It was just meant to be a short hike up the mountain after dinner. Nothing special. No great goal to exercise, no terse conversation to dissect. Simply me and the two pups, quiet and unengaged.

It had rained that morning and the sage’s unique scent was subtle, but present. We passed by the lilac bush where Poncerdog was buried, and then slowed a moment to circle the rocks outlining Billy Bragg’s resting spot—both good dogs from younger, faster days. My thoughts drifted to how many wondrous creatures had come into and out of my life, and how making time and space for each one was a wise investment.

Up higher, the pups pointed out fresh bear scat, the first I’d noticed this spring. I picked up a stick and cleared it from the path, then flung the stick and moved onward. The evening shade slid by us as the sun settled under a Sierra peak. I sat on my big rock and gazed down at our homestead. It looked Lincoln-Log-right. Both pups returned to me, each carrying one end of the stick I’d thrown. They dropped it at my feet and waited for their thank-you pats on the head.

I continued up the mountain. A wisp of cloud made me think of my dad. Originally from Iowa and Illinois, he loved the Nevada sky. I smiled. He was a good man. He taught me so much through little examples, many of which I didn’t understand or appreciate until he was gone. Dads don’t have to say, “I love you” to love you. It’s really not a fair measure. I was so lucky to have him, along with caring sisters, insistent bosses and steadfast friends, who always had more time and more patience to give, no matter how far I got off my path.

My pups barked toward the east and I spotted four coyotes crisscrossing the rock formations. The pups darted forward. I shouted “whoa” and, to my surprise, they actually stopped. They rarely obey me. It’s more like they’ve learned the dangers and the promises of their mountain. Still, it made me feel a bit in control, more than what I seem to have in my day-to-day life.

Too soon it was time to turn back home, taking a different path on the way down. I tripped on a stubborn little bush and fell forward. I rolled once (almost on purpose), and a tree trunk stopped me from any real damage. The pups showed no concern. They’ve witnessed my awkwardness too often to be taken in.

From my seat, I caught a lower view of nature’s landscape. Why do I get to enjoy this Arcadian beauty? How was I so fortunate to fail early and move on, to ask for forgiveness, forgive myself, and be given such bounty? When I fall, why do I get soft landings? How did I get all these extra years of joy when others I cared for had their time run out too soon?

I crawled back upright thinking I may have said a little prayer, maybe not. It was almost dark, the dogs were way ahead and home was near. It was just meant to be a short hike up the mountain after dinner.

And it was everything.