It’s been a few weeks since I lost Roland and I still feel a little off. It is a bit quiet when I come home and I am having a hard time readjusting to being alone. We would go everywhere together, the bar, out for a ride, and even to grab a burger. I have caught myself a few times looking for him in the back seat and calling for him when I come home exhausted in the morning from work. Everything seems different these days. I haven’t been able to bring myself to take his hiking gear out of the car or remove his alligator from mine. I have yet to go hiking alone as well.
Twice now I have stolen away to go hiking, once to Fair Hill and Susquehanna State Park,each with Kim. My first time hiking we went to Fair Hill and hit the yellow trail. Having her there as a distraction was very nice. I have to say through all this she has been a platform of support that I can lean against and push myself back up. We walked and talked about life, loss, love and of course the outdoors. I still laugh a little when I think about our hike. Every time she came to a trail head, just before she asked or in response to her question, I would say Gee or Haw. For those of you that don’t know Gee is right and Haw is left in mushing. Here I am so used to hiking with Roland and I’m answering her in terms that are foreign and unknown to her.
As we hiked sections of the trails that brought memories of Roland came and went. We would stop and stories of him would flow. Kim ever patient just listened and got to know Roland in all of his wonder. We came to a section of the trail that had been washed out still and with no way across I told her how Roland and I had decided to jump it the last time we were here. I threw my pack across the washed out creek and backed up, getting as much of a lead as possible for Roland and I. I yelled hike and in a flash he was in full sprint pulling the gangling taught. Sprinting as fast as I could after him he hit the gully and slid down and bolted up the other side, with his four wheel drive just as I reached the edge. Jumping as hard as I could he came out the other side and burned down the trail. Our gang line tight, I thought I wasn’t going to make it and here I was going to crash into the side, Roland’s momentum pulled me the last little bit as I hit the other side running. We had cleared it and all I could think about was how awesome it was. I told her of this with a huge smile on my face and it was hard not to miss him.
My second trip out was to the last place he and I had hiked, Susquehanna State Park. Kim had been here a day or two before and wanted to come back. I felt a little sad on our way over, it really hit me that he was gone and I wouldn’t be doing this ever again with him. Just as in the last time Kim and I went out we talked a lot. Not having the silence to get lost in my own thoughts is comforting and a welcomed change of pace. I still wasn’t ready to do this alone yet. The path she chose was flat and flowed along the Susquehanna Riverbank winding back and forth. We followed the train tracks for quite some time before veering off into the woods. Yet again I used the old terms for left and right, gee and haw I answered.
The noiseless atmosphere, motionless snow geese, ducks, and slowly floating ice on the river imparted feelings of a lifeless, eerily quiet, desolate landscape. The world around us appeared to have turned itself in the image of a monochrome photo. It was hard not to feel heavy-hearted as the overcast sky turned everything a shade a grey, void of any color. Just a few weeks prior this place was teaming with life and vibrant colors as Roland and I hiked around. This hike was a somber event, finding solace in each others company, our own secret world for the afternoon, discovering evidence of life in the forms of tracks and other signs left behind. As the sun drew closer to the horizon, the light faded from the trees and river around us, giving way to twilight and a feeling of urgency to get back to the car. We were miles from the parking lot and moved with a sense of urgency, as we cut back to the road, short cutting our trip back to the car.
These past two outings short in duration have been long in thought. I miss my dear friend everyday and I carry his energetic, joyous, stubborn, comedic attitude with me. Ever on the trail, hunting, watching, alert to everything around him he kept watch over us. When we were alone I felt safe knowing he was there to find aid, fend off animals and unwanted guests, steadfast in his upbeat attitude lifting our spirits on long days. There is something to say about a man and his dog, a kinship like no other. This ancient bond between man and canine is primal, instinctive, deriving from our mutual need for survival and companionship. This unspoken relationship drives us to be better, to find strength in ourselves, love in ourselves.