Friday, May 3, 2013

V Elatha vom hohlen Huegel, SchH 2, Kkl 1 'a'

Much as a dear old friend's face still reflects in their friends' eyes with overtones of the person from years ago, their youthfully sparkling eyes and impish grin more apparent to your eyes than the wrinkles, bulges, and bags that evince the ravages of time, so, too, does my dog Ella still, to my eyes, look like the vigorous partner she's always been. Yet, there's no denying that's no pup in the photo. Wise, certainly, and with a self-possessed contentment, but gray, scarred, and unmistakably tired. Denial is a powerful psychological tool, and I've been wielding it with gusto. I haven't entirely accepted Star's departure, now gone five years, or Stano's, gone last year, and I'm going to be losing Brianne, Ella, dear one, is burdened with my not-entirely unconscious wish for her immortality. Unfortunately, that means my expectations of her are more appropriately heaped on a much younger dog.

(Perhaps there's a pattern here...what do I ask of myself? So why should I treat the dog any differently?)

Several people have mentioned recently that they've looked in vain back through the archives of this blog to find more detailed stories about Ella's and my adventures on the "walk-about." They've requested details about specific hikes, how-to's on solo hiking, backpacking with dogs, and the like. I'm quite happy to delve back in, having refrained out of the sense that it's all "old news." So I'll segue to a series of hiking stories by way of closing the circle on my opening comments via a recap of a more recent hike.

I've entered the Keystone Trail Association's "Super Hike", as well as a Steamtown redoux, events looming large on my personal horizon this September and October. To prep for those goals, I've been logging more miles than usual, and of course Ella's along for a lot of them. Admittedly, she's not getting the consistent exercise she did before Ieuan came home. When I do road workouts I generally take Ieuan, because Ella and I both prefer it when she can be off leash, so she gets outings mainly when I'm doing woodland trails. Which means she's become a bit of a weekend warrior, lounging about in the backyard or the kitchen on weekdays, slogging the trails over hill and dale on the weekends.

Sundays have become the "big mileage" days, mostly because the past several Sundays have been gloriously sunny, providing a welcome excuse to head for the hills, literally. Three Sundays ago our destination was Harriman State Park, where we did somewhat under fourteen miles; two Sundays ago we stepped it up a notch and headed to Catskills State Park, where we took on a more challenging route along the Escarpment Trail from North Lake to Blackhead Mountain. Ella and Ieuan came along on both outings, and although I'm somewhat ashamed to admit it, my ego is gratified when a trail that's kicking my butt is also exacting a toll on the four-paw-drive duo. Distance is one thing, but when it's done over ice-covered trails (who woulda thunk we'd need our Kahtoola micro spikes??? Didn't do me any good sitting home!) and up 4700 feet of vertical gain with some rock scrambles thrown in, it's a serious workout. Neither dog quit, but both flung themselves into their car crates with audible relief when we finally "dogged it" out of the mountains at 9:30 PM.

What brought me to stark reality was the aftereffects. Sure, I was stiff the next day, but I'm 55 and I've spent most of the winter/spring doing my best to keep Gertrude Hawks Chocolates in the black, so I'm hauling an extra twenty pounds around (I could say it was deliberate, to prep for backpacking, but I'd be lying) - I expect to have some aches and pains after a man-versus-mountain ordeal. No previous hike had ever reduced Ella to crippling around, though, and when my girl stood up the next morning and keeled over against the wall, dropped to the floor, attempted to get going again only to repeat the drunken stagger, I felt a stab of guilt at the possibility that she was seriously injured. She goes on these outings because I ask her to. Sure, she wants to, but I'm the one with foresight...I need to be conscious of what I ask of her. I don't look at her and see a geriatric - but ten years is old if you're a dog. Two years ago when we did our walkabout I knew it might be our last major endeavor together. The past two years have wrought changes in me, mostly for the better, but time passes swiftly, intensely, in the canine universe.

Challenges are good, healthy, life-affirming. Up to a point. Fitness, both mental and physical, necessitates facing and negotiating a certain measure of stressors. We tend to avoid that which causes pain or fear or discomfort of any sort. Yet pressing into and past discomfort expands awareness of possibility, and potentially expands the limits of capability. Ella has already met and vanquished more challenges than most dogs; thereby did she attain the confidence and wisdom evident on her face. She's just as squirrel-obsessed as she ever was, just as sure that fresh-caught venison should be on the menu, just as savvy about negotiating steep terrain and flooded creeks. But wisdom counsels prudence as well, and for my four-footed friend's sake I must grapple with my denial. She's not immortal, she's ten years old now, she's slowing down. We are neither one youngsters any more. Still very capable, with many a milestone yet to surmount,we will negotiate the trails ahead with grace born of well-earned wisdom.

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