It Was a Beautiful Morning For a Hike
The sun was out, the air was crisp, and the temperature was California perfect. Rudy, my 14-year-old brown lab mix trotted behind me as we hiked passed redwoods, blackberry bushes, and the tops of pine trees along this familiar trail.
It had been a rough week.
A few days before, Rudy had stopped eating and seemed “off.” I thought it was a matter of age but our vet diagnosed something very different – intracranial disease (brain tumor, maybe brain cancer). The diagnosis didn’t phase me initially. But when he told me Rudy had potentially “months” left to live, I felt the knife to the heart that all dog lovers experience when they realize their time with their beloved friends is closer to the end than the beginning. I cried most of that day.
Two days later the tears came again when out of the blue, our 16-year-old dog, Dakota suddenly suffered a gran mal seizure.
When It Rains It Pours
We had experienced several losses over the last few months as a beloved grandparent and some dear friends passed. We had also been shaken by the loss of property and life during the fires in Northern California where we currently live and the fires and floods in Southern California where I grew up. As we hiked, my thoughts were focused on this until they were jarred by a sudden crash, the sound of breaking branches and a thud. I turned and discovered that Rudy who had been following me was now nowhere to be seen!
I ran back a few feet and found Rudy down the side of the trail, stuck in a deep hole and unable to get out. I could hardly believe what I was seeing. This was the exact same spot where seven years ago I had also slipped into and injured myself. At that time, since I could not get out on my own, I yelled for “help” until a neighbor heard me and called the fire department. It took four paramedics to finally pull me out. The result was a dislocated and broken ankle and a ruptured tendon. Surgery followed and for several years I had a plate and multiple screws jutting from the skin under my right ankle. From that time onward, whenever I hiked passed that spot, my mind would go to the event; my fall down the hill, the sound of my ankle breaking, and a feeling of dread would replay in my mind as if it were happening all over again.
Rudy’s whimpering brought me back to real time. He struggled to climb out but the movement only made him slip further. The hole was deceptive, it didn’t look deep, but I knew that every step, would break through debris and he could only slide further down. I’m not a fearful person, but the memories of my injury and the pain were uncomfortably present as I grabbed Rudy’s harness to keep him from losing any more ground. I grabbed my cell phone and dialed home but there was no answer. After a dozen repeated attempts, I shoved my phone into my treat bag and took a deep breath as I realized this was all going to be on me.
Somehow, I managed to take a step down, then another without destabilizing the area. Slowly, so as not to anger the hill, I squirmed past Rudy and ended up slightly below him. “Now what?” I wondered. Carefully, I took reached for my cell phone and dialed my home. Success! My son-in-law answered and said he was on his way. But as Rudy and I waited I could feel the earth giving way. I knew I couldn’t wait any longer. My foot found solid ground on a giant blackberry vine and as my weight pushed down, it held me long enough to give Rudy a little shove up with my shoulder. That was all he needed. His front legs pulled himself over the edge and he scrambled until he got out. A good shake of his body let me know he wasn’t hurt. Moments later I came out too, muddied, hair laced with leaves, and feeling grateful.
After The Fall
My son-in-law came running up the hill, out of breath, calling out my name. I was glad to see him. But as we started to walk towards home, I noticed Rudy wasn’t behind us. Instead, he was standing on the trail where our hike was interrupted. The look on his face was clear. “You aren’t telling me that was our hike, are you? C’mon, that was nothing. What are you waiting for, let’s go Mom!”
My neighbor, Fred once told me that everything important he learned about life, he learned from his dog. It is a philosophy I share and this was yet another moment that proved it. I had been feeling blue about my Rudy and Dakota’s health, the loss of my loved ones, and even the state of the world. In the process, the universe made me come face to face with a long-held fear. But leave it to my dog to teach me there is an art to falling – experience it, accept it, move on, and stay pawsitive. Life is too short for much else.