Today is one of those special days where it is fun to pull weeds. I have been out enjoying gardening and now tuck back inside to receive this.
This is lovely.
Sunday, June 10, 2007 (SF Chronicle)
Soulful final trek for my pal Bart
When my dog was just a pup, we were out on the trail one evening when he suddenly shuddered to a halt, puffed up his chest and black fur, and then took five steps forward and stopped. A coyote, thin and mouth half open, was 30 feet ahead.
The coyote seemed to smile at my dog. It turned and trotted a few steps away, and then turned back to my dog as if saying, "C'mon, let's go." For a moment, my dog edged forward an inch, grinned back at the coyote and panted a bit, and took a step forward. I shot forward and grabbed him, then reared up at the coyote and scared it off. For the moment, my dog was safe.
You see, this is how coyotes trap dogs. A single coyote will tease a dog into following it, or it will incite a chase. The coyote then leads the dog back to the pack, which ambushes the dog and tears it to shreds.
This encounter with my dog and the coyote was 10 years ago. Bart, a happy black chow who looked like a little bear cub, always had a conflict between obeying my commands or taking the bait of the chase. With coyotes, he was always transfixed and conflicted, but until this spring, never took the bait.
Over the years, Black Bart was such a happy little guy that we called him Barty, Bart-Dog, Bartholomew Fuzzbucket and Fuzzbutt. He was the favorite dog on the route of our UPS driver, who always gave him a bone and would say, "How's my little Blacky?" You don't see many purebred black chows, he said, and none this happy.
He was built like a small floor safe with legs, and out on the Pacific Crest Trail, he could hike all day. Chows are supposed to be afraid of water, but he loved the end of the day's treks, where he'd swim around in mountain lakes.
After all, he appeared afraid of almost nothing. When a bear approached one evening, the little black dog trotted right up to the bear, about a 300-pounder, and squared it off at 10 feet. The bear stopped, measured the moment, and then turned 90 degrees and sauntered off, with Bart escorting it for about 40 yards.
Man's best friend
Just like his master, he liked sleeping next to the campfire. For 10 years, he spent every night on a corner of my sleeping bag or at the foot of my bed. On trips, for hours on end, he'd sit next to me in my truck, his left leg propped on my right thigh, and gaze out the front window. On my boat, he'd perch on the bow like a hood ornament and take in the wind and scan the shore.
The one thing that petrified him was hail. Deep in the Russian Wilderness in Northern California, we broke off from the Pacific Coast Trail for a camp and got caught in a tumultuous thunderstorm with violent hail. I spread my poncho out like a ceiling and Bart huddled beneath me, peering out, occasionally looking up for reassurance, as pebble-sized hail pelted us and piled a half-inch deep.
As the years go by, so many people seem to come and go, but your dog always stays. You turn, look down and expect him to be there forever. Then one recent morning, he walked off and never came back. In the next week, I searched 40, 50 hours for my old pal, using all my tracking skills and resources, networking with everybody I could think of, to try to find him. Over and over, I called, "Bart! Bart! Come home!" There was never an answer. After awhile, I could feel my heart breaking.
A report came in of a lost black dog, and after six hours of tracking the area, I found it, but it was not Bart. Another report came from the animal shelter, and my son Kris and I rushed there, but again, it was a different dog. I found some coyote scat with black hair in it and sent it off to a forensic lab for a DNA test, but it turned out not be a match either.
Then, a week later, numb and exhausted, I finally was able to get some sustained sleep. In a dream with vivid clarity and colors, I was sitting in my chair and Bart came running to me, jumped on top me and licked my cheeks with a crazed fury. His eyes were wild and distraught.
I awoke and it was dawn. I walked out into the forest, held my palms up to the sky, and released his spirit form to the other side. "I let you go, Bart," I said aloud. "I will look for you no longer. I release you to heaven."
Two nights later, I had another dream. In this one, Bart walked up with that magic smile, and I stroked his head and scratched him under his ears.
The shadow force
That day I went into the mountains for a long hike. Sitting on a log along a stream, I came to realize that in the first dream, Bart's spirit-form came to say good-bye to me, and in the second, he allowed me to say good-bye to him.
There were prayers but no burial. Packs of coyotes, like mountain lions, don't leave much behind.
That evening, my wife, Stephani, took me aside, and said she had surprise news about our dog. A friend had called her and said that a shaman, a spiritual psychic, had picked up the anguish of the attack and the aftermath of the search. My wife, skeptical at first, heard out the story.
The shaman said that Bart had been attacked and killed by a pack of coyotes, just like we'd figured. The end came so quick, that his spirit form was fractured and confused.
"After the dream, when you went into the forest and released him to heaven, that is what Bart needed from you so he could cross over the bridge to the other side," my wife said the shaman had told her. "He's in a good place now. He's on the other side of the bridge now, smiling back at you."
A few days later, on a walk in the forest on a warm evening, I was going over a few details of a major expedition I'm planning, when suddenly I felt this warm vibrant glow wash over me. It was balmy, but my arms actually tingled from goose bumps. I looked up and realized what I was feeling. "I feel you, Bart," I said aloud, "I feel that you're happy again. I'll be with you some day." A moment later, the sensation was gone.
In the midst of all the work, driving, TV, Internet time and recreation that monopolizes our time and disconnects us from soul-level connections, episodes like this confirm to me that there is another dimension to this world. It is invisible and fathomless. It is a place of shadows, spirits and comfort, even in death.
"The Great Outdoors with Tom Stienstra" airs Sundays at 10 a.m. on KBCW-31 Sacramento.
E-mail Tom Stienstra at email@example.com. ----------------------------------------
Copyright 2007 SF Chronicle