It is 6:00 a.m when I reach the trail-head. Brandi jumps out of the truck, she is ready for action. Her tail is held high, ears are perked and since the oppressive heat of the day hasn’t hit yet, the air is still cool from the night. I lock the truck, grab my can of Mace, and off we go.
The trail is flat, Cascade Timber has come in long ago and beaten out the path to the big trees. The way is rocky and I see bird tracks scattered in the dirt. Up ahead, are a few jackrabbits, but my command to Brandi, one that she knows well “NO CHASE!” is obeyed and the rabbits scurry off unmolested into the underbrush. She turns to look at me with her soulful German Shepherd eyes, as if to say, “Please Mom? Just one chase?” I laugh, reach down and pet my obedient hound, and throw her a nearby stick instead. She dearly loves to run.
Now the trail takes a somewhat steep ascent. I look up the trail and consider going home, my legs aren’t what they used to be, and by the time I get to the top of trail, I will be puffing like a steam engine! But, the trail is shaded at the moment in the shadows of the tall pines, so I decide that I can do this climb. Brandi is ahead of the game, her tail is waving a short distance ahead, so making that my focal point, I forge ahead.
I notice there are animal bones stripped of meat and bleached in the sun scattered about, and there is a pale lump of something off to the side of the path. I whistle Brandi to my side, put her on the heel command and together we cautiously approach the object.
At first I have a hard time discerning what it is I am seeing. But as we come up on it, I can tell it is the remains of a porcupine that must of met with a creature mightier than it’s elaborate defense shield. It has been there for quite some time, the bones have pulled away in weather and the quills are dried and almost turn to dust at my touch.” Poor thing,” I mutter to myself. I have always admired porcupines. Brandi and I continue on, and I utter a prayer thanking God that the remains are not fresh, so the threat of other predators is no longer present.
I finally reach the top, and yes, just like I feared, I am blowing like a steam engine. I stop to catch my breath and gaze out on the vista below. As far as my eye can see, there are pine trees and spruces stretching their branches to the sky. Lupine, mustard grass, wildflowers pop their heads out everywhere. The path curves downward and vanishes into the shaded forest. The dirt fades, replaced by a carpet of moss, and long grasses. I whistle to B-Dog who has discovered something interesting under a rock, and off we go.
Jackrabbits scurry off the path and out of sight. Birds startled by our approach take wing, and it is a peaceful time of reflection and thought. There is another curve in the trail and again, the trail leads up yet another hill. “Great”, I mutter to myself, “now my legs will really love me in the morning!” But it is such a nice morning and I don’t want to turn back now. I check my watch and see that we have been walking for an hour! Where has the time gone? Brandi is now staying by my side, I notice she is on high alert, but I assume that the passing scent of skunk we keep getting a whiff of was distracting her.
Before we reach the top of the rise, I heard something that I could not place. A sound, a hollow sound, like a whistle, or a soft roar, or the gentle whoosh of the waves when they hit the sand. I stop to listen, to try and define this unique noise. B stopped and her ears were up, the ruff on the back of her neck was also up and she was on full alert. She had even stopped panting, as if she was trying to help me and be quiet while I identified the sound. I stood and listened and the sound got louder, but not nearer. I hadn’t a clue what it was, or even how to describe it, so very slowly, I continued my way up the hill.
At the last curve before we reached the top, I saw him. A huge buck, he was standing there majestic with his rack spread out. From his many points, I knew he was an old gent, who had somehow managed to escape all the hunters and trappers. His coat was flecked with sweat. He had run quite a ways, and the sound I heard, was his breathing. His sides heaved in and out, and his nostrils flared. Brandi growled, and I quietly told her to “QUIT!” The old gent lowered his head slowly until it was just inches from the ground. Then he shook his mighty rack in defiance of our intrusion. I grabbed B’s collar and slowly, we backed away. Before he vanished from sight, this old man of the forest lifted his head and relaxed his posture and out of the trees trotted a doe and a late fawn. I stopped transfixed and watched this family move off at a quick pace, leaping over logs and vanishing instantly. All that was left was the sound I heard before, of the old gent blowing in the wind.
Quietly, I turned around and told B, “Come on girl, it’s time to go home.” We headed back to the truck away from this magical place. I vowed to try and do this walk at least a few times a week- because for the first time in a long while, I almost, for a brief second- felt like a human again.