This is the anniversary of Amelia’s death five years ago. Of all the adventures I had with her, the very first still stands out as a defining moment in our relationship. Back then we called her “Zeboob,” a nickname derived from “Beelzebub.” Perhaps that provides a sense of what she was like in her young, spry years.
It was winter of 2000. I had only known Ashley for a few months, but agreed to watch her dog while she went home to Texas for the holidays. Zeboob was lab-husky mix, white as powdered sugar. Ash dropped her off with a little blue blanky that served as her bed. Based on the amount of hair Zeboob deposited in my tiny apartment that first day, I figured she was husky enough for a New Years camping trip to West Virginia’s Dolly Sods Wilderness. The forecast was alluring—eight inches of fresh snow and blue skies the entire week. The day after Christmas we skinned up an old fire road toward the area’s namesake plateau. It was 10 degrees and achingly clear, the Allegheny ridges stacked like layer cake in front of us. Zeboob followed rabbit tracks that twisted drunkenly through the powder, her doggie lips stretched into a snow-caked smile.
Our tour led through stands of windswept red spruce, thickets of upland heath and snow-covered sphagnum bogs. We paused in a swale for lunch and Zeboob drank from my hydration bladder. We were bonding; I imagined hunting together, firing up unlucky rabbits on an open flame and sharing the meat between us. As daylight waned I found a suitable place for my tent. It was one of those ultralight things. Just a tarp, really, and I’d chosen not to bring the unit’s optional floor, assuming we’d dig into the snow. Zeboob looked on with interest and then shock as she realized this would be home for the night. As the wind picked up I herded her into the shelter, piled in behind her and fired up my little camp stove. I’d brought freeze-dried food—chili mac and Denver omelettes for her, Chicken Teriyaki for me. Before the water even had a chance to boil, the stove’s tight blue flame erupted into a lazy orange pennant, flickering dangerously close to our nylon roof. I pumped desperately to raise fuel pressure but the flame grew, and the stove began to whine. I lunged at the tent flap, jerked the zipper open and booted the thing into the snow where it sputtered like a stick of dynamite.
Zeboob had curled into a tight ball at the far end of the tent, eyes black pools behind her powder-puff tail. No food. No blanky. No mom. The snow beneath her was melting into a little ice water dog bed. She shivered gently as I pulled out my bag and pad. I assessed the situation by headlamp. Ashley was a decent romantic prospect. Our connection would be strained if her dog froze. I offered Zeboob a section of my pad. Not interested. I spread my down jacket over the snow. She wouldn’t lie on it. I opened my bag and said in falsetto, “C’mon, Zeboob.” Renewed look of terror. Determined, I dragged her close. Heated struggle, wet paws against my face, tail bent backwards, snarling... Then she was in, all four legs pressed to full extension against my chest. Neither of us could move. The bag was ready to burst. Zeboob wouldn’t turn over so we could spoon, or relax her stiff legs. But she was warm, and soon she was snoring, her wet breath saturating the bag’s down fill. Then she dreamed, paws scrambling against my stomach as she followed sparkling bunny trails beneath a smiling winter sun.