THE FIRST NIGHT:
The spiritual awakening began at Temple Beth Am in Williamsville. I located the dumpster in the back, and pitched my tent behind it to have some privacy in the event that day-care activities commenced early the next morning.
At about 4 o’clock the next morning, I awoke to a snort and heavy breathing inches from one side of the tent. Both dogs were at full alert, silent, and rigid as if an attack were imminent. This was unusual. I had camped out with the dogs before. They were both quite familiar with deer. They knew a tent and the wild. Their usual response is to bark when wildlife is present. The benefit of this, having camped both with and without dogs, is that the wildlife respects a 100 ft radius from the tent when dogs are in it. Without the dogs, they would otherwise brush right up against it. Even with a puppy, the wildlife will smell it, and respect the radius. Whatever this was, it was huge. It snorted right up against the tent as if smelling us, and shook its head so that I could hear the flaps of its cheeks slapping against its jaw bone. The dogs were terrified. I groped in the dark and slowly attached the leashes to the dogs. The last thing I wanted was to have the dogs charge a wild animal. On my knees, in one swift moment, I unzip the tent entrance, and quickly and firmly move out, pulling the dogs with me by their collars. Whatever it was did not move, vocalize, or try to follow us as we left. We headed out of the woods and into the shelter of the Temple, while I listened to the large animal lumber slowly around and snort, pacing for the next hour. I couldn’t tell what it was in the dark. We walked around the Temple toward the street, praying.
As dawn broke a couple of hours later, I went back to the tent and quickly dismantled it, assembling the pack that had become my house before any activity would start at the Temple. With a little more experience now, I would have looked for the tracks.
fig. 11a twin cedars environmental area fig. 11b petey and a bear
We moved on. It was about 50 miles outside of the range where black bears were reported in the NYDEC 2007 map, but bear sightings are not unheard of in the Buffalo area. In Amherst, this Buffalo suburb, there had been one sighted only the month before. It unfortunately had been killed. Bears however are usually more boisterous.
At the time, I also considered the possibility that it might have been a moose, but we were a few hundred miles outside of the moose range. In any event, it was the first of several awakenings through wild animals by the Great Spirit that would occur over the course of the trip. Sometimes, for example, a bird would land on the tent to wake me up to prepare to walk the needed distance to a church on a Sunday.
At the beginning of the trip, I was unsure how much the dogs could walk. It turned out that they, and not I (with my 40 years of type 1 diabetes), were the limiting factor. At first, the goal was not ambitiously stated. I had no idea whether completion was a quixotic illusion, or something that God would help me to accomplish. We learned our limits, sometimes delicately dancing in a fragile, oscillating and yet still converging balancing act on a thin wire just encircling the limit, as if exploring the immediate surrounding space of this limited singularity called death or infinity using a Cauchy integral.
I dedicated the trip first and foremost as a journey of faith, but additionally committed to 2 more goals:
1) raising awareness for cancer and its prevention, and
2) raising awareness for homeless animals.
We averaged 9.2 miles/day, achieving somewhere between 8 and 15 miles each day with a backpack that weighed anywhere from 50 to 70 pounds. We would stay 2 nights in the same location only once in Ithaca, New York, when I would mourn the loss of Duke.