It’s November as I write this. Snow is starting to fall in the high mountains. Soon my husband and I will head into the backcountry with our new puppy, King. This is a tale of our dogs, Esha and Blueberry, who have long since passed.

In the summertime, Red’s Meadow crawls with campers and fisherman. But on a full moon midwinter night many years ago, we were miles from the closest road. We shared the valley only with the moon and the wild.

My husband and I, with our two dogs, had skied over Mammoth Pass. We set up camp on the west side of Mammoth Mountain, planning to ski powder laps. Esha, named for the nearby Sierra Nevada peak, patrolled camp, marking our territory on the edge of the meadow, warning the howling coyotes. She was Chocolate Lab and Airedale Terrier, though we told people she was Pure-Bred-Mountain-Powder-Hound. Esha’s big paws, long legs and snow-shedding oily coat were made for backcountry skiing.

We quickly tired of her barking, so we tucked her in the tent, while Blueberry snuggled up next to my feet by the fire. I had adopted Blueberry when she was just six weeks old. That first day together, we walked along the trail that crosses Red’s Meadow. I carried her on my shoulders and she licked my face. We named her Wild Mountain Blueberry Fields Forever—an ode to mountains and The Beatles song. Her mix of Lab, Golden Retriever and Border Collie gave her big dark loving eyes and a kissable face.

The coyotes started yipping again. Blueberry usually stayed close by my side—she was a mama’s girl. But since Esha was locked up, Blueberry decided to defend camp. She wandered from the fire and gave her most ferocious growling bark to the circling coyotes.

As she went running, barking into the meadow, I called her back. Jon whistled and called for her. She didn’t listen. She usually doesn’t. It was hard to ever get mad at her, but this time I screamed at the top of my lungs. I wasn’t angry; I was scared.

*This essay was first published in Backpacker Magazine, September 2013.

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