June 10, 2022

There’s a two-mile trail near my home that punches its way upwards through 2000 vertical feet of unkempt Pacific Northwest forest. It’s little more than a crack through thicketed undergrowth – a tangled and erratic mixture of stone, roots, and sludge. My dog and I first discovered it in 2011. I was looking for a suitable place to train for some upcoming climbs and Ivan was looking for a suitable place to pee. It exceeded both of our expectations, so we kept going back.

Since we preferred to have the mountain to ourselves, we’d arrive before sunrise and would scramble our way to the top using a single, shared headlamp. I couldn’t always see Ivan, but I could hear the jingling of his dog tags in the darkness. I knew when he’d drift too far ahead or behind and learned to judge his relative speed and vivacity as he orbited my periphery. The jingling broadcasted our existence to the world and kept us safe from bears and squirrels and other murderous woodland creatures. The jingling connected us. Oriented us. And infused melody into even the dreariest of days we spent together.

Except for one.

I removed Ivan’s collar for the last time a year ago today and placed it in my office. Its silence there has been deafening, so I woke up early this morning, strapped it to my backpack, and headed off to our trail.

The route, as usual, was perfectly abysmal — steep and slippery and stalked by sasquatch, probably. Ivan would’ve loved it, and I imagined him bounding beside me again, scouring the shadows for wildlife and new places to pee. But no matter how much I adjusted the length of my stride or pace, there was no accompanying jingle. The tags just swayed and clanked behind my pack monotonously. Joylessly. Soullessly.

I don’t know why I expected anything more.

The tags are, after all, just bits of inert metal, etched with a name that is no longer called. They’re no more capable of eliciting joy than a tambourine without its musician. And I am no musician.

So I stopped trying to play them and just focused on the trail ahead. I thought about rocks and roots and squirrels and a dog who once jingled through the forest.

The memories reverberated through me like a melody.

And carried me upwards through the darkness.

1 thought on “Upwards”

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