I recently had the pleasure of visiting Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve for the first time. Stepping toward the entryway to the preserve, it felt as though I would be entering a sacred place, one both of this world and beyond it.
While I was excited to explore a new trail, I also felt hesitant because the last time I was in the area I had spotted a large mountain lion stalking wild turkey about 50 yards away from me. Despite the potential risks of hiking alone, I did not want fear to hold me back from doing what I love to do. Soon, serendipitously, a solution would be presented to me. I use the word “present” intentionally, as it really did feel like a gift.
If you look closely at the photo below, you will see a black and white dog standing along the trail, waiting for me to follow her.. I crossed paths with this sweet creature after I first arrived and was approaching the entryway. We were initially a bit wary of each other, both taking a few steps back to ensure the other intended no harm. But, as I kept walking forward, she followed, joining me for what would be a three+ hour hike.
Along the way, she occasionally ventured off the trail and disappeared into the surrounding trees to hunt and explore, always returning to my side within moments. She chased deer and wild turkey to no avail (other than the pure joy of it). At one point, she stuck her nose into a hole and unearthed a sizable field mouse, which she proceeded to maul in front of me, much to my dismay. She was a huntress, my hiking companion, but this made me think her no less sweet.
As we approached the summit, the wind picked up, moving wildly through the grass and the limbs of trees. Soon everything was enshrouded in a thick mist. It was as if we were walking through clouds. The whole experience felt magical.
After making it full circle back to the beginning of the trail, my huntress friend ran up to me as I was seated on a stone bench, resting. For the first time she let me pet her, and I was able to read the phone number engraved on the silver tag dangling from her collar. I dialed the number and an elderly voice answered that she was the mother of the dog’s owner, Alice. She thanked me for calling, assuring me that they lived just across the street, and that if I told the dog to “go home,” she would do so..
We walked another quarter mile back to my car, past wooden fences lined with wildflowers and apple trees. As I started loading my gear into the trunk, my hiking companion stood there along the side of the road, looking at me eagerly, waiting for me to follow her. A part of me wanted only to follow her at that moment and continue our grand adventure – the part of me that hates to say goodbye. I told her what a great dog she was and how much fun I had on our hike, and then I told her to “go home.” I had to repeat my command a few more times before she eventually turned and disappeared into the grapevines of the winery across the street.
I am convinced her spirit followed me home, because that night I dreamt of her, and then woke the next morning to find a bowl of water left sitting on the kitchen floor. I only vaguely remember getting up to fill it for her in the middle of the night. While it is clear that I must have been sleepwalking, it felt like an offering, a way of showing my gratitude.