Unfinished Business

Part I – Lost Dog Canyon

Then, too, heed your own heart’s counsel; for what have you that you can depend on more?
A man’s conscience can tell him his situation better than seven watchmen in a lofty tower. 

— Sirach 37: 13-14

Having frequented many of the same desert wilderness areas recently, I decided to head off to Lost Dog Wash for a little more challenging experience.

I’m not sure where the name comes from, but most sources seem to speculate that it has something to do with a beloved pet getting lost in the area. Whatever the origin, the well-groomed trail provides a mostly easy 5.2 mile loop that meanders along the wash and cuts across it in two expansive intersections. Judging from the amount of people, mountain bikes and dogs out on the trail, it looked like it was just about perfect for anyone looking to enjoy a scenic desert hike during the holidays.

I was not really in the mood for other folks and wanted to immerse a little more deeply, so decided to ditch the well groomed trail at the first opportunity. After about a 1/2 mile of winding my way north, I spied the divergent point I was looking for and darted through a narrow canyon opening that heads off to the northeast, but mostly parallel to the main trail.

The terrain was much more rugged and challenging from that vantage, but the added exertion promised to reward me with the rich, dramatic beauty of pristine canyons. I knew it would also be rife with very diverse wildlife seeking refuge from the typical disturbances of hikers on the trail.

I also brought along my trusty trail dog, Lily, who was delighted the second I removed her leash and let her take the lead. Instantly, she was on the scent of who-knows-what, tail wagging and criss crossing the wash from one point of interest to the next.

As we trudged along, I noticed the very ripe scent of game on the air, which was not surprising because the canyon was riddled with animal dens of all sizes carved out in the rock and sand walls. They looked to be mostly coyote dens, but I could also see a number of javelina beds in recesses stuffed with clumps of jumping cholla.

That reminded me that I should have brought along some needle nose plyers, because I would be picking those cholla spines out of my boots and Lily’s paws repeatedly on the trip. It was also a wonder to me how those javelina managed to use those particular cacti as suitable bedding material. A great mystery indeed.

We climbed gently upward over rocks, boulders and stretches of sand that revealed quite a few fresh tracks including coyote, javelina and one or two bobcats. There were frequent twists, turns and forks along the way, which added to the challenge. It also didn’t do anything for my mood, which was mostly agitated.

Maybe that had something to do with all the coyotes hidden away in nearby dens. That also seemed to be affecting my dog who was noticeably on high alert and wanting to stay close on my heels for most of the hike. Maybe it had something to do with all the brooding I was doing over recent news items; everything from monstrously alarming to ridiculously insignificant.

I have to admit that it was very difficult to find some peace, although we stopped a couple of times for a rest and I was able to let go a bit.

I found it so refreshing during the final rest just to drink in the silence and center myself back on God. How awesome, Our God! How wonderous, His creation!

A gentle breeze ruffled my hair as it eased past and up the canyon. A little cricket chirped from a mesquite bush a bit higher up and off to the right. Off in the distance to the left, a cactus wren let out a series of chirps. Moments later, another answered from back down the canyon. A number of other species joined in with their distinct song from all sorts of directions. The dog slumped comfortably at my feet and alternated between panting and sniffing the air. Right on cue, I suddenly noticed my own breath… my heart beating rythmically from the climb…

Ah, too brief. A couple of minutes later we were on the return trip home with a few more cacti barbs in our skin and a rush of competing thoughts swirling in my head again.

I was slightly more refreshed from the outing, but it was still a bit unsettling. I knew there was a good lesson in there, but had only vague notions as to what it was all about.

Subsequent nights in prayer and contemplation on the patio did little to resolve the issue. Each night I could hear various packs of coyotes in the surrounding foothills howling and yipping away with what seemed like their mocking laughter.

There was definitely some unfinished business with Lost Dog Canyon, so I knew I would be heading back out.

Part II – Return to Lost Dog Canyon

Most important of all, pray to God to set your feet in the path of truth.
— Sirach 37: 15

Just before heading out from the house, I had scanned an article about some lunatic who had disrupted a Christmas Eve Mass in Cologne, Germancy. Apparently a shameless woman had jumped on top of the altar topless, with the words “I am God” scrawled on her torso. She was a part of the notorious, pro abortion feminist group FEMEN.

