Maia's Unerring Sense of Direction

Last Saturday - as already mentioned in my A Great Day - Part I entry of May 10 - I went on a long hike in the forest with the girls, my friend Kim and her dog Easy.

What I didn't mention was how Maia prevented us from taking a wrong turn, saving us from adding even more territory to our seven mile hike.

Maia's so good at that.

I often comment on how it seems she has a GPS unit implanted in her brain. Her sense of direction is phenomenal. Even when we're someplace she's never been before, or take a route we've never explored.

She always knows the way back to the car.

I wanted to see where a particular logging road went, so after the first mile, I led us all in a direction none of us had been before. At the point we turned back, about three miles out, I could see another valley and road. I got my bearings, knew where I was in the big scheme of things, and decided I'd come back to explore on a run with the girls someday soon.

As we headed up the road, the way we came, Kim suggested we go cross country, up and over a hillside, looking for antlers and wildflowers.

Searching for elk antlers is a popular hobby in this area. Apparently a set of antlers is worth a bit of money, as artisans turn them into household decorations (lamps, coat racks, etc).

We struck up the hillside, leaving the road. I thought to myself: "We're going to lose sight of the road and potentially get lost in here. We're in an area I'm not familiar with, especially off road." This Mud Creek area is private forest that's actively logged. If you've ever been in such an area, you know that one logging road and one recently logged area starts to look like every other one. It's easy to get turned around and lost.

We went up the hillside, scanning the ground, then aimed for another road I could see at the bottom of the other side. I thought, when we reached the road, that we should turn left, that it was the same road we'd come in on, that we'd just cut a big switchback in the road by going over the hill.

I noticed, as we went up the hillside, that Maia was farther away from us than usual, to our right. I called her to keep her close by. I thought her behavior was a bit odd, but was distracted talking to Kim and searching for Easy (he would run well out of sight, regularly).

We rejoined the road. I turned left, and started walking.

Instantly, Maia was nudging my thigh and hand with her nose, signaling I should go the other way. She's never subtle about this signal.

That was all I needed to look up, notice some big slag piles, and ask Kim, "Does this look familiar to you? Did we come this way?" She said she wasn't sure but that it didn't look familiar to her, either.

By the time we'd finished this brief discussion, Maia was already about 50 feet down the road the other direction. I told Kim that Maia has never failed me before, that she always knows the way back, and that we should follow her.

Good choice. Within a couple of minutes, we came to a three way intersection that I recognized. I knew the way back. Maia was spot on.

Had we gone other way, I would soon have recognized where we were; it was the same road I'd taken the girls running on just a couple of days earlier, noting that they had recently logged there and ruined one of my favorite places to run. Because we'd approached that spot from a hillside, however, I didn't recognize it.

I was so proud of Maia.

Meadow? She would have just followed me. I think. Certainly with Maia along, Meadow just goes wherever Maia and I decide. Without Maia? I'm not sure if Meadow would have caught our mistake. Meadow can certainly follow a scent trail. But Meadow doesn't ever try to redirect me, as Maia does when I'm heading away from the trail head and she thinks we should be heading toward it.

Those thoughts got me thinking about the day I dread, not too far off, when Maia no longer safely ushers me through the woods. I have a pretty good sense of direction, and can't remember ever truly being lost. The sense of security I have with Maia along, though, is something I won't ever be able to replace.

(Photo: Maia in January along Rapid River.)