Walking the sage with a dog named Nevada Smith
March 9, 2007
Scarcely a day goes by without a tramp through the sage. We used to walk old Cisco, a 95-pound mutt who wandered and “read” every game sign between attempts to catch rabbits. He wasn’t built for swiftness and didn’t stray far from us. Cisco has been gone for over a year and we recently adopted a cattle dog we call “Smith,” short for “Nevada Smith,” another tough guy.
Smith runs at about “warp” speed, over and around brush and boulders. He whines and pleads starting about 6 a.m. until we settle on a destination. If we hike from home into the BLM area, he disappears for minutes at a time and reappears hundreds of yards distant. When we drive to a spot for a hike, he leans over the side of the truck and whines until I park.
Smith periodically returns to check on us and receive a pat on the head then roams off in another direction. We began carrying whistles shortly after the hikes began and trained him to return with hand gestures. The distance between us is frequently too far for him to hear a shout.
When he spots a rabbit, Smith goes into high gear and as he gains on them, he yaps and yelps until he loses the chase.
Our 40-pound dynamo loves to run and I suppose he exists primarily for his morning outings. This morning, we ascended a local mountain and it was as always. The clouds kept us cool, there was little breeze and Smith was right, left, ahead and all around, looking for a race after a rabbit. The Sierra and the Pine Nuts had snow almost to the Valley. It was another “day in paradise,” as excellent and individual as the other 364 we will have in the Valley this year.
About a mile into the journey, on a very steep ascent, Smith began an uphill chase after a quarry neither Irene nor I could see. She remarked that his yapping tone was different than normal, extra shrill or faster. I agreed and then continued the climb, assuming we would see Smith in a minute or less. He usually appears ahead of us on the trail shortly. After a long minute or two, I began scanning the landscape, checking for his dark silhouette and pointy ears. No dog appeared and I increased my pace to the summit and a saddle where the trail turned right. Ahead, there was a steep descent to a valley and another mountain. I began blasting the whistle and it echoed back to me. At least, I believed, the echo let me know Smith could hear the sound. I had a decent view from this high ground but could not see my friend. Irene stayed on top to maintain observation and I could hear her whistle as I zig-zagged into the valley, searching for any movement and stopping to listen for a bark or the jingling of his tag.
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The minutes went by and I began to worry about coyotes luring him away. I knew his bark had been different and after about 10 minutes, I figured I was searching for his carcass. Hearing no distressed scream or coyote victory yelps, I maintained some optimism. I kept whistling and walking. Five minutes later, I heard the clatter of his tag to my left. Shortly after that, Smith was visible at my elevation. He wandered slowly in my direction without his typical gusto. He wasn’t limping and I checked him quickly for injuries, he seemed OK, just completely exhausted.
We walked slowly up the mountainside towards Irene. About midway, I found a rusty horseshoe and picked it up. As we three reunited, Irene told me she’d said a short prayer at the top. I looked at her and at Smith and handed her the horseshoe. I reckoned she had her answer.
— Bruce Rosin is a Johnson Lane resident.