3.Dogs in the Night

Chapters: Escaping the Heat | El Salto | Into the Valley | Dogs in the Night | Hiking the Valley, Hunger Lurks | Discovery | La Ciudad

Waist high grass that surrounded an abandoned barn was heavy with rain water, so we discarded the idea of using it for a night’s refuge. Nearby Robert found a fairly level spot where blackened rocks suggested previous campers. No farm houses were visible so we set up our tent and cozied in for dinner: mushroom soup with fresh mushrooms added and tuna fish cooked under the tent fly.

I wrote in my journal for a while, but began to get chilly. “How about a fire?”

“Good idea. Let’s try to get one going with four matches each,” Robert challenged.

“Sure, no problem.” At home in Oregon, damp wood was a given.

When my tiny flaming teepee of carefully chosen twigs collapsed into smoke, I admitted defeat. Robert’s skill failed him as well and we did without the fire. Having failed in the most basic wilderness challenge, we lost interest. Fortunately, our down sleeping bags were toasty and we slept our first night on the ground as well as can be expected for two softies used to foam mattresses.

Before dawn, aggressive barking awakened us and we could hear the sound of dogs charging up the slope from the barn. I hoped they would pass us by, but they seemed to pause on the road. Inside the tent I could only guess where and what they were. It sounded like two dogs, a high yip and lower woof.

And they were not leaving. Robert turned over, careful not to rustle his nylon bag. By the light of his flashlight he opened his jackknife. He noticed my wrinkled brow. “Just in case,” he whispered.

Much as I hated to admit, having somebody nearby who was armed comforted me. Still, I hoped the dogs would decide the tent was harmless. Deep Barker advanced on us, while Yippy egged him on from a distance. The closer dog stopped only a few feet from the tent. Mean as a grizzly bear popped into my brain. Shallow breathing, my heart thumping. Frozen and vulnerable.

What could be going on in his head, barking at this unfamiliar shape? I tried to will a friendly farmer coming to investigate and taking the dogs away. It didn’t happen. Maybe he hadn’t heard the commotion. Or maybe he was used to the racket and ignored it.

Deep Barker came closer still. My ears strained to hear clues to his movement. The tone of his bark changed slightly. Did he turn his head? Was he leaving? No. Is the tent fly zipped? Will he lunge through and bite my feet? I couldn’t see them. Were they near the door? Moving would make noise and draw his attention. I lay still.

The big dog came to my side of the tent and continued his attack. During a burst of barking, Robert reached under my sleeping bag and handed me my jackknife. I looked at him, and scrunched my face. What did he expect me to do? I’d never done any hand-to-paw combat.

Now might be the time to consider it.

I felt oddly safe for the moment. Two tight layers of ripstop nylon separated me from the dog. Did he know the blue tent contained anything alive?

My mind went wild. If he did attack, the tent would at least slow him down. If he broke through, I would thrust my left arm into his jaws while disembowelling him with my knife. But a hard thrust might be too risky for my inexperience and what if the jackknife closed on my knuckles? Ouch. Blood for sure. And pain. I hate pain. And what would the dog be doing while I was whining anyway?

So I left the knife closed.

Yippy came up the hill and they both barked inches from my ear. Bark, Bark Bark.

In my mind, I yelled, Shut up. Shuddup, SHUDDUP SHUDDUP SHUDDUPSHUDDUP. Then the dogs went silent. Had they read my mind? Light foot falls on dry leaves, moving away. They threw occasional yips back.

Quiet. No more movement from their direction.

We relaxed a little.  After some unknown cue, they rushed back in another attempt to intimidate the tent. An eternity passed but finally the barking waned and the dogs left, trailing barks behind them so we would know they were just resting, not retreating.

Finally, my heart resumed its normal pace and we dozed. The sky lightened and Robert poked his head out of the tent. “No dogs.”

He crawled out to dig a discreet hole behind a tree.

I was almost dressed when Robert yelled, “Oh, No. Here they come again,” followed by the now familiar barking. I looked around the tent fly to see Robert, toilet paper in one hand, struggling to get his pants up with the other. Two yellow farm dogs were just rounding the gatepost of the old barn, eyes on our tent. Suddenly, they saw us, and screeched to a halt on the road.

Robert held his hand out, fingers curled under. “Here, doggy, doggy. Nice doggies.”

They were not about to make friends. They stared, at us, and then at the tent and then at the barn, then back at us. Satisfied, they turned back to their refuge. Their energy was gone, but they had to bark periodically from the barn as we packed up, just to let us know who was in command here.

Standing up, feet on the ground, certainly gives a new perspective. My confidence returned. Now, the dogs were annoying but harmless.

As we shouldered our packs, a hummingbird zoomed in on Robert and hung in front of him for a wonderful moment. He stared at it, grinning. When it flew off, he laughed, “A hummingbird tried to nest in my beard, at full speed!”

Something was going right at last.


Go to the next chapter: Hiking the Valley, Hunger Lurks