Husband Phil to Argo:
Okay, Argo, this is your first wilderness adventure and there will be odd contraptions on the ground (tents). They are not to be afraid of. We will get a little moisture on the way, so be a good camper and shake off real good, wipe your feet off before you go inside, and be very obedient and polite.
Argo didn’t know he was invited on this trip as Phil and I were packing up our gear. He hopped and spun around, however, when we got his leash out and headed outside. He rode in the truck’s back seat, not making a noise and laying down to sleep.
Rains were coming. This meant that we only had a few hours “window” with which to set up the pop-up camper. We made it, but not without getting a little wet in the process. The sun descended the sky at 4:30 p.m. and by 4:45 p.m. it was dark.
No campfire tonight; it is just too wet. As the sunlight fades, however, I am glad for the slow, humming sound of the camper’s heater and the gentle glow of lights inside. Supper was dog food for Argo and hot, homemade vegetable-beef soup for us.
The next morning Argo woke up at 5:48 a.m. and stood eagerly on the other side of the ice cooler barrier we had erected to keep him at bay. Phil and I felt like college students staggering outside the dorm to a 3:00 a.m. fire drill as we shuffled to the other end of the cold camper to get our clothes on. Argo bounced around and licked us good morning. We stepped outside to the sound of a Carolina wren calling from the east and leftover raindrops splatting on the fallen leaves.
As the three of us walked through the mist and into the sunlight, leaves of brilliant gold, red, purple, orange, brown, and green reflected in the liquid-gold lake. The asphalt road to the levee was shining with last night’s rain and there were 10-foot long puddles for Argo to slosh through. He smelled the ground excitedly, tracking wild animals. Gusty winds airlifted leaves into eddies. Only a kingfisher chattering and a common crow cawing reminded us we were not alone. Phil asked a man fishing on the stony bank if that was a flock of snow geese in the distance and he grunted without looking up that he didn’t know.
Argo is leaving us next spring. We have been given preliminary notice of his IFT (In For Training) date for the training center in Florida. Where will he go on his journey? Who will he be with for most of his adult life?
How can a person be melancholy about an event that hasn’t happened yet? Perhaps because, as adults, we are old acquaintances with loss. Our parents pass away, our kids go off to college, and our spouses, as my sister once said, “are not quite as crisp as they once were.” In the fall, things are dying and changing—the green and growth of summer are gone, the harvest has come, and winter is near.
Phil reminisced about his boyhood when his parents would bring him to the dam at Kentucky Lake and watch the boats go through the locks. When our son was a boy, he fished on these banks and on the pier, sometimes alone and sometimes with friends. We have walked this land by the lake many times in different seasons. Now, Argo has been here with us, and we have a new gem for the treasure box.
For years to come, on misty, windy, November days when the sun breaks through and the vivid yellow of sugar maple and the dazzling red of the sweetgum trees stun us into silence, Phil and I will remember this camping trip by the lake with a dog we once called ours.