It was seventeen degrees. Earth, snow, and sky converged into a milky emissary, whispering a timeless message of hushed peace. It was January in Central Oregon, and a glorious ice fog had coated every blade and branch with a one-inch layer of spiny rime. The frozen filigree embellished everything with its delicate crystal creations. Muted light shrouded all living things, now held captive in the icy embrace. The silent landscape murmured the promise of deep, abiding rest.
For me that rest would have to wait. I turned my truck off the dirt road that stretches north of Tumalo Reservoir and parked in the snow. From this access point, a wide wilderness invites adventurers to explore its latticed tangle of forgotten logging roads. I stowed my keys in a zippered pocket in my black running jacket and pulled on a pair of stretchy gloves. Soon my friend would meet me here for a long Sunday afternoon jog. Laurie and I were training for a marathon, her first and my tenth.
From the cab of my truck, I reveled in the peaceful setting. Weary from a heavy week of work, my heart welcomed the refuge of quiet. The small hiatus of silence soon was invaded, however, by the growing excitement of my dog, a Queensland blue heeler. She whined in anticipation, willing me to open the truck door to one of her favorite activities: a run in the snow with her mom.
Like all true ranchers, I never go anywhere without my faithful dog. Seven, or Sevi for short, is my third hand and foot and the thinking half of my brain. I’m sure she would finish my sentences if she could talk—and do a much better job of it! Dogs that live with us—really live with us—often know their human friends better than we know ourselves.
The comfort of my truck’s heater subsided, and brittle barbs of frigid air prickled through the glass. I snuggled my hat down over my ears and zipped up my jacket under my chin.
When I stepped out of the truck, cold air engulfed me like an unseen wave. With my first quick breaths, I inhaled what felt like a million needles of ice. The assault on my throat and lungs drove me to hoist my collar even higher to cover my mouth. While waiting for Laurie, I followed my prerun regimen, gearing up to spend a few hours in significant cold. I alternated jogging in place with pogo jumps to remain loose and warm. Sevi jumped around me in ecstatic leaps. Her chorus of happy yips beckoned me, as if to say, “Hurry up! We have a wonderful world to explore!”
In matters of life, dogs just get it. Sevi has taught me volumes more than I could ever hope to teach her. When it comes to demonstrating qualities like respect, forgiveness, and obedience and expressing emotions like love, joy, and peace, my dog operates on a level I can only hope to attain. Few creatures know how to maximize the moment better than a dog.
Sevi’s example constantly reminds me that ten minutes ago is already in the past, so why think about the future when right now is just so much fun? Her exuberance for life shows me how to really enjoy the rich and simple pleasures found within each moment of my days.
Sevi and I persisted in our frigid dance until Laurie arrived. Her white car was almost invisible against the pallid backdrop of the wintry High Desert. After a quick hug, Laurie and I agreed on our time frame and what trail to explore. The breath from our brief conversation froze into thin veils, drifting above us like drowsy angels. Not wishing to stiffen in the deep cold, Laurie retrieved her dog, Mia, and the four of us set off.
Sevi and Mia collided in a jubilant canine hug and then bounded up the trail ahead of Laurie and me. Our once relaxed breath now rose behind us in measured white puffs. Shoulder to shoulder, like twin steam engines, we chugged over a crunchy mantle of frozen snow. Every stride took us deeper into a pristine realm of winter wilderness.
One metered breath at a time, our voices soon merged with the serene environment. Like a smooth stone skipping across a mirrored pond, our dialogue bounced from one subject to another. After several miles, I noticed something else between Laurie’s words. Because the rhythm of her voice had maintained a steady flow, I hadn’t been aware of it earlier. It wasn’t until Mia missed the turnoff onto a narrow, frozen logging road that I heard it—Laurie’s voice calling her straying dog back to her side.
All during our run, Laurie had been guiding Mia with voice commands that barely punctuated our conversation. Laurie achieves this weaving of dialogue and instruction with such intrinsic skill I had all but forgotten that she does it for one reason: Mia is almost completely blind.
It wasn’t until Mia bolted in the opposite direction that Laurie finally stopped and backtracked, calling out to her wayward friend. Unsure of how to help, I watched as Mia crashed through the frozen brush. She clambered over logs and tripped in a dense tangle of underbrush. Finally, overwhelmed by an icy prison she couldn’t see, Mia stopped. A tinge of concern crept into my heart as Mia began to move again, turning in tight circles. She swung her head back and forth in an effort to locate her master. Laurie waded into the wintry snarl and broke through to where Mia was trapped. With gentle hands, Laurie turned her blind dog back in the direction of the correct path, and together they started out again.
I could hear Laurie’s low voice guiding her courageous dog. “Easy, easy…step up, that’s it. Here…here. Good girl.” In unison they crunched up the trail toward me.
Laurie and I often run together, but I still admired their interaction as they trotted up to rejoin Sevi and me. Laurie resumed our run and conversation as if nothing more than a comma had passed between us since our last words.
Mia fell in right behind us, following the sound of our feet drumming over the frozen layer of earth and snow. I doubted that any onlooker would have been able to detect that Mia is blind. By tucking in at Laurie’s heels, Mia relaxed behind a shield of protection she could sense but not see.
As long as Mia stayed close enough to hear Laurie’s muted commands—and obeyed them—she was able to navigate an unknown world. Yet the moment Mia stopped listening to her master and chose instead to wander, everything changed. Once Mia was separated from Laurie, her world quickly compressed into a dangerous and lonely place.
Mia was following the sound of her master’s footsteps. Her previous experiences had taught her that this was a sound she could trust. A sound that kept her safe.
I smiled at Laurie and pointed a gloved thumb over my shoulder at her dog. My words were measured out between breaths. “What faith…to follow a master…you cannot see.”
Excerpted from Blind Hope by Kim Meeder and Laurie Sacher Copyright © 2010 by Kim Meeder with Laurie Sacher. Excerpted by permission of Multnomah Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.