Still, Hugger and Comfort earned their keep, alerting Griffith to the presence of bears. Their message was clear, and it wasn’t only conveyed by barking; at times, they’d get out of the bus and stop dead. Other times, they’d start backing up. Whenever this happened, Griffith did the same, retreating into the bus and heading on down the road.
“Living with bears present, I was aware that there were things out there that needed to eat me if they could,” said Griffith. “That put me in my place right quick. We had stepped out of this culture that we live in, and were living much closer to the terms of the earth. Yeah, sure, I had a generator, and the bus, and food, so how at risk were we, really? But when we stepped out of the bus, especially at night, we were at risk. That felt very primordial, because I don’t think that human beings were always superior and had power over every other living thing. We used to have a place in the food chain.”
While Griffith was conscientious about the safety of the dogs, when it came to herself, she was absolutely fearless in her hunt for photographs. That drive led her to some remote locations where, had the bus broken down, it was unlikely that help would have arrived before winter set in.
“I was only going to do this once, so I was to see it and photograph it,” Griffith said emphatically. “What I do for my dogs is done for me, I’m just passing it on. I’m part of the instrument for their care and well being. I feel well cared for on this planet; it doesn’t matter where I go. I feel like I belong here, like the planet is designed to support my life, up to a point; past that time, I should just graciously go. I was never frightened of being in the wild, as it were. That wasn’t scary to me, ever.”
They’d been on the road a little over two months when Lucille finally made her way through Fairbanks and rolled across the 66th parallel, leaving behind pretty much every vestige of civilization and putting Griffith within 500 miles of her goal: the Arctic Ocean. Covering that distance on the pot-holed washboard of the Dalton Highway took five days, during which Griffith began to notice a change in Hugger and Comfort’s behavior.
They’d been animated for most of the trip, but as they began crossing the tundra, where signs of wildlife were limited to the sighting of a single crow and one musk ox, the dogs were initially glued to the windows, then settled into a state of tranquility.
“I think an awareness of how barren this place was registered on the dogs, probably on the level of What the hell are we going to eat if this bus breaks down? Or maybe I’m projecting,” Griffith said.
“This is really what I think was going on,” she continued. “The light, and the mist, and the earth itself have a responsiveness that I’ve not experienced anywhere else. It’s as if the earth is aware that you’re there. I think at one point, probably most of the globe was like that and because of all the changes we’ve made, we’ve lost it.
“I had a sense of being someplace sacred—that this was not just about me looking at the land, but that the land and the light were looking at me, too. Dogs are very sensitive to light. I’d be surprised if they didn’t feel that, as well. They certainly grew very peaceful.”
Griffith’s own sense of tranquility merged with the dogs’ as they became immersed in what she would refer to later as “the secret life of light.” Even so, as they neared the Arctic Ocean, she was overcome by a wave of emotion.
“If I had to give a name to it, it was that in that place, I felt very loved,” Griffith said quietly. Her desire to understand where she was in her life and to integrate the loss of her loved ones had been fulfilled.
“Everything in its own way contributes to sustaining life. Even though it may not appear that way at the time, invariably, the turn things take is life-affirming. Even dying is life-affirming,” she continued.
She was grateful to the dogs, not only for their company and protection but also, because she was aware how much her own sense of well being played off them.