Saturday, March 15, 2008

Dear friends...

“Friends are God's way of apologizing to us for our families.”

~ unknown

That quote made me laugh because it is funny... and for me not true. I have a great and wonderful family and mostly they're family and friends. But for many I've known family was... well... a boil on their backside.

I've been blessed with some great friends. Some go back decades and a few have been steadfast over these many years. Some have become as close or closer than my blood relatives. Some, like Pablo, the bond goes beyond explanation. But Lord, thankee for my good friends!

One of my best all time buddies, legendary among my closest friends and family was my dog Lance.

Lance was with me for about 13 years... he was a fixture when I was working with Grampa Semu and the folks out at Muhu Tasen. He went with me to Opal Creek and down to southern Oregon for my year at Crump Lake, working for The Nature Conservancy. A great watchdog, a funny guy who wasn't big (he weighed in at about 35 - 40 pounds) he behaved like a King of Hounds. He understood a lot of English, could speak none, and was a great judge of character. As handsome as a dog can get Lance carried himself like a champion and was a true canine athlete.

When I started taking him out to Muhu Tasen, Grampa had a "no dogs" rule. But I was a single guy with no family and couldn't -- wouldn't -- leave Lance home alone. So Grampa made him stay in the truck and I could take him out, off the land, for his breaks. After about 2 or 3 months Grandfather recognized the quality of the dog Lance was and gave him permission to be one of "the dogs" while I was there.

Lance loved water, was a great swimmer, and never hesitated to get wet. If he had a drawback it was his tendency to chase cows (which came back to haunt him when he became a senior... we were living on 5 acres in the woods west of Eugene and had a neighbor who kept 3 cows. One day Lance took his doddering old self over, I guess, to harass the cows. I got a call from the neighbor while I was at work that Lance was in her field and that I better come and rescue him. "Rescue him?" I thought... well it was true, he needed rescuing. The 3 cows had him backed into a corner of the pasture and without his fresh legs and youthful vigor they had him buffaloed. Or cowed... a sad day I'm sure for a dog that never failed to get cows moving.)

But when he was young... he was fast, could jump and make it over a 6 foot fence... anywhere I could hike he could. Of course he was still a dog... but he had his guardian angels. On one of our many backpacking trips into the Manzana River area of the San Rafael Wilderness area of Central Cal he had managed to get a fox tail into his ear and it had worked itself deep enough to begin causing him grief. Unfortunately, it was dark and we had no tweezers and no flashlight. (OK... I know, safety first and all that...) But we used to hike into the Manzana under the full moon after the area had been closed for the season because of fire danger. At night we could see any forest rangers and hike right by 'em and get to our old Indian camp, where we would be out of sight from the trail... and heck, we were young and would never do anything like avoiding the government or its agents or agencies now...

Opal Creek tho' was Lance's home.

He fit that camp like a glove. The other camp dog, Turk, was a big old dog (probably a Bernese Mountain dog), neutered and gentle as could be and he and Lance were best buds. The only wrinkle was when George would come into camp bringing his dog Cody, a big old Doberman. Now Cody was a sweet dog in his own right... but for some reason, he and Lance just never hit it off, except with a bang. And a snarl and a major growl-a-thon and a wrestling match...

In fact those 3 dogs all died like within a year of each other. Turk was buried at camp, Lance was laid to rest on a ridge above the half-bridges and Cody... George owns a bit of property down river from camp near the Elkhorn golf course and when Cody died George took his backhoe and dug a pit that could fit Cody's favorite couch and laid Cody to rest on that couch.

Turk was Jawbone Flats' official greeter. He never failed to bark at a hiker but would usually do so while he was laying somewhere where he could see the road leading into camp. His "woof" was a "WOOF" and could be heard quite a ways away. But if we were in our cabins sometimes Turk would bark and not stop so we'd yell "Turk!" and he'd stop. When my daughter Robin was a baby in camp she grew up with Turk and Lance. Her first word came one day when Turk let out his usual "WOOF" and out of the blue Robin lets out with a "Turk!" Not "dad" or "mom"... "Turk"... heh...

Of course Lance and I shared many of the favorite spots in the west I'd acquired after years of exploration and discovery. My sidecreek in the Sierra foothills east of Fresno near Pine Flat Lake, the land east of Santa Maria off of Hwy 166 near the Cuyama Valley and of course the Guadalupe Dunes and Perfix/Paradise Beach. When I'd get dropped off at the Guad Dunes for a few days Lance of course would go too. And he loved that spot. Hiking the dunes or going down to Perfix... he was a fan of my fresh Perch, caught in the surf and cooked over an open fire skewered on a stick. When Marty and I would hike the dunes we'd generally hike to the highest dunes and take our breaks, admiring the view. Lance would inevitably fall asleep laying in the soft sand and warm sun. When he did Marty and I would sneak down the dune and hike up to the peak of the next dune and watch Lance, waiting for him to wake up. He'd wake up and look all around... then he'd see us and charge down the dune and sprint up to our new sittin' spot. It was one of our favorite Lance games.

Amazing, the bond of affection that grows between animals and humans. Lance was truly the best friend I've ever had. He is missed... but remembered with great love and gratitude for sharing his time here with me (and his many other human friends). A meeting of souls and a partnership that can never be duplicated but certainly was meant to happen... thanks Lance... I miss you my friend...

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