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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

TRIBAL HOSPITALITY AND INCREDIBLE JOURNEYS: Sometimes the most important journey we make, is the journey that takes us home.

Last Thursday, Larry and Debby, neighbors in our small mountain community of less than 100 homes, sent out a plea to help them look for their lost dog. Molly, a beautiful Golden Retriever they had rescued when she was 6 months old, had apparently wandered away from home the day before. Snow had fallen that evening, blanketing the dirt roads, the yards, and the thick forest in white.

I set out that morning on a walk in search of Molly, as did several other neighbors. We saw Larry on the road. He’d been searching for hours—along the snow-covered hiking trails, near the picnic grounds, down to the meadow, among the wild grasses and groves of aspen that grow among the pines.
This neighborhood was my childhood home—my first introduction to real community. When I moved back a year and a half ago, I was greeted by neighbors who had known me for fifty years. Many, like me, had journeyed away, only to return home.

Mountain lions and coyotes also call this landscape home. The big cats prowl and hunt here.  The coyotes den and raise their young on the same pastures on which our small community herd of horses graze.

Children gather wild onions and build tree houses; dogs greet each other on the road with wagging tails and occasional snarls. Neighbors quarrel and make up, sharing the community log splitter and July 4th picnic duties. Sewing clubs, and book clubs, thrive.

When the plea to help find Molly was sent out, it brought to mind one of my favorite stories. When I was 10 ½ years old, my father gave me a copy of Sheila Burnford’s classic novel The Incredible Journey. You probably know the story.  Three beloved house pets--a doughty young Labrador retriever, a roguish old white bull terrier and an indomitable Siamese cat--travel 300 miles through the Canadian wilderness in search of their owners, facing starvation, exposure, and wild forest animals to "finally make their way home to the family they love.”

At one point in the journey, the three animals wander into a small community of Ojibway Indians gathered around their evening campfires. “The scent on the evening breeze was a fragrant compound of roasting rice, wild-duck stew and wood smoke.” Ravenous and exhausted, with the old white dog severely wounded, they stay for a few hours, long enough to eat the food kindly offered them, and to rest beside the warmth of the fires.

When the restless urge to find their way home strikes again, the threesome moved on. The small Ojibway community watched them as they “passed out of sight and into the blackness of the night.” The people believed that the “Spirits had sent the old white dog to them, hungry and wounded, to test their tribal hospitality.”

Two days after Molly was lost, Larry sent out a sad announcement. “We found Molly this morning. Apparently she passed away of a heart attack or stroke. She was in our front yard the whole time, the Wednesday evening snow covered her up…”  

She had died in the palm of her home, in the heart of her community. Larry wrote that he had been “humbled by the emails and phone calls from neighbors offering sympathy and warm thoughts. “I realize now,” he said, “that to have this kind of support is what defines community. I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”

I don’t think the Spirits were testing our small community, but I am glad that our hospitality poured forth and that we kept the flames of hope burning for Larry and Debby. I’m glad that a mountain lion did not venture into their yard, and that coyotes did not tempt Molly from her home. I’m glad, too, that I found my way back here, where tribal values still warm the hearths of my neighbors' homes.

21 comments:

Julie said...

Page, You are blessed to be back -- held in the palm of your community. Such a heartfelt, poignant telling of the old story...animals returning home to their hearth to die. We should all walk in such love and be so held...Hugs to you, and Larry & Debby too.

Page Lambert said...

Yes, Julie, I am blessed to be back. I will pass on your hugs to Debby and Larry. Their story so reminded me of when our Black lab Hondo died in our front yard, and of how reluctant he was to quit clinging to life until I stroked him and told him he didn't need to guard our home any longer. It was then that he sighed deeply, and slipped away. Love to you.

margie said...

I loved this story and continuing care Page shared for all of us to reflect on and be grateful for. It is wonderful that Molly has brought us all together once again and has renewed our closeness in this special community. I have found myself taking even more time with our dog, Trekker, too as we cherish the days we have with him. Thank you Larry and Debby and Page, and, certainly Molly for helping turn this time into a positive time for gratitude.

Mandy said...

If Larry hadn't sent out the email about Molly being lost, the community wouldn't have known about his distress and wouldn't have been able to help. I think we are often reluctant to ask for help and yet, if we open ourselves up, help will be forthcoming. It's human nature to help others. I worry that we put too much emphasis on being independent and self-sufficient.

PS: The Incredible Journey was one of my favorite childhood stories.

Page Lambert said...

Margie, thank you for writing, and for sharing that the story has allowed you to appreciate, even more than you already do, your beautiful Trekker!

Page Lambert said...

Mandy, you raise such a good point about the importance of reaching out to one another. Thank you. I'm re-reading The Incredible Journey!

cj clark said...

Such a poignant story. I feel such sympathy for your friends. While sad to find your beloved pet crossed over, how fortunate she was in the yard and not destroyed by the coyotes or mountain lions. Animals come into our lives for reasons we don't often know, they stay with us for seasons teaching lessons of tolerance and love, then grow old. I love this story. In times when we are so self absorbed it's nice to know that there are folks who will still stop what they are doing to help someone else.

Connecting People with Nature, and Writers with Words said...

Thank you, CJ. How lucky we are that our partners in the animal kingdom find us worthy!

Lindy said...

So terribly sad it brought tears. So deeply moving I felt my heart expand.

Thank you, Page, for sharing this beautiful yet heart-breaking story of community and caring, love and loss.

Lindy in AZ

Page Lambert said...

Lindy, I hope the tears were ones of compassion, more than sadness. I will share your comment with Larry and Debby.

Barbara Marshak said...

And talk about timing, the movie "The Incredible Journey" was on the Hallmark channel last night, same day as your post :)

Connecting People with Nature, and Writers with Words said...

Barbara, don't you love it when that happens! Synchronicity! Thanks for taking time to read the story, and send a comment!

Eric Schneider said...

I am moved and touched by this tale, Page. Thank you. I loved being with you and the other women in that writing seminar. I hope I will do others in the future. I'm happy for you doing what, and living where, you love.

For sure I will finally get a copy of The Incredible Journey, either in print or on film.

Warm regards,
Eric

Page Lambert said...

Eric, thank you for such a lovely comment. We ALL enjoyed having you at the seminar and I look forward to the next one you attend. Check out my Sweetgrass Seminar Series at Mt. Vernon that starts next month! Go to the Retreats page on my website and read the NEWS Box. You should also have received an email invitation yesterday.

Laurel Kallenbach said...

A beautifully written post. It brought tears to my eyes and reminded me of that childhood classic, The Incredible Journey! Thanks

Page Lambert said...

Laurel, I'm glad you were moved by the piece, and by Molly's journey home. The book, The Incredible Journey, is indeed a classic. Thank you.

Susan Lowman-Thomas said...

Enchanting post. Thank you for re-awakening my awareness of dogs' abilities to transport us to higher levels of dignity. My golden retriever cared for my husband as he died and is now my caretaker. I want to be worthy of her.

Connecting People with Nature, and Writers with Words said...

Susan, I love the idea of dogs transporting us to higher levels of dignity - what a lovely way to express it. Thank you.

Connecting People with Nature, and Writers with Words said...

Susan, I love the idea of dogs transporting us to higher levels of dignity - what a lovely way to express it. Thank you.

Connecting People with Nature, and Writers with Words said...

Susan, I love the idea of dogs transporting us to higher levels of dignity - what a lovely way to express it. Thank you.

Connecting People with Nature, and Writers with Words said...

Susan, I love the idea of dogs transporting us to higher levels of dignity - what a lovely way to express it. Thank you.