Elation: A Cattle Dog’s Story of Outside


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I know where we are going when my person puts on the dirty shoes—the ones that smell amazing. They smell like a thousand trips into the moss-covered woods of Washington, like the cracked dirt near central Oregon crags, like the sand on our coastal backpacking trips, like mountains I haven’t yet visited. I know exactly where we’re going when my person slips them on, and I stand, patiently, by the door. My person always brings me along when we go outside, so I don’t need to worry.

I like to nap when we’re riding there, but I’m ready the second the car stops. My person has to hold out their hands and try and scoop up my leash before I jet out into the hard-packed dirt of the parking lot. The door opens and a world of smell engulfs me. Those boggy mud pits that I like to eat and those brown leaves that crunch and the ferns, perfumed by animal after animal. There is a dead carcass somewhere and, if I’m really lucky, some person has pooped in the woods. I’ll find it this time.

I wait, impatiently sniffing and chewing rocks and pulling around the car until my human stops fiddling with weird straps and starts walking towards the woods. I press and press against my harness. I’ve learned exactly how to push sideways and forward to get the maximum length of leash.

River the dog in sand

Oh wait. That smell! It’s that fern. Or is it that bush? No. Definitely the fern. I stick my nose in deep. Who was here before me? Finishing my sniffs, I turn my head, check on my human and off I go again. Until: Oh the mud! My face is buried in that bottomless, oozy, earthy goo and I scarf it down, belly filling until my person pushes me along.

And sometimes, when we run up and up and up, there is this cold white stuff all over. I like to stick my nose straight into it, deep, and blow out with all my might. It tickles and gets stuck. I look at my human and they laugh at my face, all covered with the powder. I smile. But then immediately turn and keep running upward. We have places to explore! There isn’t time to stop.

dog smiling outside

I always hope, on our way down, that we get to sleep overnight in the woods. My second-favorite human, the taller one who gets so salty, likes to put a light around my neck and run into the dark. I wait, poised, ready, held back by my main person. I prick my ears up, trying to keep them in range. And when it gets so quiet and dark, my person lets me go. I fly into the night, trying to find my other human. The light bounces, flinging brightness on scattered trees and dirt and branches. I stop, listening, and then gallop again in another direction. Then I’m jumping and licking and smothering the found human in kisses. I found you! I found you! You didn’t disappear!

When we’re all tired, wag-weary and worn, we clamber into a fluffy bed of down sleeping bags that have whole seasons of sweat and dirt and food remnants embedded in their very fibers. I circle and paw right in the middle, finding the best spot to become a little puppy ball, let out a deep sigh and listen to the sounds of the woods and the breath of my humans lulling me to sleep.

Those dirty shoes are the talisman of the magical world where everything good happens. The world that I dream about when I’m running in my sleep.

River is a year-old Australian cattle dog/Rhodesian ridgeback mix who walks Aer a couple times a day. She likes hiking anywhere, taking naps while humans rock climb and eating poop.