Category Archives: Death
Nikko was rather fearless and foolish, a tireless trail dog and a dining room mooch. He had selective deafness and a tail that wagged almost constantly. He would rest his snout on your lap if you sat on our couch and he was not afraid to steal food if you weren’t looking. He loved nothing more than racing down trails through the old growth near our old mountain home. If you threw a stick or a tennis ball, he would run all day, but he would rarely bring the item back, and he would never clue in about why I’d get frustrated. Nikko traversed many years and miles with me, and we had a lot of great times together.
Nikko was a tiny ball of fur at the pound in Bend, Oregon when we first saw him in 1998. He’d been abandoned in a burlap sack on the side of the road. He was so cute, Denise didn’t have a hard time convincing me to get him. Still, neither of us could have guessed that Nikko would survive so long. He always had an insatiable appetite, as if being abandoned as a pup made him neurotic about his next meal. Accordingly, he got chubby for a while, but he still managed to race ahead of me on hikes around Mount Hood. Flag Mountain, Castle Canyon, and the Salmon River were favorite spots.
He enjoyed visiting lakes and rivers, although not as much as his sister Rikki did. He liked to cool off, but was rather lazy and tentative about swimming. That’s okay. So am I.
Nikko was always up for a walk or a hike, even a simple release into the green of our backyard. He frequently got antsy in the car when he knew we were headed for a trail, and he had a little pathetic whine that went something like “whoo whoo woo”. While Nikko lived to run, he was also basically content at home. He enthusiastically greeted us when we got home, and besides a puppy’s shoe fetish (including a pair of slippers owned by the late great drummer from Ghana, Obo Addy) he stayed out of too much trouble. Never mind the tubs of leftovers we’d get careless about on the counter.
Odd stuff happened with Nikko. A few years ago, he got injured when he walked out the door a little slower than anticipated, and it was slammed shut on his tail. He didn’t need that last inch anyway. Five or six years ago, Denise and I were walking our dogs in the snow at twilight when we passed a bridge washed out by a flood. I just wanted to check it out. We had crossed it many times, but I wanted to see the destruction up close. Nikko followed me, then passed me recklessly, flying straight off the ragged end of the bridge into darkness. He yelped and was silent. The fall was about twenty feet on to a rocky bank. He was actually across the main channel of the river, so without an intact bridge and in the cold darkness, a rescue took some serious ingenuity and a lot of friends. Yet Nikko was fine. Shockingly, nothing was broken. Sure, he started waking up in the middle of the night to pee, but he hiked as hard as ever, and until the past year, he was still a thing of beauty running across a field.
Just last summer, Nikko accompanied me on a great hike up Mount Hood’s Cooper Spur. It wiped him out, and I could see his hiking days were fading, but he kept trying. Nikko was a goofy loveable creature who never stopped being a puppy despite his gray face. In some ways, he is a reflection of me.
Nikko, aka Nikko Biko Freako, was put to sleep this week, just weeks shy of his fifteenth birthday. We will miss him a great deal.
For Guthrie Baker, 1932–1982
Father’s Day is always a unique experience for me. I have a wonderful stepson, but my own father died when I was 17. While we did not have a perfect relationship, I try always to focus on the good memories, which often involved being outdoors. Dad was a former Marine and a Princeton graduate. He played sports into college and grew up hunting and fishing. He was tall, dark, and handsome too, so the bar was set high for me.
When I was young, the family spent time in the Adirondack Mountains, in a spot Mother had grown up visiting: Keene Valley, home of the high peaks. Small by western standards, the Adirondacks are rocky and rough peaks. Many peaks do not have formal trails. One of my earliest memories is watching the back of Dad’s legs as we clambered up a steep rocky trail to the summit of Noonmark Mountain. It is so named for its spot in relation to town. When the sun passed over the peak, it was approximately noon. As Dad and I hiked, he really appeared to be above me, a god of sorts. I was not yet five years old.
Memories are imperfect, but I have always looked to that climb as the start of my lifetime love of the mountains, and my father was the one who led me there. Keene Valley was my mother’s childhood vacation home, and her love of the area was infectious, but it was Dad who opened up the trails and peaks to me. Other peaks followed in the coming years, including a semi-epic overnighter on Mount Marcy with my sister Hannah, where we were beset by a storm shortly after descending from the rocky summit cone. As I grew up, I also hiked with a group, the ATIS (Adirondack Trail Improvement Society), but my trips with Dad were special.
Our family moved from New York to Oregon when I was 12, and I became a mountaineer as a teen, summiting volcanos and crags around the Northwest. I surpassed Dad in mountain experience, doing multiple weeklong backpacking trips in Oregon, Idaho, and Montana. The mountains were my life, and Dad seemed more distant, caught up in a struggling business. we continued hiking, hiking to Burnt Lake, climbing small Cascade peaks like East Zigzag Mountain and Grizzly Peak. He finally took a mountaineering course, climbing multiple major peaks in Oregon. It was one way we bonded, even as I was being a standard issue rebellious teen.
In September of 1980, we planned a climb of the South Sister. Somehow, in a comedy of errors, mostly my impetuous teenage fault, we were separated between the trailhead and parking lot. I realized there was a shortcut to the trail from the back corner of the parking lot, and I made foolish assumptions. I didn’t wait for him; I hiked onward, thinking he had taken the shortcut and was ahead of me and that I was supposed to catch up to him. When I didn’t find him along the trail or on the shores of Moraine Lake a couple miles later, I was at a loss, knowing I had screwed up. I searched for him to no avail. Dad had our tent, but I was able to rig a tarp as shelter, and spent a nervous night alone.
In the morning, I packed up and headed back toward the trailhead. Passing hikers already knew who I was. Dad had contacted the search and rescue team. The situation was both embarrassing, comic, and ultimately, reflective of his paternal love. My father could be gruff and tough, but he also was full of love, and he wanted nothing more than to protect me.
We had other adventures, and Dad continued exploring the mountains until a heart attack took his life while he jogged in the Portland hills on a February morning in 1982.
I believe that Dad loved the mountains as much as I do, that they were a place for him to relax and reflect as well as a place to have grand adventures. I have had many subsequent adventures and learned many lessons about life because of them. I only wish we could have had more of those experiences together. My father’s ashes were scattered over the noble Mount Hood. I miss him every day.