People often talk about the best dog they knew back when, or their favorite dog growing up. Past-tense praise and fond reminisces of a companion long-gone. And I’ll always listen, because growing up I had dogs like those — dogs who crashed through the barrancas and backwoods with me, following some kid getting into situations way over his head. (That’s one of the reasons we love them, enit?) There was Gypsy and Buck, Molly and Muggs (aka K’s guardian at the gate) … big, beautiful dogs with even bigger hearts.
There are four dogs in the pack these days, and the smallest of them weighs in at 70#. But like some green swamp-dwelling Muppet once counseled, judge her not by her size. She’s first at home, first in the woods, and first in the hearts of her bipeds.
So rather than some eulogy or epitaph-styled verbiage, I’m going to sing my lead dog’s praises now, while she’s still keen for the trail, with those bright eyes and that lean muscle and those pads built of seven layers of leather.
Masha was the runt of the litter and one of three sisters (hence the name), a dog born to be the omega whom we pushed into the alpha position because of her brains and agility. I won’t sugar-coat it: she’s chafed at her role at times. But oh, how she’s stepped up and owned it.
Where this dog has out-shown all comers is on the trail, in the woods, over the hills, and all points faraway. I often refer to her as Canis semprus adventurus, because it’s a rare outing indeed where she isn’t the first one drafted for trail duty. She has a gait as smooth as a coyote’s with the speed to match. Those bat-like ears — which had she grown into would have yielded a massive dog indeed — pick up sounds from so far off she makes Radar O’Reilly look like some tone-deaf joker who can’t hear the chopper until it lands on him. When we arrive at camp, she runs out a perimeter and doesn’t let anything pass that line she’s laid down lest we grant permission (woe unto that dog who tried for a shortcut up at Pinos summer before last — keep ’em on a leash if they’re not under voice control, folks).
Pinos, Sawmill, Grouse, Cerro Noroeste, Gaviota, La Cumbre, Cathedral, Santa Paula, Nordhoff, Hines, Chief, Thorn Point … I know Sierra Clubbers who’ve not bagged as many peaks as this intrepid mutt. She’s picked out trail for us when the route was an overgrown hedge of thistle, thorns, and misery, she’s flushed bears from the trail ahead and quite literally herded me down the track away from perceived threats, and — when curled up in her little ball at our feet during the night — always seems to have an eye or ear open while we bipeds slumber. She never shies from a chance to hit the trail — whether one she’s trod a dozen times or something completely knew — despite some (very) questionable routes we’ve attempted. In fact, after a pretty tough 6-day traverse of the Dick Smith Wilderness last month, I gave her a weekend off … and I think I hurt her feelings in doing so.
So now, at 9+ years and quite literally thousands of miles, I’ve got her out on these long treks with the heir apparent at her heels, hoping even a fraction of these dog’s qualities rub off on the next generation.
In Dog We Trust. Amen, brother.