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Sunday Afternoon Walk, 24 June 2001
It's a lovely cool early summer evening. I decide to drive up to Little Freezeout to take the dogs for a walk. As soon as I drop the tail gate on the pickup all the dogs press their faces up to the fence: they are going for a ride! They know it. I open the gate to a writhing mass of colorful Borzoi. Yankee trots up the sidewalk, his darling little head cocked off to the side, mouth wide open, he shakes his head back and forth and grins, eyes sparkling. JR grabs Sherman by the neck and growls - Sherman barks in protest. Morgana is trotting up and down the sidewalk. She's just a few days away from 12 years old. Her larynx is partially paralyzed and I can hear her throat rattling a little, but she's happy and her grin and eyes are as wide as Yankee's. Hartly is in near rapture (or is it Raptor???). Her favorite thing is riding in the truck. Odd now that I think on it...Sherman usually hides when I drop the tail gate because he knows a ride is forthcoming. He does not like to ride. Sometimes riding in the car makes him drool and sometimes he bumps into one of the boys and they don't like that. Oddly, sometimes I drop the tail gate after I leash the dogs up, but Sherman still hides from me. How does he know we are going?? That's one of the mysteries of dogs.

They all jump in the back of the truck gaily, even Morgana. I am so glad she is still strong enough to jump in the truck by herself. I try not to make a big deal of it because I don't want her to know that I think she is getting older and weaker. I jump in the front and we are off. All of us savor the wonderful smells as we take the ten mile drive to Freezeout. So many smells in the country. Fresh alfalfa hay, drying in the sun, the sweet and dusty smell of dried grasses. the smell of water on the crops - all of it is heady to me. The dogs probably relish all of those scents and more.

I pull off onto the dirt road and smile to see the ruts where we got stuck last winter. I wonder if Lesley Clifford would smile, too. She had been a little worried when I misjudged where the road was in the snow and got the red ford stuck to the axles in icy water and mud.? Fortunately, good Samaritans had yanked the pickup out of the thick pond before dark full fell. It restored my faith in humanity.? We went home none the worse for wear.

Now the ruts are covered in dry dust. I marvel that it is August dry already. The rolling hills are covered with yellow grasses. We are lucky that the weather is fair. The temperature had dropped from the 90s to the 70s with the wind storm of the early afternoon. A few drops of reluctant rain were still falling here and there, refreshing the rich fragrance of the hills: a mixture of dust and grass and something else undefined.

I put the truck in park and open the shell. There are five panting Borzoi heads lined up happily. I grab the leashes before dropping the tail gate and all five bound out in circle in a half arc, neatly controlled by the leashes. We start the hike up the road. The road is a deceitful one. Any second it looks like we will crest the top but it wanders up the ridge unhurriedly. The earth breaks rather abrubtly down on both sides of the road; not steeply. The angles look gentle, softened by wizened grass and the mild curves of the hills. I unclip Morgana's collar. I decide to wait before letting anyone else loose. Although I have never seen anyone else at this place, I have seen that people use it from time to time.

Then we crest the first ridge and I pull JR's collar off. Happy he trots ahead, his handsome black and tan body a contrast with the pale grass. Yankee looks up at me with an incredulous look and I smooth his widow-peaked sable head. Your turn will come, I whisper. JR veers off towards the left - he's found the greasy remains of a sheep. The sheep is long dead and most of the scent is gone, but JR rubs his muzzle and neck along the oily wool in doggy ecstasy. It makes me mad that people illegally bring the remains on their animals to this place.

JR comes back and I slip his collar back on and slip Yankee's off. Yankee does not trot off, he explodes into a joyous run. He runs to a big clump of grass and smells it happily. I see the discarded empty shot gun shells of hunters on the road. There's not much cover on these hills, probably enough for a few chukkar quail that we have seen from time to time. Sometimes the dogs flush them, but Yankee is not interested in quail at the moment. He is interested in stretching his legs. He is beauty in motion. I feel sad that he will never compete in his beloved running events again, but happy that he and I can enjoy these carefree moments.

Sherman sees Yankee running and pulls to the end of his leash, ears forward.? Sherman is not allowed to be free in such an open area. Past experience has taught me that Sherman will not stay in normal Borzoi range until he finds a rabbit to chase. If he has to run by himself for three miles to find a rabbit, then he will do so, no matter how much I shriek his name and scream threats. It is much safer for us both for me to keep him on leash until a rabbit is spotted. And there will be no rabbits on Freezeout. I don't even kid myself. Rabbits tend to stay away from such open grassy areas - they prefer the safety of brushy areas.

Up up up we walk, and the hill cuts away on both sides. I can see the sleepy little down of Emmett and Squaw Butte rising to the north of it on one side of me. Fruit trees and green fields speak of its agrarian nature. On the other side the Treasure Valley, much larger, peeks between the hills. Beyond that the dreamlike purple Owyhees rise their majestic heads.

I call Yankee and slip the impatient young Hartly. She gains momentum and starts running and darting here and there. Not having the experience of the other hounds, she fully expects to see a rabbit or ground squirrel. Her youthful enthusiasm intact, she races ahead, then back, then ahead, nose down at a gallop.

The evening is deepening. We rise to the top and I take a deep breath and turn to face the east. A large cloud formation, as intricate as a sculpture, fills the sky. It is a light delicate orange engraved with an indescribable purple I can only compare to a dirty periwinkle, a color on its own that would have little merit, but on this heavenly image is a wonderful contrast. It is so quiet when we reach the top that it's hard to imagine the hustle down in the valley of people preparing for the week of work that lies ahead. The breeze, what's left of the afternoon's storm, is flowing around us, cool and scented.

I catch the reluctant Hartly and let Yankee run again. Down the mountain we go, Morgana behind, me in the middle, JR on my right trying to stay out of the ruts, Sherman and Hartly on the other side.? The skyward sculpture is changing even as I watch. The light orange is deepening to an incredible deep orange fire and the purple is less defined.

We are almost down now. Morgana has disappeared, is she okay?? I call and she comes running. I drop the tail gate and the dogs, even Morgana, jump easily into the back. (c)2001 Miller

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