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A Walk With Rigi in the Desert


Last updated 6/24/2015 at 9:37am

Hey Girl, Wanna go for a walk? The head jerks up. Her ears shoot forward and at attention. She tilts her head a bit to the left and then to the right. I‘ve said the ‘W’ word, and she is ready to go. “I’ll take that as a yes,” I tell her.

A Bernese Mountain Dog isn’t really made for the desert. At 125 pounds, with a lush coat of three inch long black hair and paws so big she looks like she has boxing gloves on them, she is built for comfort not for speed. Rigi doesn’t handle hot weather too well. Forty degrees suits her just fine. That is why I posed the question at 6:30 in the morning before the sun came up.

I’m not too well suited for the desert either. A life long resident of the cool central coast of California, 60 degrees and foggy is right in my comfort zone. Most of our walks have been on the beach or on coastal bluffs. We are used to dodging high tides and poison oak, not cactus and rattlesnakes. My research tells me that in January rattlesnakes are down in their holes, waiting for warmer weather to make their appearance, so I’m game, and Rigi is getting impatient.

I grab a water bottle, walking stick, a hat and a pocket knife, her leash and we hop into the pickup to head out to a dry lake bed to start our adventure. Rigi is excited and bouncing around in the cab of the truck. “C,mom girl, let’s go find the magic.” The sun had just crested over the hills and the clouds looked like pink cotton balls stacked above the horizon. Two other vehicles were parked in the lake bed but no one was in sight.

It’s your call Doggie Girl. Which way? Rigi decided we needed to go west, towards the hills. We hadn’t gone very far when a jack rabbit spooked up, no doubt thinking a giant was about to trample him. Rigi caught me off guard and the leash slipped out of my hands and off she went. After about 50 yards she stopped and lifted her front paw and waited for me to reach her. A thick piece of cholla cactus had found it’s mark and was well embedded in the thick fur of her hind leg. As I’m bent over trying to work it free I hear somebody yell, “FORE!” Then I see and hear a golf ball rattling around in the rocks and brush in front of me. Three guys walk up wearing full camo gear and hiking boots, carrying golf bags. “Hey, sorry didn’t see you. Have you seen a Titlist #3?” One of them asks. “Yeah, look up by that rock up ahead. What the heck are you guys doing?”

“Desert golf,” one of them says. “We play once a month.” “Well, the golf course is a few miles away. I think you might have hit it out of bounds.” “Oh we don’t need a golf course. Just open space.” “OK, I say with a smile. Tell me about Desert golf.” Well, we just play one hole, but it’s about a par 64. We plant a coffee can in the ground and stick a flag in it over by the trucks. Then we hit and chase and go around that rock pile up ahead and then back to the coffee can. If you lose a ball it’s a two stroke penalty. If you are under a rock and can’t hit your ball that’s a one stroke penalty. If a rattle snake is near your ball you get a free drop, no penalty. “Well that sounds fair,” I offer. “Must take a lot of golf balls.” “Oh it does,” another of the golfers said. “That’s why we don’t use new balls. If you use a new ball that’s a two stroke penalty as well.”

By then I had Rig’s paw cleared of thorns and she was ready to move on. “OK, you guys. Sounds like fun, but I have a dog I have to walk. Hit um long and straight and have fun. With that we headed off in a different direction so we wouldn’t be in the line of fire.

As we walked slowly through the desert Rigi had to stop and sniff every bush, rock and rusty tin can, which there were a lot of. “C’mon girl, this is a walk, not a sniff fest.” Didn’t work. The desert is like Disneyland for a dog. Too much to see and smell to move quickly. I let her set the pace and just enjoyed the early morning and the sights of the desert.

A few hundred yards later Rigi alerted on something up ahead. She started making a little whining noise like she does when she sees another dog that she wants to play with. The pooches she wanted to play with were actually two coyotes looking at us tentatively with eyes that were slits and showed no trust. Rigi’s pleas to go play with the coyotes got louder. “Sorry Girl. Those doggies would rather eat you than play with you. Besides, you don’t speak their language.” After a couple of loud barks to plead her case the coyotes ran off and disappeared into the brush. Rigi looked disappointed but a lizard distracted her and we were off again.

While I admired the ocotillos and creosote bushes Rigi loped along just happy to be with me and be in the cool desert with more smells than she could process. By now her tongue was dragging and she was starting to get tired. Stopping for a water break I opened bottle and poured it out slowly for her to lap it up. She always spills more than she drinks but she loves it and it’s my job to make her happy.

“Let’s head back girl, whaddya say?” “Woof,” she answered and we turned back towards the truck. On the way back we saw the Desert golfers loading their clubs back into their pickups. “Who won?” I asked. The youngest golfer got a huge grin on his face and said, “I did! 67 strokes. Not a course record but good enough for the W.” “Nice. What do you win?” The grin disappeared. “In this group when you win, you lose. I have to buy lunch and beers. That’s going to set me back a days pay! But I have bragging rights for the next month.”

Soon we were back at our own truck. Rigi was exhausted but happy. I gave her some more water and some doggie treats. She rewarded me by sitting on my feet and letting me stroke her back and tell her what a good dog she is. My work was done.

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