Wednesday, October 30, 2013


The Auburn State Recreation Area boasts a complicated web of trails scored into the rocky canyon that, at one time, would be inundated by the Auburn Dam.  The Stagecoach Trail leaves the ridge top near Russell Road splitting about two-tenths of a mile into an upper and lower Stagecoach.   

We typically take the upper for a distance, then, break down into the canyon on a series of marked deer paths and dry stream courses, twisting along the wall of the North Fork to the abutment of the Foresthill Bridge, then link up with Lower Stagecoach for a steady climb back to the top.

For the past two years, a restoration of the 730-foot high Foresthill Bridge finds hikers, when rounding a final bend down by the river, nearly deafened by a cacophony metallic sounds – hammering, sawing, pinging – the soundtrack of engineering moving from paper to product.   

Music to some, but to Jax-the-Dog, our 12-year-old Aussie mix, this is yet one more example of something that’s somehow out to get her.  (Her list includes thunder, the cat, cars passing on the street, and my utterances when this computer malfunctions.)

Off-leash, because I’d forgotten this detail this day, I turned to whistle her near as I rounded the bend, but she was nowhere to be found.  My mind flashed on the Cowardly Lion’s response when first encountering the Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  

Brother Tim and I immediately started one of those search and rescue operations often televised on the Weather Channel – although there was no category 5 hurricane in the canyon this day – wading through tickets of poison oak and ducking under unbending stickery oak branches and past abandoned homeless encampments.

After forty minutes, we had to call off the search.  We'd be losing daylight in about six hours.  A mile-and-a-half from the parking area, our best hope was that someone would find her, discover she was chipped, we’d get a call and all would be well.

Still, on our return, Tim took an uncharted high route and I retraced our steps, calling “Jax! Jaxie!” every ten to fifteen seconds or so.

Halfway back through the maze of trails and brush, my call returned three sharp reports.  Across the draw, on an open spot of the trail, the black and white Aussie had stopped, recognized something through her aging ears or glassy eyes and came racing my way.

I bent down to offer a welcome rub of her ears and she licked me with a too-familiar fetid tongue but, this time, I didn’t pull away.  Clipping her leash I told her how she’d damned near broke my heart and how it would be broke again when I had to tell her mom and how, most of all – another of her nemesii – Edward-the-Lab-Mix’s heart would be broke for having lost his favorite chase-n-chew toy.  In fact, I talked gently with her all the way back up the trail, pausing occasionally to run my fingers through her fur and scratch her neck. 

Once back in the pickup, her time-honed malodorous breath filled the cabin and I sorta wished I’da left her on the trail.

© 2013
Church of the Open Road Press


  1. Good short story Dave, and with a happy ending.

  2. Oh I'm not buying that last line AT ALL!

  3. Update: Here we are six weeks out from this little adventure and we find that sweet Jaxie has a failing kidney. I love that girl and I am gearing up for heartbreak...


  4. Final Update: As a result of an inexplicable ruptured kidney Jax (JTD) was granted rest on 27 Dec 13 having been a great friend and companion. My wife reports: "There's a hole." I thought perhaps the mice had been working on the wallboard. Then I realized the hole I was feeling, deep in my gut, was shared by my wife and had once been occupied by JTD.

    Rest, girl. Rest.