Column: Excitement Abounds With a Pup at Camp

For the Valley News
Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Hellgate, N.H.

I’ve been here many times before, but for my little buddy almost everything she’s seeing, smelling and hearing is utterly new. Kiki’s from somewhere near Seguin, Texas. Today is her farthest north yet — almost halfway to the North Pole.

I was all in a sweat to get here the day before yesterday. At the end of a three-hour drive and beyond two locked gates was (in my mind, at least) the greatest challenge of the trip, and I wanted to get to it before sundown. Between the little spot where we park our trucks and the cabin where we’re staying stretches a suspension bridge, maybe 200 feet long, over the icy current of the Dead Diamond River. It’s a masterpiece of rustic engineering, but it does sway a bit as you cross it, and the water flowing beneath can be disorienting. The bridge’s floor is slats of pressure-treated lumber with slight gaps between.

I knew that Kiki, who’s a terrier right down to her nervous starts at loud noises and sudden movements, would not cross that bridge willingly, and carrying her when she doesn’t want to be carried is like trying to hold onto a salmon. My fearful scenario had me first ferrying my gear across, then, wearing my headlamp, balancing myself with a cane in one hand, shuffling over the probably icy boards, and trying to control 20 pounds of twisting, thrashing muscle till we reached terra firma on the far side.

But traffic was light, the roads were clear, and we reached the bridge at 2:30. Great! I loaded my stuff into one of the garden carts provided for cabin users and was just about to leave Kiki in her metal crate in the front seat of the truck while I crossed first with the gear. Then I remembered her reaction, months earlier and only two days into our relationship, when I let her off her leash in the park and asked her to stick with me, which, gratifyingly, she did. So, I thought, let’s give it a try. I let her out and started dragging the cart up the cleated ramp to the beginning of the bridge. But when I glanced up, she was already there, looking back at me with an expression I know only too well: “You comin’?”

Halfway across, she paused and looked thoughtfully over each edge of the bridge, then trotted on over to the other side. She looked across the field toward the cabin, saw puffs of smoke coming from the chimney, and woofed a warning. I didn’t slow down, so she cantered ahead, both to explore and to warn me about whatever might emerge from that low, unfamiliar log building.

It was like watching a small child in its parent’s arms at a social event: Everything was novel; the impressions flowed into her in a steady stream. Inside the cabin were three elderly, unfamiliar men, a hot stove, and aromas she’d never smelled before. But ever the extrovert, she wriggled from one to the other, quickly picked out the dog person among them, and joyfully assaulted him.

The interior of the cabin was a mother lode of fascinating possibilities — dark corners and recesses, pies and sweet rolls lying unprotected in a cardboard box, cluster flies dropping half-dead from the overhead gas lamp, the cook chopping up dozens of pieces of vegetables for stir-fry that evening, and four pairs of feet to dodge instead of the usual one. Later, when the hunters tromped in, there were eight pairs. She hopped up on a bed, the better to watch, and during supper haunted the space to the left of my feet.

Her first night ever in hunting camp was punctuated by the sound of men getting up now and then. She growled softly each time. I petted her and assured her it was all right; go back to sleep. We breakfasted before daylight, saw the hunters off for the day, and washed up the dishes. Eric left for home; Jack went to the river for a couple of buckets of water; Put filled the woodbox (with the usual frugal Yankee’s comment that we were burning an awful lot of wood).

After a while, Kiki and I went for a walk up an old road along the river. The day had begun bright, so when we reached a healthy side stream blocking our way, I rested on a log in the sun while she gingerly sniffed at the shell ice along the edge of the water. In the afternoon we took another hike to a favorite spot, Hellgate Pond, sat awhile, and headed back to camp before we might begin to worry the others.

Clouds stole across the sky just before dark, and I remarked at supper that I felt some weather coming. But I had no idea. At 2 in the morning a roar surrounded the camp, the door flew open, and a fierce cold front blew in. I held Kiki and whispered that everything was fine. Daylight revealed two inches of snow, which she’d never seen before. She barked fiercely at puffs stirred by the wind. When I let her out, she pounced, then ran madly in circles, tossing bits into the air with her nose. Everything — swaying bridges, roaring wind — forgotten, in the joy of existing utterly in the present. How I envy her!

Willem Lange can be reached at willem.lange@comcast.net.