Dog was a working breed known as a Portuguese Water Dog. He had long, wavy brown hair that matched man’s hair style surprisingly well. Along with many other hobbies, this long-haired mop of a thing was a show animal; dog that is, not man. His show career had gone about as far as it could go, so in a final try, the person who showed him had cut all of the fur off of his hind end, as this is one of the accepted ways to present this normally long-haired animal to the show judges. It was similar to the type of high fashion that might befall a standard Poodle who failed to read the fine print before signing on to the show circuit. Man thought that it looked rather silly on such sturdy, 65 pound beast that loved nothing better to than trek long distances through the woods and to swim in a river, but at least now, man only had to pick the burrs off of the front half of a dog.
Man was a little bored this particular weekend because it was just him and dog. the other show dog had gone out of town to a competition. It wasn’t quite Westminster, but a big production none the less. A long hike in one of Missouri’s most rugged and beautiful state parks seemed to be a great idea. The bare minimum of camping gear was thrown into the van. As dog climbed in, man studied the new haircut through furrowed and squinting eyebrows, and thought, ‘perhaps women who are described as sturdy should avoid mini skirts’.
Hawn State Park is a mixture of granite and sandstone hills with plenty of cliffs and clear, fast flowing streams. More importantly, with the campground and access relegated to one corner of the park, it has some of the most remote areas and longest hiking trails in the State.
Not much was said during the hike. In fact, nothing at all was said. Man wasn’t one of those who talked out loud to himself and was pretty sure that dog wasn’t interested in a lot of chit chat either. Man couldn’t remember the last time that dog had ever barked, at anything. Dog was very well trained but training really didn’t have much of anything to do with this day. Dog had been reliably sticking close to man since he was a pup. A squirrel or deer could run by and neither one of them would care or consider taking up chase. A leash was not included in the minimal gear for this day. Both were content in their craft.
After many hours, they took a turn off trail and out of park boundaries to seek out some rumored, magnificent sandstone buttes. Upon finding them, man jumped on top, only to find a sizeable cliff just on the other side. Fear! Not for man for himself, but for dog eagerly running up. Man knew that dog was not careful about such things and a vision of dog racing by popped into his head. Man thrust his arm up and shouted the first utterance of the entire weekend by either party, “DOWN!” Dog immediately did as expected and dropped just before leaping onto the overlook.
‘Now why did you go and do that?’ is apparently what was going through dog’s mind, man would soon find out. ‘Here we were, two buddies, having a fine time, and then you just had to go pull this training crap on me!’ dog added.
Man quickly came to understand the thoughts that had just gone through dog’s mind because when he released supposed “companion” from the ‘down’, the mood had completely turned sour. Man was amazed at how well a dog could passive aggressively put on a show as to how all joy had been sucked out of his world. Dog moped, lagged behind and only looked at the ground. ‘Oh did he carry on’ man thought.
Man had been taught that dogs live in the moment, don’t have guilt or carry grudges, but damn, this ‘I’m fine! Everything is fine!’ attitude was starting to last for hours. Shortly before getting back to the van, man felt like shouting ‘knock it off! I did it for your own good!’ but he knew that dog only knew a few words of English, ‘down’ being one of them, and figured it best to say nothing. Perhaps it might be perplexing as to how much skill and emotional awareness a man can wield in a situation such as this, and how such tendencies to make good relationship choices can mysteriously evaporate in most all other cases.
Some kids were playing in the water at a stream crossing just before the parking lot. Dog grabbed a stick and instigated a game of fetch with them, which was a bit unusual for him. Perhaps he was trying to say ‘see, I’ve got other friends’. No matter what the reason, by the time it was to go, all had either been forgiven or forgotten. Either way, it was a welcome relief.
They pulled into a campsite around dark, ate some food, and quickly climbed into the van to sleep. Man had a mattress and warm sleeping bag as it was going to get down to freezing that night. Dog was a dog and was free to plop down wherever. He had always been a cold weather dog and probably would have been happiest living in Alaska.
Being woken up slowly to an odd situation that his half-asleep brain was trying to make sense of, man finally realized that there was a dog nose, two inches above his own, staring straight down into his face. After the initial, “bwah!”, man wondered what was up. He put his hand on dog to find that dog was shaking like a leaf. ‘Oh my god, how could I be so stupid!’ man thought to himself. He had forgotten that dog’s entire butt was newly, completely, bald. The poor guy was freezing. “I’m so sorry dude. How long have you been standing there?” he asked. He unzipped the sleeping bag and dog climbed in.
“Knock, knock, knock”. It was morning and the old, retired campground host, with a new and repurposed mission in life, was there to collect the campground fee, never mind that it was not even seven o’clock in the freaking morning yet. The early bird gets the worm I suppose. With two, somewhat matching heads sticking out the sleeping bag, the quandary for man was, ‘do I try to explain?’
Cast of Characters:
dog: Sandcastle’s Hat Trick, (PWD)