By: John Smistad
“Settle down, big guy!”
The four-legged ball of enthusiasm had made at least a half-dozen attempts to leap onto his owner’s chest now. And the guy was standing.
The guy has a name. William Kuntz. “Billy” for short.
The dog, a little light brown Labrador, also has a name. “Smiley”. Because that describes the state that this pooch’s puss is perpetually in. He‘s a happy little fella. Happy and hyper.
You see, Billy had just arrived home. And each time he does, it’s as if he has done so for the very first time. Dogs are just so damn appreciative.
Anyhow, on this particular day, Billy and Smiley were expecting visitors. Billy’s sister, Rhonda, was coming over for lunch. And she was bringing her seven-year-old son, Toby, another bundle of energy every bit the equal of Smiley. Perhaps that’s why the two of them are such fast friends.
“Come on, ‘Smiles’. We gotta get you cleaned up for company here, little buddy.”
And with that, Billy gathered his canine crony in his arms and headed toward the big ol’ sink in the laundry room for a quick but thorough “fur freshening”.
“Smiley! Smiley! Come here boy! I’ve missed my Smiley!”
Toby was grinning from ear-to-ear as he shouted his greetings to his four-legged friend while rushing to wrap his rapturous arms around the object of his enthusiastic affections. The attraction was only intensified by the going-on-three-months separation now between this pair of pals.
“Oh, don’t smother him to death now, Tobe. Or you won’t have a dog to play with anymore.” exhorted Rhonda as she gave her brother Billy a big hug hello.
“Ah, that’s all right, Toby. It’s all outta love. Right, little guy?” Billy said, coming to his nephew’s defense.
But the question was lost completely in the convulsions of giggling gushing forth in waves from Toby’s ecstatic little face.
“Hey, why don’t we take Smiley for a walk, Toby? It’ll help us work off some of this lunch.” suggested Billy as he polished off his second roast beef sandwich while munching on a few final potato chips.
“That’d be awesome! Can we, mom?”
“Sure you can, honey. But I think I’ll hang our here and catch up on my afternoon soaps on the tube. And maybe a little shuteye while I’m at it, if that’s OK with you guys.”
“Sure sis”, said Billy. “We’ll be happy to give ‘ol mom a little ‘me’ time. Won’t we, Tobe?”
But Toby was already practically out the front door, inviting Smiley to come along now that his mother had given him the green light to head out hiking.
Rhonda called after the trio of trekkers as they traipsed out into the woods surrounding Billy’s place:
“See you guys later then. Have fun. And Toby, you stay where your Uncle Billy can see you. Got it, buddy?”
“Yeah, mom. Got it!”
And so off they marched into the wondrous woods, ready for any adventure that may await them.
About a half-mile or so through the trees a small valley cut through the landscape. The Tanner Valley, named for an animal hide tanner of decades ago who was believed to be its first settler.
At the valley’s base was a narrow but ever-gurgling brook known as Clear Creek.
It was at this swiftly running oasis where Smiley enjoyed taking a rest stop to wet his whistle.
And so it was during this pause in the nature stroll that the dog raced out ahead of his human counterparts and dipped his nose into the free-flowing fountain.
Moments later, it was Billy who heard the sound. Toby did not, continuing to beat away relentlessly at a helpless fir tree with a walking stick Billy had fashioned for him from a fallen branch.
“Hey, Tobe. I’m gonna go check on Smiley down at the creek, bro. I want you to wait right here for me until I get back. And don’t move. I won’t be gone but a minute. OK, buddy?”
“OK, Billy. I’m gonna try to knock all the bark off this tree before you get back!”
“Awrite. You do that, Tobe. Just don’t hurt yourself there, little guy.”, Billy cautioned as he side-stepped down the gently sloping ground in the direction that he heard his dog’s plaintiff yelp.
Billy determined that he would tell Toby that Smiley had run off to play with some friends, but not to worry, because he’d return straight home for dinner time. He and Rhonda would come up with something more enduring later.
As he trudged his way slowly back up the valley wall, Billy stopped and turned around to gaze behind him. And for a lingering moment, he stared solemnly at the small mound of earth which lay flat just minutes before.
Then he wiped the last of the dirt from his palms, and the sadness streaming from his eyes, and resumed his ascension, leaving the valley ever lower behind him.