Fred had the friendliest smile in the world. When he hiked down the trail, other backpackers went out of their way to meet him. Fred’s big red pack swayed back and forth as he inspected these fellow travelers. After exchanging traditional dirtbag customs and courtesies, Fred and his new friends were buds for life. This is how the ceremony always transpired.
Fred’s heart longed for the trail, and Tom believed it was the only thing keeping that heart beating. Fred’s prior military service was fraught with violence and left an indelible mark on his personality and temperament. But on the trail, Fred was made new. Sometimes he slobbered too much when he met a new friend, but they never seemed to mind.
Fred was a big yellow labrador retriever with 3 legs. He lost his back leg as a military working dog in Afghanistan. After his tour of duty, Fred was adopted by Tom and found a new purpose in life: hammocking. Fred was probably the only 3 legged hammocking war hero dog in the world. Yes, he still suffered from nightmares, and sometimes loud noises caused him to hide underneath the closest structure, but life on the trail gave Fred meaning. The trail was his asylum, his shelter from the storm.
At the end of the trail, Fred and Tom would climb into their hammocks. Fred has his own, obviously. After snuggling in for the night, the worries and stresses of the real world faded into the darkness like soft butter on a hot biscuit.
Fred liked to sleep with his head propped up on the edge of his custom multi-cam patterned, dog-sized hammock. This way he could survey his kingdom and protect his pack leader, Tom, from the myriad of dangers on the trail. Opossums, racoons, squirrels and woodchucks regretted the day they sauntered into Fred’s camp looking to steal an easy meal. Don’t let the missing leg fool you. Fred was smart. He learned to keep his voice down whenever his highly trained sense of smell alerted him to an unwanted camp visitor. Instead of barking and tipping off his intrusive adversaries, he’d let them get close enough and pounce from his hammock. More often than not, they got away. But catching and killing wasn’t the point. Protecting Tom from wild, blood thirsty beasts was Fred’s mission. He always accomplished his mission.
If you’ve never seen a 3-legged dog climb into a hammock, it’s a sight to behold. Slung low underneath Tom’s, Fred propped his two front legs against his hammock. Next he burrowed and wriggled his torso deep into the fabric. After finding his balance, in one smooth motion he’d quickly and deftly scootch his butt and single back leg into the hammock. It was awkward and goofy, but effective.
Fred and Tom hammocked all over the country. They were best buds. You can imagine why Tom’s heart nearly stopped beating when the Vet gave him the news.
During their last hike to Clingmans Dome on the Appalachian Trail, Tom noticed Fred acting a little sluggish without his usual trail frenzy. Fred went to see to Dr. Duke for a checkup. It was the dreaded “C” word.
Tom sat on the cold metal table and held Fred’s head in his lap staring into his big brown doughy eyes. Tom rubbed that special spot behind Fred’s right ear for the final time as Dr. Duke quietly and slowly removed her gloves and left the room. Fred’s breath was labored and slow, but content.
Tom swayed slowly back and forth in his hammock slung on the edge of Fred’s favorite mountain overlook. He reluctantly allowed the wind to carry the contents of the urn over the edge and into the great wilderness. Although Fred’s heart was no longer beating, the legend of the three-legged hammocking war hero dog would live on.