On the drive to the mountains with my dog, my heart was turned to the Lord in an attempt to console Him, but it was also weeping for this lost woman. How exactly does one console the Lord after such vile blasphemies? How does one pray for a woman such as this, trusting that those prayers could make the slightest dent in a heart grown so cold?

Lily waited patiently on the trailhead while I fiddled with my gear and strapped on my day pack. Still dwelling on the horrific news article, I shivered a bit and quickly scanned the overcast skies. A small blue patch was enough for me to ditch an extra layer of fleece, confident that the skies would be fully clear soon. Having remembered the needle nose plyers this time, I slipped them into a side pocket on my cargo shorts.

The previous night I had also remembered to view some aerial topography to plot a better path up Lost Dog. This involved adding a nice stretch of Ringtail Canyon plus a bit more of the trail groomed for the general public, so I encountered quite a few other hikers for the first 3/4 mile.

There were also several other dogs on the trail with their owners. One couple gave us a warning as they approached that their pit bulls weren’t “very friendly.” I smiled at them as we passed, giving them a wide berth, and wondered why anyone would want to keep dogs that weren’t very friendly.

There was also a dad with a couple of young boys, and some other family groups, which included a mom pushing a newborn in a stroller up a difficult stretch of trail. That was a first for me, and I told her as much with a hearty smile. It was the littlest of hikers, and here I thought that I had started my kids out at the earliest opportunity. As odd as that encounter was, there’s very few things that warm my heart quite like the sight of a baby.

A short time later we were off trail, heading up Ringtail Wash in an area marked as “Sensitive Habitat.” I’m sure this has more to do with the abundance of wildlife than the sandy and rocky terrain, since we immediately spotted a regal looking sentinel perched high up in a tree in the middle of the wash. It was a large Cooper’s Hawk eyeing us calmly (pictured below left).

I hadn’t been in this particular stretch of canyon for quite some time, and frankly had forgotten how spectacular it was. There were also thick patches of jumping chollas littering the ground with their thorny spines, so I had to use my pliers frequently to pull the painful barbs from the dogs fur and my exposed flesh. Even with the thorns, I was able to stay more peaceful and focused on silent, simple prayers.

Three miles further up, I crested the top of the wash and took some time to enjoy the expansive views, if only for a brief rest. I was fumbling around in my pack to get the dog some water and snap a few pictures when I suddenly realized that I had lost her leash. That was definitely a problem, because I would have no way to restrain her from any potential dangers or other dogs that would undoubtedly be plentiful back on the groomed trail.

I thought I could improvise a leash with one of my camera straps, but wasn’t sure it would hold. It was such a small inconvenience, but I continued to worry about it as we headed back down the canyon. Of course I prayed, and it seemed as if Jesus was reassuring me that I would find the leash. Even so, I had to keep berating myself to trust more, even in such a small matter.

I felt better as we walked, focusing more on the issue of trust, but stumbled here and there in my thoughts, occasionally thinking that the odds of finding the leash were slim. Still, I needed to trust, and right at the moment that some real, trusting resolve finally got the upper hand, I jumped over a large boulder, landing on a gentle patch of sand.

There was the red leash laying right at my feet.

I stayed there for about an hour with Lily, resting by that boulder, expressing gratitude, and taking in the lively song of birds perched in nearby scrub. A couple of the songs were new to me, so I searched the area in detail until I finally located the sources: a tiny Loggerhead Shrike and black tufted Phainopepla which I had to look up in my ‘Birds of the West’ field guide to identify and record as sightings.

So now that I’ve recounted this hairline slice of my life and had some time to reflect on the matter, it seems pretty obvious that this kind of scenario plays out far too often. True, I can always take practical steps that are of some benefit, but the fact remains that I fret about far too many things when the Lord is simply asking me to trust, love and pray.

Trust. Love. Pray. Could Our Good Lord possibly make it any easier?

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