10 years ago, during my first summer in West Texas, I made a companionship with Heidi when she was four and I was 14. It was a companionship I’d never forget.
For hours on end we’d walk the desert together, both by foot or her chasing me on a dirt bike. She’d crouch and throw her hackles up when a rattlesnake or coyote was nearby. Once, during my first week or two here, after she’d follow me from room to room and everywhere I walked, I tried to shake her by getting on my bike and flying out through dirt trails at top speed, taking random turns at forks in the road and blasting over ridges, kicking up dust on the way. After five minutes, six or seven turns and seemingly losing her, I turned the bike over on a tall embankment and — once I managed to stand it back up — couldn’t get it started. The sun was setting and panic slowly began to set in with every failed attempt. The desert’s cool, still darkness approached. Suddenly, over the ridge, I saw Heidi’s bouncing head looking up, sniffing the ground, looking up, sniffing the ground, advancing towards me. I was so happy to see her that when she approached I got on my knees and hugged her, asked her feverishly to show me the way home before walking my bike behind her and following her the rest of the way. Today, 10 years later, Heidi now 14, with cloudy eyes and a white face, the same age I was when I met her, we went for a walk in the desert again. She had been looking at me with that begging look of a dog as I sat at my computer writing, and after five or six minutes I finally succumbed and enthusiastically said, “Ok! lets go!”
She jumped onto her hind quarters, the most I’ve seen her move since I arrived on Thursday, and then spun away and broke into a slow jog. But it was the slowest we had ever walked together, and I followed behind her patiently. We moved through the rain as I listened to the earth break apart underneath my boots. Every twenty or thirty yards, Heidi stopped and looked over her shoulder to make sure I was there, the same way she did 10 years ago when I had little experience with the land or knowledge of where we were, when I really needed her.
After about 15 minutes of walking I froze in thought; left out of the driveway onto the dirt path, left at the first fork in the path, right at the second fork in the path, over the ridge, around the first boulder, down into the valley and up and to the left at the third fork. I knew this way, this route, it was the same path Heidi followed me on that first week of knowing her when I was trying to disappear. I looked up and she was staring back at me knowingly, waiting for me to keep walking so she could keep walking.
We carried on this way for another 15 minutes until we arrived at the steep embankment where I had turned that bike over so many years ago. She stuck her nose up into the wind and stood staunchly, taking in the desert, the memory, maybe even catching the scent of a coyote or mountain lion in the distance. I felt tears well in my own eyes at the way she knew, or even the coincidence, because either explanation was magnificent.
“C’mon Heidi, lets go home,” I said to her deaf ears.
She put her nose to the ground and began retracing our steps, and then she broke into a sprint, almost looking four years old again, like the dog I first met that would jump a good eight feet from one bed of a pick up truck to another just to chase a stick. She looked back at me and jumped, her paws hitting my thighs and her nose buried into my stomach as I rubbed her ears. I swear she smiled. And I smiled too, just watching this old dog with her white face and her cloudy eyes and now her muddy feet and wet fur be happy, feeling young again, just a desert dog in love with her domain.
Back at the house, she’s standing on the short wall of the porch, holding guard, looking over me and the valley and the mountains. And maybe she’s even remembering the way we used to sit out here together so many years ago as I guzzled down the first beers of my life and looked at a horizon I didn’t know, taking in the rocky scent of a cactus-ridden land I never guessed would call me back again all this time later.