Tuesday, November 6, 2007
Tom Ross' column appears Tuesdays and Saturdays in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or tross@SteamboatToday.com.
Find more columns by Tom here.
Steamboat Springs If you hiked up to the quarry on Emerald Mountain on Saturday, you might have been leading the parade of 'Boat people and their well-behaved mountain dogs.
Nov. 3 and 4 were prime examples of those rare Steamboat days when the gods of winter flip us a hall pass and allow us one more weekend before they send a Pacific storm front our way.
If you hadn't already painted that last piece of house trim or given your snowblower a checkout ride, last weekend might have been your last opportunity. Very soon, we'll be taking our dogs snowshoeing or Nordic skiing. The transformation can happen overnight.
Watching the big, handsome dogs bounding up and down Emerald during the weekend, I knew I'd come across the perfect book for Yampa Valley residents. At least, it will make a good read for those whose outdoor adventures are always more enjoyable with an intelligent canine on the team.
Ted Kerasote's latest book is "Merle's Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog."
Kerasote, who lives outside Jackson in Kelly, Wyo., has published hundreds of magazine articles as well as six books. They include "Out There In the Wild in a Wired Age," which won a National Outdoor Book Award in 2004. He has a gift for illuminating the ways in which dramatic shifts in human culture have changed the way we engage the natural world.
In "Merle's Door," he lets his dog, Merle, teach us things we may be missing about our relationships with our own canines. If you've had a difficult time convincing your mutt that it isn't wise to chase bison, Kerasote has the answers - stop insisting on being the alpha male and work in partnership with your dog. He or she may be more intuitive than you realize.
The study of mitochondrial (cellular) DNA has taught humans that we are all descendents from one woman in Africa. As if that weren't profound enough, Kerasote delves into research that strongly suggests all of the seemingly disparate breeds of domestic dogs we favor as pets are descendants of the gray wolf. Yes, that includes dachshunds.
Kerasote is a naturalist who hunts grouse and elk in the tradition of Aldo Leopold. In "Merle's Door," he probes evidence that suggests that the hunting partnership among wolf dogs and people goes far back in human history. It's even possible, he suggests, that it was wolves that sought out partnerships with human hunters more aggressively than vice versa.
The bottom line is that people and dogs work well together on mountain adventures. After all, Kerasote points out, dogs' sense of smell may be 40 times better than ours, but we can see seven times better than they can in daylight. Humans have a particular advantage when it comes to spotting stationary prey.
Far from a technical science book, "Merle's Door" is packed with outdoor adventures from elk hunting trips to backpacking in September blizzards and backcountry powder skiing trips.
All the outdoor adventures are really vehicles for exploring the extraordinary bond that can form between a stray dog and a receptive human.
The title of Kerasote's book refers to an anecdote in which Merle has a difficult time adapting to a pet door the author installs in the silver trailer that serves as his writing office. Before the book is through, the author must come to terms with helping his partner through the door that leads to that mountain meadow in the sky.
You could think of "Merle's Door" as a book about the dogs of Steamboat - only with bison, grizzly bears and the Tetons looming over all the adventures it contains.
If there's a special dog in your life, or if you're still looking for him or her, this is a book that could hold great meaning for you.