This past weekend my wife and I were visiting my aunt in Grants Pass, where the weather was just as beautiful as it was here in Astoria. In addition to warm temperatures during our travel, we also faced the usual heavy summer traffic all the way south. There were long lines of traffic on Highway 26, most of which was heading to the beach, I suspect to beat the heat of Portland the day before. Cartops were loaded with surfboards and kayaks, and people and luggage could be seen heaped inside.
Highway 217 was backed up with vehicles waiting to exit at the many malls along the way. Least traveled was Interstate 5 on the open stretches of highway south of Eugene, where license plates from Oregon were outnumbered by those from California and Washington State.
All of us seemed to be in a great hurry to get somewhere. Once my wife and I arrived at our destination, located on the rolling hills just outside Grants Pass, our world seemed to quiet down.
Jeanne and I unloaded our overnight bags into the crowded art studio where we were to sleep, then accepted my aunt's invitation to join her and her friend on the patio for iced tea and conversation. As the sun began to set and the temperature cooled down, the only noise to be heard was an occasional barking dog and the constant chatter between the wild turkeys that were scurrying through the underbrush around us.
As I tried to relax and let go of my busy day, my thoughts went back to another encounter with dogs and turkeys in a very different season and in still another world. I had just finished the rapid-paced activities of Christmas as the pastor of a small congregation in northeastern New Mexico and needed some time to relax before having to pick up my pace for the beginning of another church season.
We lived in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, where what little moisture fell came down as dry snow at 7,500 feet and frequently stayed for several weeks.
I placed my daypack, snowshoes and poles in the car and let my black Lab jump into the rear compartment of our Explorer. On our way to the state park Lord Byron, our dog, had become so excited he began to whine in his anxiety to get out and to play. When I finally opened the rear hatch, he jumped onto the packed snow and took off, pausing at the trail-head to see if I were following.
I decided to carry my snowshoes until the snow became deeper and softer, but by the time I had gone 300 yards up the trail, I was grateful I had them to put on. Soon Byron also was glad I had them on, for he had dropped behind me and was stepping on the tails of my snowshoes in order to avoid sinking into snow well over his head.
Byron's antics in the snow never failed to amuse me. He would tuck his tail and spin in small circles; he would stretch out over the snow, driving his body into the soft drifts with his powerful back legs until he was completely covered; with great energy he would leap from one landing to another until he was tired enough to return to the rear tips of my slowly moving but secure platform, using the extra time to take bites out of conveniently located piles of snow. Occasionally he would forge ahead and try and cross the stream to get a drink, where his weight would cause him to break through. There he would dangle patiently until I could grab him by the collar and pull him out of the cold water.
It had begun to snow heavily by the time we started our descent to the car. Byron was well ahead of me and out of sight, leaving me to enjoy the brief solitude.
Suddenly I heard the loud and excited sound of a turkey, and looked up to see a large Tom frantically running straight at me, and Byron close behind chasing him with surprising speed. The big turkey with a bright red head came so close to me I could see the expression on his face as he passed me by; I would have sworn he was asking me for help.
I called my companion to my side and was pleased how well he obeyed me; it seemed he might have been puzzled about what he was supposed to do if he had caught the biggest bird he'd ever seen.
Back on my aunt's patio, I laughed to myself when I realized how many of us are racing after things either we never catch or we find what we have caught is not worth the effort of the chase. At some point in my life, I would like to be able to say along with the Apostle Paul that, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing" (2 Timothy 4:7-8).
Doug Rich is soon to retire as the pastor of Pioneer Presbyterian Church on Clatsop Plains.