day and stirring air, I imagine it has dropped a couple more degrees.  How grateful I am to be here in my warm cabin, with the wood stove fired up.  How chilly we were waking yesterday morning up at Ditch Camp, with the heavy frost turning black the first of the foliage on the hillside.  Ah, but more of those stories later.  First, I want to share this with you. It’s not a recipe, though I try to post those on Sunday.  It will be a short week home for us, and there are too many stories I have to share with you… no time to talk food.  I’ll start with this one.  The story of Alan and what I’m afraid is his last trip into camp with us.

After our last return trip from Ditch Camp, we waited each day for Alan to bounce back.  He seemed tired, sore, under the weather.  I was hoping it was a cold or flu and that by tomorrow he’d be feeling better.   A week and half of tomorrows, and he did not recover.  But seeing us load up into the pick up with our supplies for the week and our horses in tow, he was determined to join us.  That is his place.  That is his job.  Since adopting him over nine years ago at the age of perhaps three or four, running along side the horses and being by our side at camp, where ever camp was, has been his number one duty.  And joy.

Less than a third of the way up the mountain, his spirit proved stronger than his legs, and he stopped, lied down, even rolled down a hill in exhaustion.  We stopped and waited time and time again, the horses content with our slower speed and more opportunities to get off trail for a bite of grass.  Finally, he did not show up around the next bend.  We tied up the horses, walked back, only to find him lying in the trail and quite glad to see us.  An expression on his exhausted face told us he’s trying, but he had little more to give.  Time for us to help him.  He knew we would.

You may recall the last time we had to carry Alan.  On a family adventure hike across Pole Mountain in the spring of this year. (link)  I suppose he knew we’d not leave him.  We’d take care of him, just as we know he’d try to do for each of us as well.

And so, on this family adventure, we started by lifting him on top of the big pack horse.  The horse was completely unbothered by the added weight of his buddy on his back.  However, keeping Alan there and lying down proved to be challenging.

Alan rides the big pack horse part way up the mountain.

Alan rides the big pack horse part way up the mountain.

Next, we put him in the saddle with me, draped across my legs and the horses’ neck.  I was riding my little stallion, who at times I feel is not much larger than the dog.  When Bob and Forrest lifted the dog up, Flying Crow accepted his added load without question.  It was a trusting moment for that little horse to allow us to do this, and pretty impressive for a stud horse in only his first year of working on the trail.  I call him the Little Horse That Could, and am pretty proud of him. 

After all these years of running along side horses, of keeping an eye on them and on us, as anyone who has ridden with us knows Alan will do, I can’t help but think he thought this was pretty neat, to finally be up there riding himself…

Home safe and sound and no worse for wear last night, Alan came into the office where we were sitting, put his head on Bob’s lap, then lay at our feet.  I believe he was thanking us. He told us in his own way that this is what team work is about.  This is what our family is about. We help each other out.  We are there for each other.  We don’t leave each other behind on the trail, but wait as necessary, and give each other a lift when need be.

I don’t know what we’ll do this coming week.  I’m afraid Alan is retired. He served his duty well for many years, though I know he will not choose to give up. He will stay home, though I wonder if maybe my little horse will accept carrying him every time, and I know that is not a practical choice.  Practical isn’t always a good thing. Camp will not be the same.  For us, for him.

Got my horse, got my dog...

Got my horse, got my dog...



  1. Oh Gin, I’m crying so hard I can barely see the words on my screen. It’s so hard watching our fuzzy loved ones grow old and even tougher to know their heart is still in it but the body just isn’t anymore.

    This reminds me of when my little Nikki grew old and I didn’t realize it so much except for one day, when she and I were walking, one of my neighbors looked at us in the most pitiful way and said, “She just gets slower and slower every day.”

    My heart goes out to you.

  2. I have been through what you and Allen are going through now .MY baby finaly got so bad we had to do the right thing . It was one of the hardest times in my life .You have my prayers . Some people say its just a dog but its realy family . Be strong you have my thoughts and prayers for you and Allen.

  3. The quote below is one written about and seen about our lovable Newfoundlands, but Allen certainly is deserving of such praise.

    Beauty without Vanity, Strength without Insolence, Courage without Ferocity, and all the Virtues of Man, without his Vices — Lord Byron.

    Allen is a special guy. Hopefully he will enjoy a long happy retirement. The pictures of the trip are wonderful. We’ll see him soon

  4. Ron – that quote IS perfect, and correct about the best of our four legged companions. Especially the last part… that rings expecially true.

  5. Gin

    I don’t know what to say that hasn’t been said already, and better.

    Ron’s Lord Byron piece is perfect. I send you resonance.

  6. Thank you, Kim. Like I wrote to a friend this morning, he still a good companion, just a homebody one for now. I say that as he sits here sprawled on the sofa next to me. It is good.

  7. The life of a canine homebody is no less a thing of beauty and wonder than that of a traveling camp dog. I hope neither of you forgets that. 🙂

  8. Yes, you are right, Kim. I will miss him there, but how lucky I am to have him here… He will hopefully find an important job of holding down the fort in our absence.

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