Last trip in...
Exhausted, young pup panted and then lay down. For an hour he battled popple slash, climbed blow downs, and watched as old dog retrieved woodcocks. The hunter kneeled by young pup, lifted him to his shoulders, and carried this new Labrador to the truck. The lady placed the snoring dog on a pile of jackets and he slept the hour home.
Home: the limping man and shuffling lady. Up at dawn for a walk, a swim, retrieves, and food. Hugs timed perfectly for sits, drops on retrieves, and place in the car. At times the hunter showed up with older dog: the throws got longer, the reprimands louder, and swims for the retrieves competitive with old dog. At times, young pup missed the old Labrador and he showed up weeks later sleeker, stronger, and aloof to pups attempts at play…at times, they shared treats of the lady and man, slept by the tv, and then sprinted to the lake…in uncontrollable bounds.
It was cold, wet, windy, and October. The limping man had crawled into the boat to fish. Old lab and the hunter came along. Rain filled the boat, wind knocked them off course but they caught fish: three muskies. The old lab raced on the gunwales, eyed the flops of the fish, and yelped when they were released. Young pup shivered.
…then the old man was gone: his back hurt, his legs didn’t move. Young pup and old Labrador joined him in a hospital room. Together, they joined in physical therapy, accepted treats from other patients, road elevators to doctors’ office. Eventually, the old man appeared at home; angry, full of pain, frustrated that his legs didn’t work. But, he never scolded young pup, reached for him when the pain got worse, and felt his body against his bed at night.
…finally the old man left and never returned. Young pup, now broad chested, full of leaps landed on the man’s hospital bed once and kissed the man. In hospice, he sat at the bed, saw the man smile when young pup’s name was mentioned and then his trainer was gone.
The lady needed a friend. The man’s chair was empty. So young pup curled by her chair, slept by her bed. Often he would sit, cock his head to the side, listen to her stories and feel her tears. Once, she let him go on a trip: old Labrador, the hunter, and young pup on a canoe trip. Unlimited retrieves big lakes, a moon and northern lights that hid the night. He returned with stories for the lady, nudged her out of bed in the morning, and just acted Labrador goofy….
Now she was gone…young pup sat in the church, felt the hands of many across his head, and looked for the hunter and his lady. Home was now older Labrador's. Trips were long drives stuffed in a small truck, paddles of several weeks, and nights of sharing a tent. Once, the clouds turned green, the thunder shock the rock, and the four of them sat: dog, human, dog, human clinging to each other, praying for safety.
Old dog disappeared one day. Tears flowed from the hunter and his wife. Young pup had lost his friend. Together, all three canoed searching for old dog. They crossed large lakes when lightning ripped the sky, rain stung their skin, and soaked the tent. They never found old dog but they kept paddling to ice formed on the lakes.
By the time young pup reached 10 he had been to Canada 10 times, knew out in the canoe, stay at heel on portage trails, and ignored most animals except the occasional moose. He slept hard in the canoe, leaned correctly in whitewater, and stayed in camp.
Soon, young pup was a teacher. Like old dog digging wolf wallows to ward off bugs, young pup taught the new guy to swim. He was a pest, small, playful, and full of quick nips at the ears. But, new guy found place in the canoe, slept in the tent before six months, retrieved at three months, and followed young pup everywhere.
Now, young pup limped. He stepped out of the canoe, struggled to stand up. Swimming made him stronger, but the winters were tough. Canada was by float plane, on big lakes where the hunter paddled him to sand beaches, ignored portages, and lifted him out of the canoe after a long day on the lake.
It was late, late for the ice out and late for young dog. The hunter smiled when he found open water: Canoe, packs, paddles went to the landing first. Then young pup, now almost 15, got carried to the canoe. Together they broke ice, reached the big part of the lake, and talked about looking for Orion, dancing on the northern lights, and hopes that young pup would find his old friends. Tears rolled from the man, he thanked young pup for his spirit, loyalty to the old couple, accepting new guy, and waiting for him every evening… Tired, young pup’s eyes stared back, through the man into his heart…they paddled to the landing, found place in the truck…
The walk was short, to a white pine where the lady laid out a blanket…man, and lady told him stories, thanked him for his life… and then with a front blowing in young dog left with the quiet grace he gave the world. Tonight, we will watch for him inside the Big Dipper.