The recounting of a real event that happened back in the 1970′s. Originally published in 2008 or 2009 (I can’t remember). I am reposting this because I find myself thinking about Hickory Dickory Doc so often these days. One of my great hounds!
Hickory Dickory Doc, my black and tan/bloodhound cross, was just a puppy in an adult size body at age 15 months. He liked to go wherever I went as did Scruggs my seven year old collie shepherd mix. Hickory had all the makings of a great hound; keen nose, good stamina, and an undying urge to stay on a hot trail. Mostly we just wandered around together in the New England woods. I really enjoyed watching him use all his instincts as he caught a whiff of some critter nearby while we rambled about the forest on any given day.
At that time I had a job where occasionally I would take a group of teenagers to some wild place. We would backpack, camp, watch the stars, and enjoy the great outdoors. These kids often came from troubled families. I had no idea how they would interact with the natural world, although many of them did come from rural towns. Generally these teenagers were great young people that were products of their environment. Some of them were from low income families. Some of them were from dysfunctional families. A few had no family at all. The one great part of all of their lives is that they had each other. In a large group they mostly seemed sure of themselves and they were often loud and boisterous.
I was young, not too long out of college, and eager to do something worthwhile. I knew I was no psychologist, but I also knew I came from a pretty tough background and could relate to these kids. For a few months I just hung out with them, helped them to have a good time, and kept them safe while they were under my supervision. I was figuring out who they were as a group and as individuals. I was trying to gain their trust and respect. It wasn’t always easy.
It occurred to me one day that although these kids came from a rural environment only a few knew anything about the natural world. I thought it might be interesting to take them into the woods for a couple of days to see how they would commune with nature. It was a trip I will never forget.
As was my custom in those days I seldom went anywhere without my two dogs and so it seemed natural that I would take them on this little outdoor group adventure. At the time I worked with a fellow who was a few years younger than me, but very enthusiastic. He had graduated from an Outdoor Leadership Program and was a pretty good outdoorsman. The “gang” as I called it in those days loved Paul and he proved to be a capable leader. Paul decided to go with me on that trip, and he brought his Husky dog along with him.
We planned a trip to Bash Bish Falls. This well preserved natural area in the southern Berkshire Hills has beautiful hiking trails, spectacular water falls, and a long system of trails nearby that hook into the Appalachian Trail.
The first day of our adventure was interesting. We outfitted each of the dozen kids with a backpack in which they put their personal belongings, sleeping bag, clothes, and God knows what else. Not all the kids had all the right gear, for instance, hiking boots were not in fashion and were too expensive for this group. Most of the kids wore some sort of athletic shoe so we knew that we had to stick to trails that were relatively free of ankle turning debris. Paul took the front of the line guiding us along the well worn trail. He carried half of the group equipment along with his personal gear. His pack weighed in at about 60 pounds. His dog stayed close by as we hiked along the trail. I took up the rear, coaxing along the slower hikers who were just a bit out of shape. I carried the other half of the group gear and my pack was about equal in weight to Paul’s backpack. My dogs ran free. Scruggs stayed by my side and Hickory Dickory Doc had his nose to the ground looking for fun or trouble, whichever happened his way first.
As we hiked up the trial on the first morning of this overnight adventure I looked at the queue of the motley crew in front of me. They marched along on the rocky trail surrounded by mountain laurel, the main vegetation in this area. Some of the group chattered with their neighbors as they hiked along. Some were focused on the next step as each breath came with a wheeze and a cough. As a whole they looked rather odd. Their packs were hastily packed with all kinds of items hanging out of the pockets. Some walked awkwardly under the moderate weight of their packs. This was a first time excursion for many. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but they simply seemed out of place.
The first real eye opener for the group was our arrival at the primary water fall. Hordes of water fell over a steep cliff and splashed into a deep basin below. White air bubbles permeated the deep pool and a mist hung over the water. Branches with brightly covered autumn leaves framed the visual as if a calendar photograph was about to be taken. The group’s silence was shocking. They stood there in dead silence. After a moment someone just said “Wow”, and the silence continued. It was my distinct impression that for many this may have been the first time they were ever awe struck.
