Today I am thankful for all the furry friends in my life – past, present, and future. They shower me with unconditional love, and when they joyfully greet me, they always bring a smile to my face even after the roughest of days. They ask little in return – some food, water, shelter, and occasional ear rubbings. I, of course, tend to spoil them rotten with attention and daily romps on the prairie.
I am especially thankful this year for Ox, our big friend who passed away in August. He had been Bart’s faithful companion for 10+ years. When I began dating Bart, he’d walk over to my house in Billings, crossing the campus of MSU-B with Ox in tow. We’d inevitably get looks and questions about Ox in Billings, even though it is in close proximity to sheep ranches with Great Pyrenees dogs like Ox. Is that a bear? What kind of dog is that? He’s like a little horse! And always – can I pet him? Ox graciously submitted to multiple sessions of petting by enthusiastic kids. He was gentle and kind, with just a little wild and stubborn streak in him.
On our first backpacking trip together in 2008, Bart and I ventured into the Beartooth Mountains in early October, despite a three foot and counting dump of heavy snow. Luckily, Ox pitched in and broke miles of trail for us – his furry back just grazing the top of white blankets of snow. He plowed ahead, giving our legs a much-needed rest.
Ox loved winter the best. He was famous for his snow angels and would get down and roll around in every little patch of snow he encountered. He accompanied us on many ski trips – slogging up the hill behind us and then joyfully careening down the slope in our ski tracks. He even trekked with us on the infamously long Reefer Ridge ski run – off the top of Beartooth Pass to the Rock Creek valley outside of Red Lodge.
One time we camped off the Beartooth Highway on a side road just past a sign that said “Grizzly Bear Country. Store Food Properly”. As dusk fell on the Plateau, headlights came slowly down the dirt road toward us. Ox, curious about the noise after an evening of relative peace, roused himself and stood out by the dirt road. As the car approached, the passengers rolled down their window and checked him out. Then they hollered to us with a laugh, “hey, the sign said to watch out for grizzly bears… not polar bears!”.
I miss my big hairy white guy, the polar bear. I am thankful for all the laughs, love and adventures that we shared with Ox. We all miss him terribly, perhaps Doc most of all.