It was the autumn of 1955. We had left the comforts of the city to visit our cabin in the mountains in upstate New York seeking to harvest fresh mushrooms from the nearby woods. 

ButchyThe cooling Adirondack air lay sedately over the pastureland and cornfield that surrounded the perimeter of our property. White fluffy cumulus clouds passed silently overhead giving a momentary shade and a special clarity to the earth below.

As we walked, streaming sunlight dappled the pathway with both light and dark patches.

  My dog and my first best friend, Butchy, led the way. At the time she was 6 years old as was I. Both of us had been born in 1949. My father, James Sr., followed directly behind the dog.

  Butchy was a spayed-female terrier-hound mix who was given to my parents as a baby shower gift. My father had named her Butchy because he felt she was just too feisty to have a girl dog's name.

  I followed close behind my father with my mother, Mary, and my Aunt Tina bringing up the rear.

  On the outskirts of the woods that bordered the 2-acre cornfield, we came upon an outcropping of fallen logs. We all sat to rest our weary limbs.

  Mushrooming in our family was an inherited art. My folks were very skilled at finding the terrestrial fungi and knowing which were edible and which were not. We paired off with each other to search in different parts of the thickly wooded forest.

  My mother and my aunt who were also adept at locating the elusive mushrooms were filling up their handmade wicker baskets at a steady pace.

  Mushrooms were always a culinary delicacy at our house. My mother would fry them in extra virgin olive oil with garlic and assorted fresh herbs until they were crisp on the outside and juicy on the inside. They were then served as a side dish or sometimes mixed with spaghetti and meatballs and sprinkled with parmesan cheese.

  My father, Butchy, and I headed toward the denser part of the forest where there was an abundance of decaying tree stumps. He knew the mushrooms grew prolifically here and that they could be easily harvest.

  Butchy would watch us from nearby, and she too would start to dig mimicking our actions.

  Although our baskets were not as full, we knew they soon would be.

  Butchy, whose hearing was as sharp and as keen as her sense of smell, stopped dead in her tracks. She had heard an animal, most likely a deer, in the thick brush below us.

  She darted----her back legs pedalling through the fallen leaves kicking them up into the air as she ran.

  I screamed after her, "But-ttt-chh-yyyy!"

  But her speed knew no stop. She had seen her target and she was after it.

  We both knew that she would not hurt whatever it was she was chasing, but we didn't want her going too far into the densely wooded centre of the forest.

  My father whistled to her and although Butchy normally responded to this and to him, she did not come back.

  Tears welled and started rolling down from the corners of my eyes. I was afraid I had lost my best friend.

  "She's gone, daddy, she's gone! What are we gonna do?" I yelled to my father. I was really afraid she was never coming back to me.

  The sun was beginning its descent behind the tallest pines terminating the daylight in our part of the forest.

  My father knelt down next to me, put his hands on my shoulders, and said, "Let me tell you this son, a dog is a companion and a friend like none other that you will ever have."

  "When God made Earth and put people and animals upon it----he gave everyone a soul----people and animals alike. Now there are some people who will try to tell you that animals don't have souls, but you have to realize son that these are the same people who thought the earth was flat."

  My father continued by telling me, "Dogs bond to you through your spirit and your soul. A dog is never ever lost to you if he or she can retrieve the scent of your soul. That is what will bring them back to you every time."

  "Remember too, that each day you share with a dog is a gift. Rich or poor, healthy or sick, home or homeless, food or none, a  dog will stand by you to the end----always happy to be at your side----a partner and a loving companion forever."

  Whether or not I was fully able to comprehend everything my father was telling me--since I was only 6 at the time--I do not recall. But I do know in later years his words would replay themselves in my mind----over and over again----about all the things that dogs are to us.

  "And son," he added, "never be afraid to give your heart to a dog."

  "Now dry your eyes, it's time for us to go, and take off your jacket and give it to me."

  As we left the forest, my father lay my jacket on the ground near the path in front of the logs where we had been sitting earlier. At the time I didn't know what my father was doing. But I did know better than to question it.

  The sun had now dipped behind the trees casting long shadows over the open pastureland matching my long face as we trekked back to the cabin for supper.

  Much later that evening we returned to the edge of the woods to the exact spot where we had first entered.

  Our flashlight beams scoured the path to the woods and came to rest on a familiar sight.

  Two gleaming eyes--reflecting back the glow from the beams--looked up at us from the nest she had made in my jacket. Just as my father had known, my dog was there waiting for our return.

 James_and_Butchy I left the forest happy that night with my companion, Butchy. Our relationship would continue for another ten years with each of us learning from one another about trust, the joys of friendship, and the true meaning of unconditional love.

 




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