Hickory charged into the water, breaking the silence, and swam into the swirling pool. Scruggs waded into the water up to his chest. Hickory swam back to shore and Scruggs came out with him. They both did a huge dog shake and water flew everywhere in a full shower from each dog. Everyone laughed, breaking the human silence and returning everyone to their normal behavior. The chattering and joking around resumed.
This was the first moment that I saw a different side to this group. Nature had already proven that it was capable of teaching these young people respect and wonder.
After taking a break on the nearby boulders that sat along the shore we headed onward. We had a specific camping destination to which we were heading. Hickory Dickory Doc forged to the head of the group thinking he was the scout for the pack. He ran to the front so quickly his long ears blew back in the wind. Scruggs hung back with me happy to be by my side.
The group seemed a little quieter now, a little more focused. I wondered if they were tired or just in a state of calm after that amazing waterfall. I wondered if they were content. I really wanted them to experience the peace of the natural world.
From the front of our queue I suddenly heard some shouting and then I heard the unmistakable bay of a hound. Hickory had found something to chase. I really had hoped that the group would distract him and this wouldn’t happen. Hound in the woods? What did I expect?
Paul ran back from the front leading the group. He explained that a deer had run down the trail almost running into Hickory. Both Hickory and his dog ran in hot pursuit of the deer. Paul looked a little concerned.
“Don’t worry Paul, they’ll be back,” I said with a false sense of confidence. In truth I had not idea what to expect.
“Okay, you move ahead with the group to the camping spot. I’ll stay behind and wait for them to follow their trail back. I shouldn’t be to far behind.”
A few of the teenagers asked if everything would be alright; Paul and I assured them that this was just “dog play” and everything would turn out fine.
After they left I took off my heavy pack and stared at it.
“That was a bad idea,” I said out loud to Scruggs, “I have half of the group equipment in my pack.”
I thought about this and reasoned it wouldn’t be a problem unless the dogs took their time.
I sat on my pack, fully expecting the dogs to come crashing through the thick laurel with their tongues hanging out. After about an hour I wondered if they were still chasing the poor deer. After another hour I wondered if the dogs were lost. I was beginning to worry. Scruggs stayed back with me and kept me company. He wasn’t going anywhere.
In another hour I realized I had to get the rest of the equipment to the camp. Everyone would be waiting to set up tents and start dinner. I took off my long sleeved shirt and left it lying next to the trail in hopes Hickory would return and stay by it.
In about an hour I reached camp, a little out of breath given my quick pace. Everyone noticed that I had arrived without either of the two missing dogs. Paul looked particularly worried.
“No need for real concern yet,” I said, “I will hike back down the trail to where we last saw them and I’ll bet they will be waiting there.”
As I hiked back to the spot on the trail where I left my shirt lying on the ground I realized I was really fretting about our missing dogs. It had been more than several hours. The only comfort I had was that the two dogs were together and would keep each other company. Perhaps one of them would lead the other back to the trail.
As I approached the shirt I caught a glimpse of movement. On the shirt was Paul’s husky, but there was no sign of my pal Hickory Dickory Doc. The husky was elated to see me. He couldn’t stop wagging his tail. I was glad he was there. Paul would get his buddy back but I was now really worried that something had gone wrong for Hickory.
I called and called for into the dense underbrush for an hour. There was no response.
I decided to bring Paul’s dog back to the camp. When we arrived the dog danced, jumped up and down, and ran in wild circles as if he were telling Paul about his adventure. I was happy for them both.
Some of the gang came to me and asked me if they could help search for Hickory. I was touched at their offer. I thought about this and decided that as long as stayed on the trail, traveled in pairs, and stayed in frequent communication with me, and didn’t travel for more than a mile it would be alright. It was approaching dark now so their involvement would have to wait until morning. When I made a plan with them that evening they were elated. I could tell they really felt valued. Perhaps this trip now had another purpose.
