The day of camping that I wish I could relive (Groundhog Day Reflections)

Groundhog Day is here. And with it, I found myself thinking, “If I could relive one day of camping, what would it be?”

My first thoughts were of those moments in the mountains in Glacier National Park—the day that went from 60s and sunny to sleet balls in a matter of hours. It was the place where a family of bears wandered directly through our campsite. But, that story can wait for another day.

Instead, my heart travels back to a trip that still makes my heart ache—the last trip with our dear puppy, Gidget.

“My little dog—a heartbeat at my feet.”

Edith Wharton

She was old. Her joints were brittle. By this point, she was completely blind in one eye, and only had partial sight in the other. She could barely see a treat when it was held in front of her. Her hearing was completely gone, but she would watch us speak if we were close.

Even at home, she couldn’t walk much without getting tired. We often described her as the grumpy ole’ woman, because through her mini Schnauzer beard, she looked just a little ticked off.

Still, in the mornings, she would wander into the master bathroom with that little smile that dogs get—mouth open, gently panting.

We didn’t want to admit it, but we knew she was close to the end. Spring Break was coming, and we wanted a trip that would be easy on her.

You see—Gidget was one of the driving reasons we transitioned from tent camping to a pop-up. (We hated the idea of her being in a tent when we were off seeing the sights and couldn’t take her. We wanted her to have comfort.)

Eventually, we chose to camp in a place in South Toledo Bend, just across the Texas border in Louisiana. It was a short drive from home, and would be easy on her achy body in the car. It would also have big, open sites close to water—lots to explore if she felt up to it. But, it wasn’t cramped or stressful if all she wanted to do was lay around.

It was everything we wanted it to be.

Pine pollen filled the air and covered the camper in pale yellow. She wandered around sniffing the air, with the breeze blowing her unkempt hair. She let me hold her on my lap while we sat watching the fire—something she had only let me do when she was a puppy.

Since she wasn’t as fast or ornery as she had once been, we let her off leash to avoid it getting twisted. We hung a glow stick around her neck so that we could see her wandering in the dark, the little stick swinging like a pendulum as she plodded among the trees, leaves and straw.

Every once in a while, she would get turned around and feel a bit lost, given her eyesight and the pale moon. She would yelp a little, a slight request for someone to help her find her way back. I would gently lift her from the straw, scratch her head, and put her on a simpler path.

More than once, I just let her roam and followed close behind. I was downwind, so she didn’t know I was there. It was the last bit of freedom I could give her.

Her joy in being outdoors made her a bit more spry than normal. It was almost enough to give us hope that she might endure a few years longer. Almost.

It would be the last time we would get to list Gidget in our family camp journal under “who was there.”

A short 3 weeks later, she was laid to rest. I find it amazing how those moments of grief seem to suck your breath and lay like cinder blocks across your chest.

You wonder how you’ll carry on. “She was a dog,” you think. “But, she was my dog, my family,” you think further.

Why, then, is that the day I would choose to relive? Why choose to return to something so heart wrenching?

In its essence—it was the last moment when I truly felt like she was there. Really there. To hold, touch, see and hear. They were the last moments when the old dog that I knew was looking through that little bit of good eye, smiled, and was happy.

That’s the dog I remember. The dog who once overextended her leash to chase a duck into a pond. The dog who once waded neck deep in mud on a camping trip to Dinosaur Valley, and made us so mad.

A good dog.

A good day.

I would relive all the heartache to relive that day—knowing that I was making the most of my moments with her.

It’s a heavy memory, and a light memory.

I am thankful for that camping trip. It gave me a bright memory among the sad. The trips before gave us so many stories to tell about that crazy dog.

I wish everyone would give camping a chance—give themselves those opportunities.

One day, one by one, my children will go to college, get married, and start their careers. One day, it will just be my other old girl—my wife, LaShera—and me, staring into the warm glow of the fire. She’ll be reading a book, and looking at me over her nose while I retell my favorite stories of the life we lived—of those places we visited with the kids.

One day, my kids will tell their kids about the places we’ve been. They will retrace some of those same places. And they might tell stories about that grumpy, family dog who started it all.

Go camping.

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