Our Tent Is a Little Emptier Now

It feels strange remembering a dog on a camping blog. I know this isn’t the sort of thing you come here.

But it would be equally strange to let Nabby’s passing go unmentioned on this blog. Whenever I told someone that “We’re campers,” in my mind, “we” always included our dogs.

As Heather mentioned in her post about Nabby, Nabby and Rufus were there with us on our first camping trip. Together, the four of us discovered our love of eating around a campfire and sleeping under the stars. I don’t recall there ever being a time when we considered going on a camping trip without them; unless it was against the rules or impractical on some level, there was never any question that Nabby and Rufus would come along.


Nabby at Joshua Tree National Park.

I remember how odd it felt the first time we went camping after Rufus passed. Something felt off. He’s been gone since March of 2013, and I still catch myself looking for him while I’m setting up the picnic table for dinner or grabbing another log to toss on the fire.

Nabby was with us on so many more camping trips than Rufus because she outlived him by a number of years. As hard as it’s been camping without Rufus, the idea of loading up the car with our gear and heading out without Nabby is almost unfathomable. She was such a fixture, such a presence. She was our mascot. We’ve never known camping without her.

I spent some time alone with Nabby before we said goodbye to her. I told her I couldn’t imagine going camping without her and promised we’d always sit around the fire and tell stories about her. It won’t be hard. I have a lot of good Nabby stories, but most of my favorites involve camping with her.


Chilao Campground, August 2013.

The part I always look forward to on any camping trip is getting up just after sunup and feeling like I have the whole place to myself. It’s always nice having a little bit of time before the campsite and campground come to life again.

Nabby was almost always a part of that routine. I think knowing that I had left the tent made her fidgety; there was always the chance that I might be dropping or giving away food. So she’d climb out with me – I usually had to give her an assist because her stubby little corgi legs couldn’t quite clear the lip of the tent door. While she did her business, I’d light the burner to boil water for coffee. I’d then scoop up a handful of dog food and put it in her plastic travel bowl for her. Once the coffee was made and her breakfast was eaten, we’d both sit by the fire ring. Sometimes I’d read, sometimes I’d stare off into space.

What I liked about that morning routine was how calm and contented Nabby would be. Most of the time, she was a restless dog, always wandering and exploring. But for that half hour, forty-five minutes when it was just the two of us, she was silent and still and quietly kept me company. I’ve always thought of it as my time, but now I realize that was our time, just me and Nabby.


Table Mountain Campground, July 2013.

One time that she did stay in the tent after I got up in the morning always makes me laugh. Our first tent had a small doggy door with a mesh screen. That was her spot in the tent. If Nabby had a job, it was keeping an eye on things for us, and that little door was perfect for her.

The morning after a disastrous night of high winds and lost sleep at Gaviota State Park, Regina and I were enjoying coffee in our camping chairs. I glanced over at the tent, and there was Nabby staring at me through the doggy door screen. What was funny about it to me was that she was positioned in such a way that only half her face was visible, almost like she was peeking around the seam. Half a snout, half a nose and one unblinking black eye staring at me through the mesh. Her face said, “I am watching you.”

Nabby had a funny side, but she wasn’t silly the way some dogs can be. She didn’t have patience for things like costumes or posing or, well, really anything that didn’t involve being fed and being fed right away.

That was what cracked us up about the time at Table Mountain Steve and I were tossing an LED Frisbee on the road on a pitch black night. We looked over to see that not only had Nabby followed us out onto the road, she was lying there on her back with her head tilted all the way back so that her nose was nearly touching the pavement and with all four paws face up. I have no idea how long she had been there like that or why she was doing it.

I put a baseball-sized LED ball on her belly and expected her to jump up right away in a “Don’t you mess with me!” huff. But instead, she didn’t move and just lay there with the ball slowly changing colors and rising and setting with each breath. She looked like she could have stayed there forever like that and she might have if the headlights of an approaching car hadn’t made me scoop her up and bring her back to the campfire. I so wish I had gotten a photo or video of that.


Table Mountain Campground, September 2012.

Heather told the story about that freezing, misty stay in Idyllwild when Nabby had had enough and hid in the tent. I can still feel the stink eye she gave me when I checked on her, and it was one of the reasons we called an early end to that trip.

There’s that video we shot of the cork rocketing out of the bottle in the campfire. It was a truly inspiring cork shooting, but my favorite part of the video comes toward the end when, if you look carefully, Nabby doesn’t react by flinching, running away or crying out. Instead, she just very calmly stands up and slowly walks away in a way that says, “Ya’ll be crazy.”


Chilao Campground, August 2013.

Then there were the eggs. My god, the eggs! The moment we stood up and started preparing breakfast, Nabby was nearly beside herself with anticipation. We’d put her steaming bowl down for her, and for the next few minutes, Nabby was dead to the world and it to her. I always imagined that in her head, it was like the astronaut in the vortex at the end of 2001.

There’s more, of course. They’re small things and not full-fledged stories. Like the way she once or twice lay in the hammock with me. Or how she hated windshield wipers so much that we had to cover her eyes at Barker Ranch to avoid being assaulted with high-pitched barks while Steve cleaned the window. Or the time she was being a little bit of a pest, and I jokingly told her to go bed and she immediately got up, went inside the tent and then glared at me until we told her she could come back out. Or how cute she looked in the little knitted sweater Heather’s mom made for her. Or the little wet dot her nose would leave behind on our pillows. Or how I envied her for how content she seemed curled up by the fire ring on a chilly night. Or the walks we’d take around the campground before dinner.


Wheeler Gorge Campground, June 2013.

The words are not original, but that makes them no less true: You may be gone, but you will never be forgotten.

Goodbye, Nabby.