That night I spent the entire night walking the trail, flash light in hand, calling for Hickory. My imagination got the better of me and I started imagining all sorts of horrid scenarios. I had to turn my mind off just to keep from getting too crazy, but the images kept me walking until day break when I returned to camp.
I slept for about an hour that early morning. When I woke up all of the gang had organized themselves into pairs. Some went in one direction, and others went the other way. Paul took one pair to the intersection of the trail we were on with the Appalachian Trail. Scruggs went with Paul and his dog. I decided to try to forge my way through the laurel to a near by precipice from which I could call or perhaps hear the baying of my distant hound.
It took me hours to work my way through the acres of mountain laurel. I couldn’t imagine how the deer or our dogs ran through this tangle. When I reached the base of a hill the vegetation changed gradually from mountain laurel to mixed hardwoods and conifers. I was glad to have the easier travel for a while. At the top of the hill I hollered and hollered. I called his name, whistled, and clapped my hands together; anything to gain his nonexistent attention. I did this for hours working my way along a high ridge. At one point I could see some of the gang hiking on the trail on a distant ridge. I could hear there calls. I now knew that my dear friend was lost.
After a long slow journey back to camp I was relieved to find everyone had made it back safely and were breaking camp. I knew from the look on their faces that they had not had any luck, and they knew from my face that my journey was unsucessful as well. For a moment there was silence. No one knew what to say.
I knew it was time to get the gang home. None of them wanted to leave. They wanted to stay and carry on the search. I knew that their parents were expecting them and we had to head out. Paul and I talked about the situation. He had driven his own car to the camping trip. I had driven the van full of kids and gear. Paul had planned on staying behind to hike part of the Appalachian Trail. We decided that we would stick to our plan. He would keep an eye out for Hickory in his travels along the trail. I would return the gang to their hometown and parents. And I would return the next day to look for my pal.
After stuffing all of the gear and the kids into the van we began our two hour journey home. I didn’t want the last part of their trip to be sullen. As we drove along the van was quiet at first. I broke the silence.
“I really appreciate all of your help in looking for Hickory,” I said, “and I really want to thank all of you for being so positive. I learned a lot about your character and I have to say I’d be happy to journey in the wilds with any of you any day.”
There was a brief moment of silence and then the van was full of chatter. No one addressed my comments directly but I could tell we had formed a real bond.
As I drove along half listening to various conversations the other half of my brain was thinking about Hickory. He was out there alone somewhere, without me. I hoped he wasn’t injured. I hoped someone would find him. It felt kind of weird. I was sitting here in the glow of all this teenage energy and at the same time I was sick that something had gone terribly wrong for one of my best friends.
That night after safely delivering all of the gang to their parents I sat at home. I was chomping at the bit to return to Bash Bish Falls and look for Hickory Dickory Doc. I couldn’t have been more concerned and I just couldn’t stop thinking about where he might be. I took out maps and planned my next day’s travels in the area in search of my dog. Scruggs was by my side. I could see that he was worried too.
As I studied the maps the phone rang. I picked up the receiver.
“Bill, it’s Paul. Hey guess what? I found Hickory’” he said with tremendous excitement.
“You did?” That’s just great! Is he alright? Where was he?” I said with the greatest relief.
“You wouldn’t believe it. I got on the Appalachian Trail this morning and came across one of the shelters. I could smell someone cooking up a feast so I stopped by to see if anyone had seen a hound dog. There he was, hanging out with two campers, sharing a steak! He lost his collar so they had no idea where he came from. They told me he slept with them last night. I thought he would be real excited, but he really didn’t want to leave the steak!” Paul explained at a rapid pace.
“That’s my boy!” I said.
After hearing more about Paul’s adventure getting him back to his car (he chased another deer), I hung up the phone.
I had a long, long cry. I could not have been happier but the tears would not stop coming.
Written for www.wildramblings.com in August 2009.