I find him asleep on our bed. The sun flooding the window, picking up the range of brown, orange, and golden tones in his soft coat. I stand there a moment just watching him with his leash in my hand.
“Do you want to head to the river?” I ask.
For a ten-year-old beagle, who is a smidgen overweight, his response time is stellar.
He dances around me, not leaving my side as I gather our gear: his leash, poo bags, camera, wallet, phone, and the tiny green tin where I keep a few treats. I grab a jacket and we head to the car. He jumps into the Forester eagerly, bouncing from the front to the back several times before settling in beside me up front. The Cedar River is only a five-minute drive away, and he looks straight forward, watching. Although he knows the word river well, he has been fooled before.
He talks to me as we pull into the gravel parking lot, excited, and I have to use a stern voice to leash him up and get him safely out of the car, along with our stuff.
Under the bridge, just ahead, the river flows on both sides of the road, and I have my choice of parking on either side. On the east side of the road, the small dam built for the salmon slows the flow down, coming almost to a halt in places. Occasionally we picnic here in the grass among the tall evergreens and he gets to wade. When my boys were children, we often came here to cool off, sometimes meeting friends for a spur of the moment picnic dinner. It’s calm here, and I like that we can get right down to the river bank. Here I can let him run off leash a bit, and he loves that.
But on this glorious late-fall day we choose the other side: the long, gravel path that follows the river for miles.
I have to coax him to get him out of the parking lot as his nose goes into action. He has a routine, smelling the log ahead of the car and the signposts with information about the salmon that call this river home, lost items, and bear sightings. Once inside the gate he picks up his pace a bit. But this is not a walk for exercise per se; it is a walk for noticing.
It is not long before we both want to stop. He catches the scent of something intriguing and I notice the color of the maple leaves, how they sparkle from the glow of the river behind them. I spot a feather and tuck it into my pocket and see that he has found something less precious: deer droppings. He marks them and off we go.
This dance goes on for a little over a mile. We stop, we notice, I take photos, and he sniffs. Soon we come to a little spot where the river curves a bit and we lose sight of it. But I can hear it rolling, its soft voice a constant on these walks. Here under the tall cedar trees, there is a patch of grass and a picnic table. We stop, and I allow him to roam free a bit as I hit the review button on my camera. Bicyclists pass and another couple comes by with a chocolate lab. I grab his leash as they stop, and we all get acquainted. More sniffing, some circling, untangling of leashes, and talk about the glorious weather.
Before long he leads me to a trail off to the left. I can see it heads down toward the river and, like him, I am a bit curious. He is insistent and, because I trust his instincts and know if it were a bear he would be baying, I let him lead and we step off the main path. We find steps that lead down to the river and what looks like an old rock slide. The slope is overgrown and there is no bank or any way to get to the water without being in it. He does not hesitate as he steps right in and grabs a cool drink. I stomp hard on his leash and snap some photos. The light is beautiful, and the leaves reflect their vibrant colors in the water. We both turn and head back up the stairs.
Instead of heading out to the main path, he heads down a tiny overgrown trail. Blackberries catch at my pants, and I notice that the trees overhead are dripping with moss. I can see light and the promise of fall colors ahead, so I follow. We wind around a bit, maybe a quarter of a mile or so, both of us stopping to look more closely at what draws our attention — a patch of mushrooms for me and some mysterious smells for him. The trail takes a turn towards the river and suddenly we find ourselves in an opening where we discover more of the rock slide. The river curves and we have a beautiful view of both sides.
I go a bit crazy with my camera, rushing here and there, wishing I had my wide angle lens. I get down on my knees for closeups and a few macro shots. I pose him in all kinds of different ways, wanting so badly to get him and that glorious view behind him in the frame. But no amount of treats persuades him to give me his full attention, and soon I give up and sit down on one of the flat rocks, thinking about the shot I failed to get.
I find a safe place to set down my camera and look up. And, then I see it. I see the trees behind the river, gigantic cedar trees and pines that go on for miles interspersed with colorful vine maples in every shade of red, orange, and yellow. I see the blue and green of the water as it flows downstream and how it turns white as it hits the boulders in its way. I think back to the time we floated this river with our boys, who were probably too young at the time – both my husband and I a bit scared as we worked hard to miss those boulders, while the boys laughed and loved every minute. I sit back, take a few deep breaths, and relax.
Soon he snuggles in next to me, nosing my pocket, wondering if the treats are still open for discussion. I slip a few out of the green tin and he eats them out of my hand. We sit there for a minute or two, both of us looking out at the beauty surrounding us – him feeling pretty pleased with himself for finding this place and me so very grateful I followed.
Words and image by Cathy Sly.