Kelsey sits panting and grinning from ear to ear. The 21-month-old Labrador retriever just skidded to a stop in a cloud of dust after sprinting down a trail carrying a stick long enough to bridge a small river. It's a warm Sunday morning and I'm hiking in the woods above Ashland with my dog as she is teetering on the divide between puppyhood and adulthood.
As summer disappears, its stifling heat tempered by shorter days and lower sun, one of the richest local pleasures is hiking with your dog on the public lands adjoining Ashland. Streams have shrunk to a trickle or dried up altogether. Exuberant bird choruses of early summer have yielded to sporadic calls from the forest canopy. Deciduous trees flash their first hints of autumn colors.
Hiking with your dog is a journey into the rich array of smells, sounds and sights that only canines can really know. As you follow your dog's meandering path, marvel at a nose that can read and interpret the history of the trail. When she catches the faint rustle of a lizard in the leaves and glances back at you, urging you to hurry up, you'll realize how limited your hearing is. Watch her poised atop a rock, staring off at a distant vista, and you'll feel the bonding that sharing wild places brings.
An Ashland Day is a series of photo-driven looks at Ashland outdoor activities. If you want to share your favorite place to go or thing to do, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
The network of dirt roads and trails in our local parks, national forestlands and preserves offers a diversity of hikes: sun or shade, deep Douglas fir forests or open oak groves, ridgetops or stream bottoms, steep or level, long or short. Choose a popular trail and enjoy the camaraderie of fellow hikers and dogs, or take a path less traveled and savor the silence of the Siskiyous.
There are plenty of trail maps and guides to the watershed available if you're looking for information about where to go. Check the U.S. Forest Service's maps for the area at http://www.fs.usda.gov/main/rogue-siskiyou/maps-pubs or go to the Ashland Woodlands & Trails Association website at www.ashlandtrails.org.
Just remember that your dog doesn't care so much about where you go as she does that you go. Let your senses guide you and get out to experience a trail together.
Dave Brennan is a retired National Park Service ranger who lives in Ashland with his wife, Kate, and their dog Kelsey. He can be contacted at email@example.com.