The day before Valentine's Day...
I tie the red 15-foot lead around my waist so I can have my hands free to take pictures. FLD Scout is clipped to the other end. It is a crisp, cobalt-sky morning with a new dusting of snow.
|FLD Scout on her red "play" leash before our hike.|
Scout and cc'd Gus and I take to the woods for a three-mile hilly hike in the park abutting our land to see what has been out and about. If I was a naturalist, like Jonathan Schechter (who writes his Earth's Almanac blog for the Oakland Press), I could identify what creatures made the tracks in the snow.
Alas, I am not. I can only imagine what scampered by in the wee hours before light.
I CAN identify coyote scat. Scout sniffs, but forgoes the snack with a hearty LEAVE IT from me.
"Forrest Gus" does his bit to keep the trail clear, and carries a long limb like a high-wire walker. Then he zigzags with it through the woods as an elk or moose might run, swooping heavy-antlered crowns between the trees. I hear a CEEEEERRRAAAACK and turn to see Gus sporting a shortened limb after being waylaid, however briefly, by trees too close. There's something to be said for brute strength.
|Forrest Gus grabs a limb.|
|He breaks it free, balancing it as he runs toward us.|
|Gus thinks his job is to keep the trail clear!|
I hand Scout a smaller stick and she carries it with import. I am proud when she bounces out to the end of the long lead and eases up when she feels tension, but it would be nice to get a little pull UP the hills!
The sticky snow is tough going. Gus and Scout leave prints behind as big as bear paws. Gus trots twice the distance Scout and I hike, chasing scents off-trail, racing ahead only to turn and race back as if to hurry us up. He never wanders far.
When the trail curves left toward a section of sharp dips and climbs, I call right to the dogs. We veer off to take a shortcut to avoid the steepest of the hills. I cannot afford a fall with my camera, or my still-healing finger!
Scout, I say, take me home.
She plods ahead, stick in mouth, turning me a little more to the right. She finds the route that Jeff, my step-son-in-law, and I bushwhacked from the other direction on snowshoes last month with his two German Shorthair Pointers and my three dogs.
Scout weaves between towering poplars that squeak in the wind overhead, passes near woodpecker condos, and carefully steers clear of long, snow-blanketed humps that I know are tree falls by the naked roots reaching skyward.
She confidently leads me back to our "patch."
I am amazed. Our showshoe tracks are long gone (to quote Ernie Harwell) after rounds of thaw and fresh snowfall. Her pace quickens when we reach the well-worn paths on our property. We are a quarter mile from home.
Patterning. That's what Leader Dogs for the Blind trainers might call what Scout did in remembering the route home.
Here are some pictures of the tracks we saw this day.