What, I asked Esther, if I went broke, so broke I had to give up the pleasures of camping, snowmobiling, long-distance travel, concerts, restaurant meals, shopping… (Here she reminded me I hate shopping.) Well, I tell her, if I had to give all those things up, I could still find life well worthwhile. If, that is, I had just one out-of house activity left: my daily habit of hiking the rural roads and bush trails or cross-country skiing with my dogs.
40 years ago, approaching middle age, I realized I needed more exercise. I began the practice of--depending on the weather--hiking or skiing as close to daily as possible. Queenie, a black and white terrier, trotted along with me, and watching her take such obvious joy on our jaunts heightened my own pleasure. (She was also, despite her size, a fierce protector of my two small sons.) That has been my custom ever since.
Queenie was followed, around the time I retired, by Fergie, an active blue heeler cross who loved to play and was so intelligent I won’t share her most amazing feats with you because you’d be convinced I’m a liar. Later I acquired, after three years of widowhood, a new wife. Esther, of course, has been an avid hiker and skier since then. But she is a busy lady and her many pursuits prevent her, particularly in recent years, from joining me and the dogs on our treks as often as she once did.
Fergie was later joined by Deedee, a wild and aggressive Dalmatian, and I took great pride and pleasure in having two large white dogs with the energy and endurance needed for the longest excursions. Deedee possessed a fiercely independent nature (though capable of great affection as well) and an overpowering hunger for absolute freedom to roam and explore. Her high-speed rambles took her at least five miles, probably more, to each mile I covered.
After Fergie’s passing we got, by default--as we did with Deedee--Charlie, a year-old lhasa-apso/Maltese terrier cross. So here I was with a tiny (18-pound) mutt teamed up with a 70-pound Dalmatian of boundless energy. On top of that we soon found out he had a poor sense of direction that caused us, on three occasions, to spend long hours hunting for him--that problem we solved by using a retractable leash when in bush country. But Charlie turned out to be very sturdy for his size; he could easily follow Esther and I on a three or four mile hike or ski, and he could gallop with amazing speed on his strangely-curved six-inch legs. He was feisty too; more than once was rescued just in time from being lunch for a much larger dog he had attacked. He was a constant source of , not only our affection, but our entertainment as well.
Charlie was my daily road and trail companion for 16 years, accompanied by Deedee for eight of them, then as my only partner for another eight. His last year saw a steady decline with age; I could take him for very brief walks only. His condition worsened and we had him euthanized May 5th, 2017, a heartbreaking event I’ve had to resort to far too often.
I still cross-country ski or hike almost every day and I still take pleasure in it. But I find myself now and then, by force of a 40-year habit, looking back and forward for my canine companion. There is none, of course, and for a moment it’s a very lonesome sensation.