A Puppy Showed Me How to Live in the Moment
I didn’t have a dog of my own until I was 63 years old. In 2019, after a long summer on the road selling books and being social, I went back to Panther Creek to prepare for a winter excursion. I stopped to check in with a friend of mine and he surprised me with a puppy.
“Well, you’re a little older,” he explained. “I’m not saying you need her, but it’s a good idea to have a dog back there. Keep you from being surprised by some camp invader. Maybe show us where to find your body in the Spring.”
We looked down at the puppy by our feet.
“What makes you think that little thing can survive a winter on Camas Creek? Wolves eat dogs and I have plans to track wolves, Travis. That’s the reason I’m going up South Fork.”
“She don’t need much. And being with you is better than chasing cows. That backcountry is paradise for a dog like this.”
She was a Border Collie mix; a classic Idaho cow-dog. Originally bred in Scotland to herd cattle, Border Collies were high-energy and eager for attention. Only eight weeks old, she had baby teeth and puppy breath and her tail was wagging constantly. As cute as she was, I was still concerned about the timing of it all.
It was September, two months before my departure. I planned to spend the entire winter in a wall tent in the Frank Church Wilderness and it promised to be pretty harsh. I would use snowshoes and skis to track mountain lions and wolves, and I always did it alone. It did not seem like a puppy-friendly plan; she would be only 5 months old and exposed to hard-core backcountry living.
It proved to be a baseless concern. She survived and thrived. Greer was born for the wilderness life.
We spent every day and night together for the next two years. She was an inspiring companion… exactly the partner I needed at that point in my life. I learned so much from Greer. She taught me to be patient and more expressive with my affection. Most importantly, she taught me how to live in every moment; not just the ones I planned for, but the ones I sometimes let pass by.
This revelation is often only realized through tragedy. Too many people put life on the back burner waiting for some point in the future when they might have time for their dreams. Even active people leave too many moments unappreciated. Believe it or not, that little dog helped me learn to live life better. I’ll share one example…
I was waiting for December to start my adventure, but Greer insisted we start right away. We had a camp set up on the bank of the river where we could fish and relax for a few weeks before the hard work of our winter excursion began. Deer wandered through our camp every morning and Greer would tremble with excitement. One little fawn would look at her and flick his head. And she would look back at me… wondering why I kept sitting in the chair… wondering why we weren’t playing chase with that fawn. She was befuddled. Who sits when they could be having fun? Why wait for adventure when it’s standing in front of you?
It was in epiphany for me. Ever active, I was doing things at 60 that many men never did. But there I was… sitting in a lawn chair in the great outdoors when I could be playing. I laughed out loud at the look on her face, at Greer’s ability to communicate with me, and at the wisdom of her teaching. I heard the Bell of Truth ring. I got out of my chair, followed Greer’s lead, and learned even more about Adventure.
After a couple weeks camping by the river, we loaded up the truck and drove south to the desert. The weather was warmer, there were new places to explore, and we were free. Why not? We set up camp an hour outside Moab and spent a month playing in Utah’s incomparable parks. Zion, Arches, Canyonlands…
Greer was a perfect adventure partner. I was a soloist; weeks or months at a time alone in the backcountry were my preference. But Greer brought endless energy and enthusiasm to my quiet place. She played when we went to the creek to get water, running ahead to hide and pounce when I’d walk by. On our hikes, she’d walk ahead, then come back to check on me. There were times when she felt unsure; maybe something in the breeze made her cautious. There were times when she was afraid. But she’d look to me for reassurance and let go of her fears as soon as possible. She had a knack for finding something to be happy about; the perfect companion for me.
I recognized that as a great way to live. Most people considered me a care-free guy; after all, I adventured for a living. I always thought I was living in the moment, but not enough. Now and then, I appreciated ‘A Moment’, but Greer MADE each moment count. As young as I felt and behaved, I still suppressed that youthful curiosity that filled her every moment with anticipation and the excitement of discovery.
When we returned from the desert in November, we joined some friends for a late season raft trip on the Middle Fork. We hiked three days through the Frank Church Wilderness and a week later, she rode the bow of our inflatable through the rapids in the Impassable Canyon.
A month later, we left for our camp on Camas Creek. I hiked and skied countless miles through the snow in the Frank Church Wilderness that winter, tracking wolves and mountain lions and deer and elk… purely for the excitement of it. And Greer was always with me.
We’d track all day, then eat ravenously and sleep like the dead. From December until March, we lived in a wall tent and shared our warmth on freezing nights. So cold that I slept in long johns and a down jacket with a -20 degree sleeping bag pulled over us. It didn’t matter to Greer; she always woke up happy. When we opened the flap to the tent each morning, she would stalk me on my way to the outhouse. Flattened out near the trail as though she were hidden, then bursting through the snow with the sheer joy of being alive. She started every day out that way. For her, I make sure to wake up playful even now.
Greer grew up in the Frank Church Wilderness and I couldn’t take her away from it. When I moved to Poland, she stayed in the Idaho backcountry with a mountain man she’s always known and loved. Though our lives have gone separate ways, I still practice the lesson. By observing her behavior, watching her leap at every reason to be happy, I learned the secret of living in the moment. Even now, Ela and I intentionally enjoy the first moments of each morning. We wag our tails, play, and remind each other to enjoy every moment of the day. I understand the profound importance of the lesson Greer taught me… and appreciate having the chance to learn from her.