I will share this story from last winter below, but first let me tell you why I want to. After this amazing year of my counter-cultural move of slowing and pausing from my work and much of the world, I am reveling now in so many of the lessons that were not always obvious to me as I struggled and wrestled in the maze of finding my way through emptiness. Now I am seeing the value of stillness in a way that I could not possibly understand in such a full bodied way, prior to this year. This story is an adventure that required absolute stillness on Ubuntu’s part that quite literally saved his life. I don’t believe that most of us can know just how essential our stillness AND our action are at this time. We must have both and the world needs both…not one over the other, but both.
So here’s our story:
On a bright but cold winter day last December, my girlfriend, Constance, and Ubuntu and I went out for a day long wander in a remote area. We had never been there and were intrigued by it. We walked and talked and shared lunch and then headed down canyon in hopes of making a loop back to the road. We were mesmerized by the winter sun and beauty and loving our joy filled time out together. We were shown where to turn north again when we hit a pour off into a canyon where a side canyon came in, that dropped the level deeply into a rich cottonwood delight. At that point we headed up the ridge that would become the mesa on one side of the canyon…as we crested the ridge and could begin to see into the depths of this mysterious canyon, I noticed Ubuntu dashing towards the edge, as always, enthusiastically wanting to find the way down. Thinking little of it, we wandered around in amazement at this canyon and the glorious changing weather. We were ready to head on up canyon on this ridge and I realized Bu was not with us so I stopped to whistle and call for him. No response. Constance too, called for him and still we heard no response. I looked over the edge of the canyon wall and it was deep and I was pretty sure there was no way down. We both stopped in the silence so that I could listen. In that stillness I heard, ever so faintly a soft whine and the jingle of his dog tags. I walked to the lip to look in the direction of the sound and miraculously my eyes plucked his little face and big ears out from the canyon wall! Part way down the wall, below a crack in the wall…he seemed perched on the smallest of ledges where it looked like a small long dead Pinyon tree grew out of the rock. The tall cottonwoods below had tops that reached below him so we knew he had a significant drop below him to the canyon floor. And it was unclear as to how far below the crack he really was. If I stood on the canyon's edge at just the right place, we could connect visually. His bright and communicative eyes beamed at me silently asking for help. My heart raced and ached siumultaneously. How was I going to rescue him?
I called Constance and told her and we looked together at the crack slanting downward below an almost sheer sandstone slope that locals like to call slickrock. Though I was tempted, I didn't think I could get to him safely. It would be very risky. It was 3pm which meant we had maybe 2.5 hours left of daylight. We tried the cell phone to no avail. After making me promise to only climb towards Ubuntu if it felt 100% safe, my dear friend took off to hoof it to the car and then into town to get help. We figured we might be about 2 miles south of the car on the road. I just could not find any part of me that was willing to leave my boy…my heart would not allow it.
For the next three hours, I talked to Ubuntu….spending some of the time at the place where he could see me, then working to try to rig the leashes to support me to climb down to him, then collecting wood for a fire, all the time keeping my voice and heart connected to him. I kept spreading my fingers wide towards his eyes with the palm towards me to remind him that he had to "wait"…that has always been our signal for him to wait or stay.
He was incredible how he sat absolutely still without a sound. he was barely one year old.
The perch was not big enough for him to lie down…he could only sit bolt upright and still, or he would surely fall the 50 some feet to the canyon floor.
The hours that ensued were long and I spent a significant period of time trying to slow my heartbeat that was going like a runaway train. I had to assume that there was a chance that I would be forced to spend the night out there, as I wasn't certain they would be able to find me. For that reason and as a way-shower for them, I began to set the stage for an emergency fire…collecting wood and digging a small impression in the sand. There were still patches of snow and the ground was damp, so too was alot of the wood. The thought of spending the night out there was less frightening for me than the thought of Ubuntu having to stay there, or than the idea of having to leave him there alone. I was not at all certain that he would survive a night on that small ledge. The night promised to be below freezing and I feared that if he fell asleep he’d fall, or he freeze to death.
After these hours of stress and worry, and the many gentle and reassuring words to my pup, I went to start the fire. The kindling was damper than I thought and it was making more smoke than flame. Moments later I heard the mercy of Constance's chiming laughter. It was almost dark and it had just begun to snow tremendously large snowflakes! Before she showed, in came the whistle from the fast paced rescue team, Matt and Eric telling me they smelled my smoke. Hallelujah!!! Tears of gratitude came.
They went to work like a well paced expert surgical team….deliberate, fast, focused and kind. Eric brought his climbing gear and proceeded to help Matt into a rappelling harness and he rigging himself as a belay with a Pinyon tree above the crack in the rock. The once dry “slickrock” was now wet with new fallen snow. They went to work and within 10 minutes, Matt was headed down the rock, to the crack and then over the edge to Ubuntu who was looking directly at him with anticipation of his appearance. Matt went down to Bu's perch and immediately had him climbing the rock with Matt's supportive hand. In the instant he was on the crack, he tried to scramble directly up the steep rock towards me and I sternly demanded him to stay. Matt encouraged him up the crack and then, picked him up and with a yell to Eric to "pull me up" he began to slip and slide his way towards us. Eric yelled in return "I can only give you tension, I can't pull you up". The air was filled with the tension of the moment as Matt's shoes slipped and slid and Eric was breathing hard. I was there wanting to grab U. as he got close, but should have been up helping Eric.
Finally…Ubuntu was safe and overjoyed to be with us all…Matt was off the wall and Eric could relax! Ubuntu, in his stylish way immediately went to Eric and began humping his leg!
It was pitch dark now and wet, but everyone was definitely warm even in the freezing temps. So we packed everything up in a hurry and shared headlamps as we headed out to follow their tracks back to the cars. It was a beautiful hike in that black night….the stars burned bright with generous light on snow patches that helped to illuminate our way. It was still and silent and peaceful. There is nothing quite like the calm that comes after such an event. What an immense blessing….friends, help, support, skilled and caring neighbors, and stillness. It could have been an entirely different story.
We were blessed.
Ubuntu is clearly here to teach(and learn) his name's philosophy…
he literally IS because these friends, ARE.