I took the dogs on Christmas morning on one of our favorite routes: Roxie's Loop in Red Butte, in the foothills of Salt Lake City. I named the route years ago after my old yellow lab, Roxie, because I swear she could do the route by herself with her eyes closed: right turn, left turn, up small hill, left turn, left turn, up the switchbacks to the overlook, around the corner, down past the stone house, right turn, up two switchbacks, down to the creek, across creek, left turn, down the road, through the arboretum, stop at the crosswalk, and back to the car.
My own two dogs, Artemis and Franklin, have gotten to know the route very well also. Artie gets quite a ways ahead at times, but when I call out her name for her to "show herself" she always seems to be on the correct trail just up ahead. Franklin tends to stick closer by, and usually nudges my hand with the top of his head, looking for a pat and letting me know that he will not stray like his sister.
There were a couple of moments this past weekend on Roxie's Loop, where I felt as if Artie and Frank had been reincarnated from dogs in the past.
Artemis took the personality of my old Roxie-girl: the strong headed, independent thinker, a bit bullish, but strong as can be (both mentally and physically). We got to a knoll on the backside of the route, and Artie took off across the hillside. Yellow fluffiness floating across the rocks and through the brush, seemingly effortless. I recalled the first ever hike that I had done with Roxie, where she drifted across this same hillside in a near effortless manner, and I wondered if I would ever get her back. Both dogs (present day Artie, and former dog Roxie) came back after some calling, and I am amazed at the internal struggle that must go on in their minds fighting instinct to chase deer versus emotional attachment to their human.
Frank watched the entire display by Artie, leaning against my leg and looking for a pat on the head. Intermittently nudging my hand, lest I forget that he was near me, ever the protector of his girl, this soulful dog with eyes so deep and clear that they will melt anyone's heart. After Artie came back and we proceeded down to the creek, Frank clomped through the frigid water, gulping at the riffles, and glancing up at me between swallows to make sure that I had not strayed too far away from him. I looked into his clear brown eyes, surrounded by a gray sugar-dusting of aged fur, and thought of my brother's old golden Copper. What a soulful dog he was as well, and also ever the protector. I remember how we drove cross-country years ago and he looked after me on that car trip as I suffered from food-poisoning and had to pull off to the side of the road every ten miles throughout Nebraska.
Whoever said that dogs don't have souls, I'm sure was mistaken. These beings can reach down into your chest and touch your heart at a place that you thought may have been iced-over forever. Each day that I leave them at home as I head to work, I wonder how I will get through the day. Each day that I have them out in the hills with me, I hope that the day will never end. They are my everything, and they let me know that I am alive.
"We are alone, absolutely alone on this chance planet: and, amid all the forms of life that surround us, not one, excepting the dog, has made an alliance with us." ~ Maurice Maeterlinck