Field Notes: A dog’s tale
Nathan Berrie talks about a ranger’s best friend - his dog Kira - and some other notable four-legged buddies
John Muir was no stranger to canine companions. In ‘My First Summer in the Sierra’ he wrote about Carlo, a St Bernard. A hunter friend had lent Muir the dog, promising that he would be useful partner in the mountains – particularly during bear attacks.
What started off as a practical arrangement soon developed into an emotional attachment, particularly when Carlo went missing for a few days. From Muir’s writing during Carlo's absence it was obvious he was upset. With the Sierra being a popular area for grizzly bears and mountain lions, his imagination feared the worst. Fortunately Carlo was eventually found and reunited with a relieved Muir at a neighbouring camp.
This affection for dogs continued throughout Muir’s writings with one particular encounter leaving an obvious lasting impression. In 1880 Muir made a trip to Alaska accompanied by a friend’s dog - Stickeen. Together they battled through winter storms and crossed perilous glaciers in the spirit of adventure and exploration. Stickeen was at first described by Muir as “odd, concealed, independent, quiet” and “a true child of wilderness” - adjectives which could be used to describe Muir himself. Stickeen’s ‘concealment’ gradually fell away until, after a near death experience on a glacier, he would lay by Muir’s side and always be in sight.
On the John Muir Trust’s land team, we are especially fond of our furry friends who often accompany us when we are looking after the land in our care. Meet some of four-legged members of the team here...
Kira, Team Nevis
“Kira (pictured above on the summit of Nevis and at the top of the page) is a two-year-old collie cross, with lots of energy. Her favourite thing to do is running across a hillside or though Steall gorge with a stick which she demands is thrown for her. She is by my side most working days and is often making friends with the many visitors to Glen Nevis while I am doing my work.
“Recently Kira has come a long way with her training and I can trust her to look after herself in testing situations, particularly on high level steep walks. She is a very determined and devoted character who reminds me of Stickeen the dog”
Nathan – Conservation Officer, Ben Nevis
Wyn, Team East Schiehallion
“At 14 and half years old Wyn (pictured above) is one of our senior members of the dog land team, but can still come out to work at Schiehallion when we work at low levels on the mountain path. She is a border collie and loves volunteer days especially when the volunteers are happy to share their lunch. She would always happily join in with the task at hand, but sometimes a little enthusiastically hanging onto the end of brash branches or attempting to dig for Australia instead of helping with tree planting!
“In her prime, her favourite place to be on a hill was just a few metres ahead looking down as if to say: ‘how slow are you!’ These days she is happy to potter along the path behind us, but her favourite place is on her rug by the fire!”
Liz – Manager, East Schiehallion
Misty Moo, Team Glenlude
“Misty Moo (pictured above) is the Glenlude mascot. She’s a nine-year-old Bedlington Terrier and acts more like a cat than a dog, being very good at finding the cosiest places to curl up in - or the best spot on the sofa. She loves people and wants to be everyone’s ‘new best friend’ often seen sitting on volunteers laps in the cabin at lunch/tea breaks. She loves being out on the hill especially when it’s snowy but often ends up looking like a snowball, having wool rather than hair.”
Karen – Manager, Glenlude
Ash, Team Glenridding Common
“Ash (pictured above) is a small tri-colour collie we got as a pup and training has gone well. She, like most collies, is intelligent and quick to learn and already responding to whistles, calls and hand signals which I used during my search dog days. She is still a pup at 10 months and her mad moments continue to entertain!
“We live and work surrounded by sheep and so, even though she knows she is a sheep dog, she has been trained to be aware but no more. She’s a great companion, good nature, very helpful, especially when clearing footpath drains when tri-colour becomes just black!”
Pete Barron – Manager, Glenridding Common