My dog let me down. Or so it seemed. I know that man’s best friend is above reproach. And I may have just made a false accusation. But let me tell you exactly what happened.
A few hundred yards behind our property in northwestern Michigan, there’s the start of an alluring trail. Its floor is coated with pine needles. Mixed deciduous and pine woods stand on either side. This trail is one of hundreds of old logging roads and newer snowmobile paths that wind through untold miles of forest. My dog —Beans by name—and I walk the trail frequently. Normally, we saunter along this one trail for half a mile, then turn right on another trail for about a mile. By this amount of time spent, Beans has sniffed at ferns and other flora and has ducked into the woods alongside the trail several times to follow the scent of a deer track or investigate some cause known only to him—as beagles do.
Beans is a vigorous 30-pound black and white dog with a brown head. He is quite handsome and very intelligent (taking after his adoptive “father”). He can shake hands. He can jump through a hoop. And he loves classical music, which quickly puts him to sleep.
He not only understands what we tell him, but he also often makes sounds as if he were trying to speak back. Am I being buffaloed by my love for him? Maybe so.
On this particular fateful day, we started our walk before 9 a.m. Narrow patches of sunlight shone through the trees and lit the trail.
I always walk Beans on a leash, which can stretch to 20 feet and rewind. Without the leash, Beans would take off to chase a deer or squirrel. Beans’ piercing full-throated bark-of-the-chase bashes the normal silence surrounding us.
On this day, we took a different route, which led us to a different and unfamiliar trail. Beans sniffed and darted back and forth. I was sure this trail would lead us to one that eventually came back to our amiliar path. But, no. We seemed to be far off course. The first hint of concern sneaked into my mind.
I had no compass. One would have been useless anyway. I could see the sun still only part way toward high noon. So, believing that the sun still rises in the East, I knew that if we kept finding trails that took us in an easterly direction, we could eventually reach Detroit —240 miles away. On second thought, trying to head toward Lake Michigan, to our west, must not have been more than several miles away.
But no trail we took seemed to have a consistent direction. And we saw not a soul on any trail. Meanwhile, Beans seemed utterly unconcerned. The sniffing and investigating was going well for him.
Finally, after more than two hours, I suddenly realized that Beans probably knew the way home. So I said: “Beans, go home. Beans, take me home.” We started down another trail with Beans pulling ahead on his leash. But this trail merely led to an intersection of trails.
“Take me home, Beans,” I urged. He turned left down a new trail. After 15 or 20 minutes, it became apparent we were getting nowhere.
“Pull me home, Beans,” I was pleading by this time—picturing the rest of the day and the night in the forest, without food or drink. Maybe lost permanently. We had walked about 10 miles. And these old legs were getting sore. Beans didn’t seem to mind. But he has twice as many legs as I do.
Finally, the trail we stumbled down led beside a field, and in the distance I spotted a highway with cars zipping by. We trudged through a field of grasses and swampy ground, and slowly scrambled up an embankment to the road.
I decided to walk left. Because it was near noon, I had no idea in what direction we were headed. Soon we came to a crossroad. The name was familiar. Lady Luck suggested I should turn left. We did and shortly came to a house.
I knocked on the door and explained my predicament to an elderly lady. She chuckled and said she would go and get someone to help me.
As I plunked down wearily on a porch chair, I saw out of the corner of my eye a good friend from church climbing up the hill from the house next door. Here was Sid Snyder coming to the rescue. He laughed as I told him of our travails on the trails. Then he drove us home.
I said earlier that Beans had let me down. I also said that he understands what we tell him. But that doesn’t mean he always obeys.
Since our adventure, I concluded that Beans probably knew all along how to get home. He was just having too much fun exploring new trails.