In the morning we drove towards Robbers Roost. Berkley seemed thirsty but otherwise in good spirits after a second period of extended vehicle confinement. As per my custom, I showed Berkley a good faith gesture after the long drive as he and Hayduke stretched their legs; I went to the back of the truck taking out an bit of gear. Hey look we are done driving, but Berkley didn’t buy into the gesture this time. He headed down the draw away from us without hesitation. My calls, followed by Mary’s only produced short pauses as Berkley turned for quick glances at his family. Damn, this sure looked serious. In the days to come my certainty about his motive completely unraveled. Though the why didn’t matter during the moment, it left a gaping question unanswered. For three-days Mary, Hayduke, and I searched for Berkley. Our collective emotions ranged from hope to hopelessness. How could we search what seamed like millions of acres? How could we NOT search what seamed like millions of acres?
Our camp was located on a vast desert of rolling sage hills along a canyon system cut by the Dirty Devil River 1,000 feet below. It took until day two to discover a plausible route down to the river. Just as the Fremont peoples from pre-historic times sought out this corridor of life sustaining water, I instinctively felt Berkley would be drawn there as well. Arriving at the river Hayduke and I found no sign of Berkley, but instead discovered an inner peace emerge that was both unexpected and authentic. A calming presence compelled me to sit on the sandy shore among the tall grasses for what seemed to be an eternity. Despite the pressure to keep fighting the diminishing odds of finding him, the search was temporarily set aside. Despite knowing in the dark moments that would surface in the future if Berkley was not found, I felt the presence of something more than Berkley. Consuming my attention was a landscape revealed in a world of Navajo Sandstone with its rugged cross-bedded deposition contrasting against dark smooth stone above. I was at peace for the first time in two days. Subliminal thoughts triggered memories of several wonderful backpacking trips into the Roost. These images reminded me why the Roost is special: golden cottonwood trees in their autumn glory contrasting against a brilliant blue sky and the thrill of discovering small petroglyph sites were one part. Another was the same isolation that attracted Butch Cassidy a hundred years ago; not much in the Roost has changed over the last century. I wanted to return again, with or without Berkley to explore this area with its beauty and solitude, the rewards of seeking an untrammeled land.
Did spirits where Hayduke and I sat play a part in directing us to Berkley? Yes, I believe in spirits. Several years ago while sleeping under the stars near the Green Mask pictograph I awoke in the morning transformed. Red rock canyons and juniper trees would never be the same as the mysteries of the Ancestral Puebloans more than ever beckoned for answers. Its not that prior to this evening I wasn’t engaged, but something dramatic changed me on the slickrock. Like that special experience, the morning we sat by the river I was guided by a spirit redirecting my actions. Initially this took me away from a critical task, but in the end I believe it brought a successful resolution to Berkley’s search. It is not coincidental that with both of these experiences I was immersed in a canyon environment surrounded by Mother Nature where the land’s beauty and harshness merge as a voice for the sacred.
And yes our pal was reunited with his family after his three-day vision quest in a manner that was as dramatic as the moment Hayduke and I sat by the river was peaceful. On the third day Mary and I again split up as we searched. Mary went along the rim of a side canyon near our camp. Well into her morning search, hearing a coyote howl she looked across the canyon. The coyote howl was Berkley’s as his primal instants exuberantly took charge directing Mary’s eyes to him. It took over an hour for Mary to work her way around to the canyon’s other side and down a nasty scree slope to Berkley. Again as she approached, Berkley howled like a coyote. But this time, from another direction, came a second howl. Apparently a real coyote was being drawn by Berkley’s howls. Adding to this intrigue, according to Mary’s friend Julie, a dog psychic, Berkley met a female who was attracted to him during his adventure. Was the other coyote Berkley’s female howling a love call? Regardless, Berkley and Mary would soon have their own rendezvous. Because of the terrain, Hayduke patiently waited were Mary instructed him to stay as she navigated herself tentatively the final 100 yards. Upon reaching Berkley the reunion celebration was short-lived. After giving him some treats and water Mary was unable to get Romeo up the scree slope; she barely got herself out. For his safety, Berkley was tethered with a dog leash, as Mary now had to find me. This took another hour but finally with considerable effort we were able to get our wandering boy out of danger.
A lifelong quest to understand personal core beliefs finds the why of a dog running away for three days and the why sitting by a river with a second dog mattered is one of evolving values. In an on-going process of reflection the words of Father Charles, parish priest and personal friend, resonate as much as anything I can grasp about religion and philosophy: “The shift away from super-naturalism and the kinds of ontological puzzles … simply moves the emphasis toward humanity and human experience within nature … thus, the particular experiences we have which we interpret as our experiences of the Sacred can be reflected upon as saying something about us, who we are, what’s inside of us, and about our potential.“
By John H.