It's a dog's life

June 26, 2010 at 1:26 a.m.

The author and his new puppy 'Raisin' take a break on the porch in Terlingua Ghost Town.

The author and his new puppy 'Raisin' take a break on the porch in Terlingua Ghost Town.

"A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it."

- John Steinbeck, "Travels with Charley"

Outside of Fabens, on the morning of my birthday, an unexpected thing happened: a little black puppy jumped out of a bush and wagged its tail.

There was no identification and no one around to claim her. When I put some water in front of her, she lapped it in seconds. The more water I gave, the more she drank. I made a firm, lasting, and immediate decision between refills: this dog was coming with me.

A dog has to have a name, of course, so being that she was small, dark, and dehydrated, I named her Raisin. Not content with just a first name, I added a last: d'Etre. It's a small play on the French "raison d'etre," but it's true, too: Raisin is a purpose larger than myself.

This impromptu adoption soon created several complications. We couldn't enter restaurants together, nor grocery stores, nor many motels. Raisin overheats easily and can't hike in the middle of the day, and if she's tired, I have to carry her.

So what do I do? I lug.

Raisin has opened my eyes to some of the smaller wonders of this trek. She chases butterflies and birds and barks at horses, cows, and antelope. At times, when cars are rare, she walks the white line of the road because it's the coolest place around. When we arrived at the shallow waters of the Rio Grande, she sprinted up and down the shore, happy to be on sand.

After nearly 300 miles of hiking together, we showed up at the Terlingua Ghost Town porch. A bastion of old-style society, the porch is a safe space for locals and strangers to sit and mingle. At about 70 feet long and 10 feet wide, it accommodates a hefty number of folks.

I frowned when I saw the "No Dogs on the Porch" sign. I had hoped that, if anywhere, my pup and I would be welcome in the far flung regions of Big Bend country. As it turns out, the sign was more of a deterrent than a strict rule, mainly because no one cares to enforce it.

Raisin and I were the first to sit on the porch that day. As people arrived, she put on a show, welcoming strangers with the wagging of her entire body. Though still only a puppy, Raisin seems to have memorized the phrase, "Oh, isn't she cute!" and doubles her body gyrations at the sounds.

I'm a little jealous of the attention she gives others, but she makes me smile nonetheless.

Dogs are important here in the desert, both for company and security.

People seem to know the names of all the local dogs. There's even a homeless dog named Brown Dog that belongs to no one but manages to hang on by bumming food and rides off locals. Everyone knows him. People have woken up to find Brown Dog in their beds, not understanding how he got there or even how he opened the door.

The desert is not an ideal place for a puppy, but Terlingua has proven to be an oasis. In our short time, people I don't even know by name know who Raisin is. She's accepted here, a welcome diversion from the heat, bearing the common story of a traveler just passing through.

And so we move on, as is our purpose, six feet making scattered steps across these barren lands. We don't know what lies ahead, but we are married to it anyway, finding comfort where it can be found, water where it can be had, and love baked in the desert sun.

Smatt is the penname of S.Matt Read. A writer, inventor, baker, and hiker, he is currently hiking the entire outline of the state. Follow his adventure here and at and



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