Lost on the trail

December 2012

Tis the season for insanity. With “Black Friday”, “Small Business Saturday”, “Cyber Monday” and “Giving Tuesday” it’s easy to get caught up in the hype and forget about all we’re thankful for. For me, Thanksgiving is more than just one day. It’s a time of year when I find myself recounting my blessings daily, for several weeks or more. Yesterday, I did just that.

Buddy and I set out for another stroll across our favorite snow-covered field. It was a perfect opportunity to be alone with my thoughts. I recalled what I’m most grateful for. Good health, family, employment, my home, friends and those that love me. When it comes to Buddy, he’s central to it all. I concluded that my time with him is what I’m  most grateful for this year. After all, as I’ve stated before here in this column, time alone is the single greatest gift a dog can give you. If you haven’t yet, make the most of it. Some day you’ll wish you had.

As the snow crunched under my feet and Buddy barely maintaining the pace, I drifted off, consumed with flashbacks of my early days as a dog owner. Snapshots of moments covered my eyes when time stood still.

Snap. I’m behind the wheel on a cool late October afternoon. A tiny ten-week old black puppy jumps from seat to seat clawing my legs, panting and barking with joy as we leave the shelter on our way to his new home. I’m clueless about what this young puppy would become in my life over the next fifteen years.   

Snap. Thanksgiving, several years ago. My mother stands before me with angry tears in her eyes. Buddy has discovered, before anyone else, the desert she labored over for hours. He’s hardly full enough to refuse the gravy soaked turkey I’m sneaking to him under the table.

Snap. St. Johnsbury, late September. Stephen Huneck Gallery Fall Festival at Dog Mountain.. Buddy and I push our way through the crowd to witness the Frisbee catching contest. The announcer on the microphone is looking for volunteer dogs to put on a show. Jokingly I raise my hand and shout out “Buddy” ! Hardly noticing my arthritic old dog, the announcer catches my eye before he could tell I wasn’t serious. “Buddy it is” he shouted through the speakers. The top dog is real crowd pleaser, complete with the most impressive aerial displays and catching maneuvers. Amazingly, he too is named Buddy. But despite being a favorite amongst the audience, his owner leaves before the awards ceremony. There it is, my red face, shocked with embarrassment when the winner is called out and I’m approached with the first-place plaque. There Buddy stands at my side, hind legs shaking, oblivious to his winnings. I try to explain the mistake.

Snap. Winter, late 90’s. A typical afternoon like any other. I pull into my dooryard to find Buddy where he always is if the snow is deep enough: sitting high on the roof of the woodshed. There he is, watching, waiting and proudly guarding his fortress. Naturally this vantage point provided the best view for intruders, or maybe when I arrived home.

Snap. Zipping at dangerous speeds down Jackson hill on a toboggan. Buddy, fast as lightening, bolts down the hill at our sides barking and trying to hop on board for the ride. 

Snap. Buddy howls Happy Birthday to me live on the air as I’m presented with a cake, kisses and a constant wagging tale.

Snap. Buddy at my feet countless mornings while live on the air.

Snap. Eyes shut and wind in his ears, he stands proudly on the summit of Camels Hump for the last time.

Suddenly I’m back in the snow covered field. There’s a sharp bite in the air as we slowly press on. Buddy’s days of hopping through deep snowdrifts are long gone but as fresh on my mind as if it were yesterday. Today, with my head down, I follow the trail that he leads up ahead, a series of four prints, identifiable always by the back left dragging a track – the result of a torn cruciate ligament several years ago. I stop for a moment and look down. It is this snapshot and this time here today that I am most thankful for this year. And I dread the day I will no longer see it as clearly.

By the way, even though the “Best Frisbee Catcher” plaque hangs proudly above his bed, Buddy has never caught or even shown interest for that matter in a single Frisbee.

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