We came to the mountains from the south. For two days, we rose out of the heat of Florida into the rolling hills of Georgia. We spent a night in Greenville, South Carolina, and then began our ascent into the Blue Ridge.
We came into the woods with a van full of dogs. The two whippets, the greyhound, and our German shepherd were ready and steady, yearning for a good run. So after climbing up into the land of the rhododendron, we eased onto a forest service road and let them rip.
The sighthounds hit the ground running. Double-suspending in their gallops, they seemed to float over the trail But it was Quest, our maturing German shepherd, who came to into his own in the mountain forests.
His meaty wolf paws carried him over the rough country, as did his sound gait. He leaped wildly, cavorting as if he were a young stallion just racing out from his band in search of new territory.
For a tossed stick, he dived into the clearest mountain stream. Any little brook trout that might have been lurking in the depths would have shot back under their fallen log redoubts, for they were under an aerial assault of the canine kind. Young dog leaping into the cold water, ecstatic joy that our own species either cannot experience or ever hope to tap into.
The whippets and greyhounds are the speeding luxury cars. They would be made by some Italian manufacturer to zip around the highways of Rome, but the German shepherd is all-terrain and amphibious. What it lacks in speed, it holds up better when the terrain turns rugged and muddy.
For decades, so-called experts, especially self-appointed ones, have told us that the German shepherd is a catastrophe on four legs. They are all hock-walking and broken and dysplastic. They are no longer the true working dogs of Central Europe. They just cannot do all the things normal dogs can.
But watching this creature charge about the forest, leaping over logs as if they weren’t there, I now know even more that much of what we read about these dogs is just rubbish.
Experiencing a rugged Appalachian woodland in Western North Carolina with one of these dogs is certainly eye-opening. This is a dog bred for the show ring. His ancestors have been bred mostly for that purpose for decades. From what we all think we know about this breed, one would assume that he would have such a hard time being a mountain dog, but he covers the land with power and grace and, yes, simple elan.
And so we trundled away from our time in the mountains. Our hearts were filled with sorrow of leaving, but my mind was on the stolid nobility of this young dog when he stops to stare back at us on the forest trails.
He is a creature meant for this world of long forest hikes and cool dips in mountain springs. He is natural but still domesticated and cultivated and fancy. He is a contradiction, a paradox of sorts, but a magnificent one nonetheless.
He is a youngster just coming into his own. He has a lifetime of running and swimming ahead of him. Many adventures are yet to come. Much is unwritten, but stories that will unfold will be rich ones.
So we left the mountains. For a little a while.
But we will be back. And the young dog will get his chance to cavort in the woods and water once again.