Sombra, a little rescue dog, was our first anniversary gift to each other three years ago.”Sombra”, Spanish for “shadow”, was named by the woman who ran the shelter, perhaps because of the dog’s nomadic origins in the Hispanic hinterland of eastern Washington. The shelter lady spotted her running through local fields for a few days and, one day, decided to open her car door and Sombra jumped right in. She lived in the shelter home with a pack of eight dogs, the shelter lady, her son, all sleeping in the same bedroom. She was advertised for eight months before we found her. We were puzzled why someone hadn’t adopted her earlier; she was 35 pounds, with short hair, built like a shepherd, faster than hell, and a tireless bird dog, but also shy and deferential, always waiting until the other dogs finished before eating – a true “shadow”. She shivered in fear on the way home in the back seat during a blinding December snowstorm. She adapted to our sedentary ways but was joyous when one or both of us took her for walks and hikes. She shadowed us everywhere, disappearing at times, but always returning. We thought she stayed because of having been abandoned early in life. Frightened of kids at first, she trusted only us and other adults and soon became a part of our threesome family.
After three years of growing closer together, we bought a ‘snowbird’ home in the desert, 1100 miles south. My wife planned to fly down a week after Sombra and I moved some furniture into the little townhome. Sombra and I had a great time traveling, her in the passenger seat, stopping to play, sneaking into a motel room before we finally arrived. We settled in and awaited the arrival of our primary third.
A couple of days before my wife’s arrival, Sombra and I set out just before sunrise to hike the closest red-rock bluff. We started out slow, up gullies and around boulders, she leading at times, following others, to near the top. No sign of life, no sound anywhere that hour of the morning. Near the top she circled and dropped behind me, as she often did. I kept walking. After a couple of minutes I felt the utter silence. I whistled for her, then called out. Nothing. Not yet worried, I went a little further, then became quite concerned. I called and whistled some more, retreated and started searching every crevice, ravine, hollow, boulder pile I could see around me. No “Shadow” anywhere.
I returned to the truck, expecting to see her there, patiently waiting, having chased some varmint. No luck. I honked, called, and then retraced exactly our route of around a mile, still seeing and hearing nothing. Anxiously, I returned to the truck and drove around our neighborhood, hoping she had found her way back. Nothing. I returned three times that day, retracing our path in widening circles. There weren’t the faintest signs of dog tracks in any direction. Neither were there the next day, or the next.
My wife arrived early, devastated. We had tried everything conceivable to locate her: shelters, flyers, newspaper ads, online pleas, walking over and over again where she vanished. After months, our hope gone,we looked for and found another dog. One we’ve come to love dearly.
I remain completely wrought by the mystery, the not knowing, the why, or the how. I was the one there and I’ve never stopped wondering about the soundless, unexpected way she vanished, as if she’d slipped into another dimension, her ‘shadow’ absent indefinitely. At first I was angry, like she’d given up on us. In most dogs and humans, attachment to a family axis is of paramount importance. But it’s also true that we lust after the new, the unknown. Why else would my wife and I move, albeit only part time, to a new, fascinating place away from children and family? The paradox is that I believe those to whom we are closest have the same urge. The trick is to find a way to accept this in ourselves and in those to whom we are most strongly connected. Maybe a god in Sombra’s nature spoke, “You’ll always be directed by their choices, your life determined! But here you see and do new things. You know how to forage for yourself – this is your chance for a new life, different than what you have!”
I believe she followed her wanderlusting dog-god. And this suggests something to me: that valuing the part of our nature that wants to follow a lusting curiosity, often loosening attachments to others, may have something to do with growth of the human spirit, and is the same curiosity that keeps us from dying before death.
Dog-godspeed, Sombra, our shadow for a time!