We woke up Saturday morning at 10,200 feet to robins singing a summery tune, our friend Glenn strumming his fiddle, a lone domestic sheep bleating and a sheepdog circling its charge, trying to lead her back to the flock.
I’ve had a black bear amble through my camp at dusk and a grouse perch on my head, and once a fox streaked through our camp in hot pursuit of a snowshoe hare, but never has a domestic sheep baa-ed in camp all morning like her babies had been stolen.
Every summer, about 7,000 sheep get moved up into the San Juan Forest to graze, which can be hard on wild plants, but is a continuation of a rich history. (Dan has a dream of spending the summer cataloging the “aspen tree graffiti” - the words and drawings carved into aspen trees decades ago by lonely, hispanic sheepherders. Living history that will live just as long as the individual tree – anyone want to sponsor him?)
The lone sheep eventually joined her wooly family over the hill, but “Hearts,” (the name Hazel, Glenn’s daughter, age 7 going on grad school, gave the sheepdog) inexplicably stayed with us.
All weekend we frolicked and lounged, drank coffee late and beer early, while Hearts the Dog insinuated herself into the fold of families. She hiked with us and accepted our gifts of popcorn and cheese and guarded our tents during nap time. Like mothers do, Kristi (Hazel’s mom) and I worried about why the dog was so skinny and where her food and people were, and what caused the bloody gash on her back leg that made her limp. There was talk, when the dog was still with us at dinnertime, (eating her own plate of mac ’n’ cheese!) about taking her home (which was either highly unethical or going to save her life). Even Dan threw a nugget of raw elk sausage to Hearts.
After dinner, we took a walk to the spot where we had last seen several sheep and a few horses. We figured if Hearts belonged there, she might recognize her home.
And Hearts, that old trickster Australian Shepherd with the sweetest blue eyes, loped up to her horses like they were old, familiar friends; and, indeed, they were. “Thanks for the food and love, suckahs,” Hearts wagged as she bid us adieu.
Meanwhile, the clouds whipped themselves into a thick batter. We made it back to camp just as lightning cracked open the sky and poured it into the mountain basin. Col, Dan and I retreated to our tent like a Kansas storm cellar to read our two books over and over while Rose played “a game about Yahtzee” in the camper with everyone else.
“Remember Hearts?” Rose asked on the drive home before falling into that blessed sleep of children that seems to come as easy as breath. Dan and I nodded and laughed, passing surreptitious squares of chocolate to each other in the front seat, marveling at how much can happen in one short weekend.
Reach Rachel Turiel at firstname.lastname@example.org.Visit her blog, 6512 and growing, on raising children, chickens and other messy, rewarding endeavors at 6,512 feet.