Over the Final Precipice, February 26, 2016
On February 26, 2016, we lost our beloved dog, our hiking and our adventuring companion Diego. He adopted us some 14-years ago at the La Plata County Humane Society in Durango, CO, when he was about two. We actually went to adopt another dog, but Diego was returning from a walk and came right up to us to say hello. He literally picked us and we could not refuse his beautiful reddish-brown mane. His previous "owners" had listed the reason for abandoning him as they believed he was "inadequate." But long experience has taught us that the only thing inadequate in the situation was them—they simply had not put in the effort to unlock his sometimes shy but gigantic heart.
The first two days Diego came home with us, he would not go to the bathroom in any manner. Exasperated and running out of ideas, Brian took him out to the yard of our then rural address in Blanco, NM, found a tree, and provided him with a live demonstration of the concept of peeing in the great outdoors. Diego tilted his head sideways, lifted one ear, and walked away, undoubtedly believing his new pack mate was insane. It turned out that he only needed some privacy to take care of his business. In Blanco, he helped Liz round up the wild horses that would be running down the highway, and hiked ahead to search out any snakes that might be in the path (very important to two Midwesterners adapting to rattlesnake country).
During long journeys across the four corners region surrounding Farmington and Durango, we discovered that he loved howling along to music with us in the car. He’d howl away with us at the themes from “the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” and the whistle song from “Bridge Over the River Kwai.” And he loved every single dirt road we encountered because it meant adventure.
Diego was Liz's loyal office mate and coworker from the moment we adopted him, until the very end. Since Liz has been fortunate to work at home for most of her career, he sat in on conference calls that spanned the width of the country, focused on issued related to protecting the wild animals and lands of this vast country. He spoke to other dogs on those calls. He provided Liz with encouragement at tough moments, reminding her of the necessity of balancing a tough situation with a short, vigorous walk in the great outdoors she was working to protect. Diego rose through ranks to the official title of "Assistant to the Field Director" of the Alaska Wilderness League. He took payment in the form of eggs, cheese, steak, bacon, and pepperoni.
When we moved to Santa Fe, he quickly adapted to a much more urban setting and helped Brian engage in a vigorous running program. He loved running in the mornings in Santa Fe. He always helped Brian finish with a strong kick at the end, and his efforts played a large part in Brian's ability to recover from a very serious medical condition by improving Brian's health. Later in life, when he knew he could not run anymore, Diego still looked out the window as Brian ran, observing him to make sure he did it right and welcoming him back at the end of the run excitedly. Sometimes he still had the running spark in his eyes in the morning, even long after his body started failing him.
When we bought our first house and packed up the moving van and all the vehicles, we realized that we had forgot to create a space for him in the Subaru. Not wanting to leave him behind even briefly given the unsettling nature of a move to a creature of routine, we helped him get in the front seat of the giant U-Haul van. He perched himself high in the passenger seat, sitting like a king, helping to navigate our way to our new home as Brian drove and Liz followed. He looked so proud and ready for this next adventure, which is a tremendous accomplishment for a dog that naturally started out a bit skittish of leaving/moving after his initial abandonment. Brian will never forget the confident smile on Diego's face throughout that drive, like Diego was the proud papa thrilled with what we had achieved.
Diego was the inspiration for Desert Dog Photography, his pop’s attempt to share their adventurers with the rest of the world. He waited or napped patiently, sometimes for hours, near the tripod as Brian searched for the right composition and light. A conservative estimate is that he was present at the making of over half of the nature images on this website. He also (usually) loved to be in a picture, with a big happy smile and a tucked ear or two. He and Liz were inevitably the first and last model for every new camera and lens combo added to the camera pack. Aside from late in life, the only other time he did not particularly care for photography was in the cold, predawn moments before an autumn sunrise. At Maroon Lake near Aspen, CO, one late-September morning he got so cold that he started chattering like a chatter box. Liz took him on short hikes to search out yellow-bellied marmots while Brian waited for sunrise.
Diego was also fortunate to grow up in a family that loved dogs. He had many immediate friends in his extended pack, including Oso, Animas, Chesko, Nika, Glory, and Jetta. He loved to chew on Jetta's ears, and served as a mentor for the young pup Oso. He also had distant relatives that he never met in person--Buddy and Sam, Jacob, Tram, Esky, and Izzy. But he shared a close bond with their spirit of adventure. Now he will roam with all of them, here and on the other side.
On the trail, Diego was an amazing machine. He could go mile after mile at an incredible pace. He actually had a keen sense of direction and could usually find the best path around or over any obstacle. He climbed numerous mountains, including a 14er in Colorado-- Mt. Handies-- and almost made it to the top of another, the majestic Mt. Sneffels, even at the ripe old age of 12. His only weakness on the trail was a horrible sense of smell. He would literally be inches away from a rabbit or lizard, but he had no idea they were right there.
He was also a prolific swimmer. At the end of a long hike in the mountains, he loved jumping into a mountain lake for a vigorous swim. He would also fetch sticks from the water. One time at Heron Lake, when the water level was particularly low, a tree root protruded slightly from the water. Diego tried and tried to retrieve it, but he just could not understand why it did not work. He swam himself near to exhaustion before we coaxed him in to shore. He was sore for days after this experience.
Despite his love of water, during one particularly long Fourth-of-July hike late in his life, we had encountered much more snow high in the mountains than we had expected. After a long, hot day under summer sun, the river crossings that had been fairly tame in the morning were dangerously swollen and flooding with snowmelt. Running out of daylight, and without real provisions for a night in the wilderness, the last required crossing was truly a dangerous flooded river, overflowing its banks. There was no way he could cross the stream on his own: it was too deep and wide for him to walk through and too intense for him to swim. The only option was for Brian to carry him, something Diego detested throughout his life. Brian had to carry him fireman style across the raging stream through water that went up to and above Brian's waist. One false step in the waste-deep raging stream surely would have swept both of them to their fate. Diego was terrified and shaking when Brian first picked him up, but somehow he magically calmed himself and held perfectly still as Brian entered the river, allowing Brian to focus on the difficult task and ensuring that both reached the other side in safety.
Diego's earthly epithet is that he adored hiking, especially in the mountains and canyons of the southwest. When on the trail, he absolutely loved to hike right to the very edge of the precipice, where he would peer over the abyss as if in deep contemplation about what was beyond and whether he had the spirit to make that final leap. When his physical body could no longer hold, on February 26, 2016 his spirit made that final leap over the precipice to the great beyond, where he will undoubtedly soar through the sky (with his friends whom preceded him), continuing on his grand adventure. We only hope that he pauses on occasion to watch over us as we continue on our own path.
Long may you run, my pretty boy.