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A step back in time to the very first Scenic Route


“Sandy Compton has written somewhere in the vicinity of 225 Scenic Routes, beginning with this one in January of 1997. For the next year, while he comes up with a few new ideas, we will be reprising some of his favorites and best. Here is “Radar,” tribute to a dog.

A book compiling 15 years of his favorite columns, Fifty-Two Weeks on the Scenic Route, to be published by Blue Creek Press (www.bluecreekpress.com) will be ready in the Fall. Stay tuned.”

When I walked down the hill that night, I turned to wait for him, though I surely knew he wasn’t there. He’d gone ahead again, at last; rejoined the station of his youth, the lead, the front of line. His tail was once more his standard, a proud blonde question mark above his back, symbolizing the effervescent curiosity that ever drew him up the trail.

I saw him there, in both directions. Behind, in its immediacy, was a hollow shadow; a ghost of a shambling old dog, slow, half blind and deaf; ahead ran a hundred-pound bouncing bundle of golden energy etched in bright memories, solid as the ages through which I will remember him.

 His tired gait no longer made me wait; me, who thought I’d never have to wait for him. When the time came, though, I didn’t mind. Often enough, he waited for me to finish climbing some steep trail he trotted up with scarce a pant, or to skirt some dense and rain-soaked grove that he had pushed right through.

He waited laughing, as if to say how pleased he was to be himself and not some mere two-legged beast with silly sensibilities and a center of gravity too far off the ground

 For 14 years, eight months and 20 days, I was his man. He was never mine as much as I was his. There were things he would not do for me, frivolous acts of gratuitous obedience; but I knew that he would die for me if called upon, for he lived to be with me, celebrating the end of each extended separation with a joyful dance of welcome, like the prodigal’s return.

We grew up together, but he surpassed me in age while I wasn’t looking, just as he used to brush by me on the trail, impatient with my dawdling ways. He never looked back from his decline to see if I was keeping up.

Sorry, old dog, I have lagged behind, and won’t catch up for quite some time. Go play with my father, who loved you well. Go play with my daughter, who left us early, but would have loved you as dearly as any child has, and every child who ever met you loved you at first sight.

There is a touch of new snow tonight, enough to cover the sins of the day, blanket the spot of crimson near the dog house door, where his head fell pulsing blood; enough to blot clean the trail, where I dragged him to his final rest, of any pinkish stains.

There was no hesitation in me, once I’d made up my mind. He hurt too much, he tried too hard too long and then tried not at all.

He went without a fuss, just tried to rise, looking at me in pure surprise at the coup de grace. Then stretching out, he relaxed and I held him weeping while he died.

 I did not set out to write that; but to tell of better times.

Of how he could sit perfectly still, studying with great delight a herd of white tail on an evening hill; so attentive he would startle when they did, but never chase, never hound. He was a gentle dog.

Of how he would walk a mile for a piece of cheese, but curled up his lips at corn chips and candy.

 Of how, on a frozen night with rime on the snow and a full moon in the sky, he would thunder across the echoing crust in ever widening circles, galloping with pure delight as a child might find in such a night. My mother and I once stood like steaming statues, listening to him run, watching for him to cross diamond-strewn strips between ebony bands cast by the trees at the edge of the feilds.

Of how I could still him with my hands, quiet him with a finger to my lips, then bring him rambling on with a wave of my arm, a game he loved to play.

Of how he lived in any place that I would, but like a salmon remembering the currents of his birth, he would begin to shiver at the scent of the Clark Fork, no matter how far or long he had been away from home.

Of the friends he had that I did not know; the cats he chased, but not to catch; his trademark deep and single bark, as if he knew that was all most intruders needed to be warned clear.

I see him on that last day of fishing with my father: the athlete dog, leaping log to log with careless and powerful precision; the comic dog, head under and nose full of water, looking for that creature we let back, so surprised that there was so much difference in the world below the surface.

He was nothing but a high-class mutt, no papers, no pedigree, but if I ever meet his match, I’ll be surprised and pleased.

I miss him now and I’ll miss him again. I will see him standing in the trail, looking back over a golden shoulder, grinning and egging me on. “C’mon, you man. There’s more to see. Let’s go. We ain’t got all day.”

But now, we do, or at least he does, but I am just a short eternity away.


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Author info

Sandy Compton Sandy Compton Sandy Compton is one of the original contributors to The River Journal, and owner and publisher at Blue Creek Press (www.bluecreekpress.com). His latest book is Side Trips From Cowboy: Addiction, Recovery and the Western American Myth

Tagged as:

pets, death, dogs, The Scenic Route, Radar

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