A Voyage of Discovery
She had something to resolve deep within herself. And she was willing to risk her life to do it.
But Davidson didn’t go alone.
She took her loving dog, Diggity, three camels she had prepared for the journey, and the calf who was born to one of them just before they set off.
It was Davidson’s choice to go. One might argue that Diggity followed her willingly. They were bonded to each other. And the dog was not tethered.
But the camels—well, the camels would have headed straight for home if Davidson had not hobbled the adults and tied down the calf when they made camp.
So what does the presence of animals mean for a voyage of self-discovery?
Alone, But Not Alone
Walking for days without human company, Davidson’s inhibitions dropped away. She felt freed from the constraints of making conversation, worrying about her appearance, and keeping track of artificial measurements of time. Diggity didn’t care about those things. Nor did the camels.
But they were a comforting presence. And a necessary one. Davidson did not have the skills or knowledge to survive in the Australian bush without the camels to transport 1500 pounds of food, water, and other supplies.
She even had to rely on Diggity. After getting lost in the Gibson desert, it was the dog’s sense of smell that helped the pair find their camp.
But the animals’ presence also led to painful introspection.
It Was Them or Me
The hardest part of reading Davidson’s account of her journey were the stories about the animals.
Traditional camel training methods don’t include operant conditioning and positive reinforcement. And, in 1977, when Davidson took her journey, traditional was the only training. If Davidson, or anyone else, wants to repeat her journey today, they’ll have many online resources for positive camel training methods. But back then, camel training involved physical restraints, pulling on sensitive areas, and hitting with a switch, crop, or even a log over the head.
In the stress of her journey, Davidson constantly dealt with the tension of adoring the camels but dealing cruelly with them to force their compliance.
It was always the animals who paid the price when Davidson made a poor choice, out of exhaustion or frustration.
Making Choices for Animals
Whether trekking across the Australian Outback or sleeping on a couch in suburbia, domestic animals do what we make them do. The responsibility for making good decisions for the animals in our care is daunting.
Autonomous dogs and cats don’t have it easy. Just look at the lifespan of a indoor cat, 12-18 years, compared to that of an outdoor cat, 4-5 years. And few would argue that a street dog living near garbage dumps scrabbling for food has a good life.
Caring for a pet means hundreds of daily decisions. Raw food, kibble, homemade? Adopt a companion for the existing pet? Travel with our pets or leave them home?
When we make unconventional choices, like choosing to live on a boat, or wandering into the Australian wilderness, we bear an even greater responsibility for our pets’ happiness and well-being.
Who Pays the Price for a Bad Decision?
All four camels survived their trek with only minor injuries. Diggity, the dog, did not.
One night, too exhausted to find a rabbit to feed her dog, Davidson fed Diggity basic rations before going to bed. The hungry dog found her own meal, an animal carcass laced with strychnine placed in the bush to reduce the dingo population.
I don’t want to criticize Davidson too harshly for her poor choice. I can’t say I’d do any better.
Besides, we all make bad decisions every day. Most of the time we are lucky. She was not. And unfortunately, Diggity, and Davidson paid the price.
Davidson set out on her long walk to do something she needed to do. She laid herself bare to the elements and the harsh landscape. She changed her life in ways she could never have predicted.
But she could not have done it without the help of four camels and a dog.
Make Tracks to A Traveler’s Library
Robyn Davidson wrote about her journey in the book Tracks. More than 30 years after its publication, it’s still widely read and will soon be made into a feature film.
Please stop by Pet Travel Thursday at A Traveler’s Library and read my full review. And don’t forget to leave a comment to say hello.
My next book for the Pet Travel Book Club is Kristin Henderson’s Driving by Moonlight: A Journey Through Love, War, and Infertility. It’s the beautifully written story of a woman who sets off on a cross country road trip with her German Shepherd after seeing her husband off to Afghanistan in the week following the September 11 attacks. Pick it up so you can join the discussion on September 13.