Homecoming

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Finnegan or Ruben? Finnegan’s a real pro—he knows how to hike, how to stay on the trail, and sleeps well at night. Ruben knows nothing. He’s also a baby and doesn’t yet understand that I go away and come home again. But Finn does.

As I run around loading up the car, Téte, who's not even in the running for going on this trip, is watching my every move. Finn was sleeping soundly on the couch until I opened the drawer and pulled out his backpacks. Now I can see his wheels turning: he thinks he’s going on a trip again and will have to carry all his own gear. But I’m trying the packs on Ruben instead. The blue one is too small; so is the lime green one. But Téte’s orange pack is too big.

Once the car is loaded, I put Ruben in the back seat and wave goodbye to Téte and Finn. I can’t figure out if Finn’s cocked head means he’s upset or relieved to not be coming along, or maybe he’s just amused that “baby-face” Ruben is going for the first time. But we’re off now—Superior Hiking Trail or bust!

I was singled out—taken away. I don’t know what’s happening or where I’m going. Maybe Mom’s returning me.

I slip in a CD I made for the trip and start singing. It’s a gorgeous day for a drive and Ruben, who seemed a little anxious earlier, is curled up sound asleep in the back seat. Just as I start to feel fatigued I see the Duluth bridge. We’re almost there!

Wow, where are we? Lots of trees to sniff. Sand to dig in. Rocks to jump up on. Mom looks busy. I’m glad she brought my bowl and filled it with water. Oh yay, I get a treat too. Looks like we're going on a walk now.

I may have made a mistake bringing RubenSurely my arm is going to dislocate. He pulls me to the left when he sees a squirrel; a rabbit, and he yanks me to the right. Then the wind whips up and he jumps and spins around like something bit him in the behind. This is going to be tougher than I thought.

I’m in paradise! Rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, deer, and all sorts of cool smells. I wish Mom would take off my leash. I keep getting tangled up and it’s cramping my style.

Eventually my shoulders relax and my breathing becomes more even. One step at a time, the pressures of life start to lift. So much green, mixed with the bright yellow of marsh marigolds, and hordes of tiny snowdrops. Ouch! “My goodness, Ruben, just walk, and stop lurching for each leaf that blows across the path.”

Excuse me, Mom, but I’m getting tired. How far are we going? Look, water, big water! Oh man, it's ice cold and it feels so good on my paws. Thanks, Mom, I feel better already. Wanna rest awhile? A treat?! Delicious, I was getting hungry. Those TurboPup bars are tasty.

Dusk already. I'm beat. I’ll make a fire and let Ruben relax while I get dinner going.

Hey, what are all these flying biting things? They’re going into my eyes and ears. Help!

Gnats. Dang, already? Once the flames are blazing and the sun begins to sink, I lie down near the fire. Ruben jumps onto my chest and licks my face amidst my giggling protests. Within seconds he falls asleep, his weight pressing on me. Not a bad way to end our first day.

What’s going on? Where am I? I was sound asleep. Why are you getting up? And what’s that spooky thing?

"It’s time for bed now, Ruben. Let’s get into the tent."

Mom’s stuffing me into a small, dark tunnel. Get me out of here! I can’t breathe!

Ruben begins bucking like a bronco. I’m worried he’ll rip the screen or tear up the floor. “Come here, little buddy,” I say, as I worm my way into my sleeping bag. Before I even turn off my headlamp Ruben figures it out, or is too tired to care, and starts snoring softly by my side.

How did it get light out so fast? This tent thing isn’t so bad; I feel all warm and cozy. No, Mom, don’t get up, can’t we just sleep a little longer? But I am hungry.

Ruben and I both eat like we haven't for days. I pack up and we take off for the day again. We head down the trail with Ruben in the lead, my outstretched arm gripping his leash, my body lagging behind. When I stop to take a picture, Ruben inevitably notices something he’s interested in and tugs his leash, causing me to shake the camera. So much for clear memories.

Oh, I see. We have a treat and we start walking; this must be hiking. Finn told me all about it. Mom’s not taking me back where I came from. Here we go again, and I don’t even have to carry my own gear. Ha ha, Finnegan, you said I would have to!

Four days, three nights, and over thirty miles later we arrive home. Téte and Finn come bounding towards the car, hardly allowing me time to stop. Ruben wakes up, yawns, and looks out the window.

I’m home! There are my friends! Look at us, sniffing and running around like crazy. I sure had fun, but there’s no place like home with my best friends Téte and Finnegan.

As I watch the dogs reunite I give Dane a huge hug. I think Ruben is right: trips are fun but coming back home is the best part.

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Originally Published June 20th, 2019 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout