|Orval's driveway has this view of Balsam Gap|
Orval knew his days on the mountaintop were running short. Cancer had sapped his strength, and the state had decided to close the tower. His son over in Hendersonville was preparing a place for them to live. When I visited, Orval was working on a crate for Buddy to ride down in the back of his pickup truck. It wouldn't be long until they had to leave.
Orval welcomed me to climb the rickety lookout tower and was sorry he was no longer strong enough to go up there. From his front porch, he fondly pointed out the mile-high mountains that encircled us: the Pisgahs, Balsams, the Lyn Lowry cross, the Great Smokies, Crabtree Bald, the Roans, Mount Mitchell, and others; as well as the landmarks at our feet: Maggie Valley, Waynesville, Lake Junaluska, and Asheville.
The photo I've posted here is the view from his driveway looking southwest through Balsam Gap toward Georgia. I'm sorry I don't have a picture of the three of us, but I'm not much for selfies, I doubt that Orval would have wanted to pose, and Buddy didn't want me to get too close.
One of the commands Orval taught Buddy was "show me," and the last thing Buddy did was show Orval the way out of this world. Orval was already on his deathbed on Tuesday when Buddy suddenly became sick. The family took him to the vet, but there was nothing they could do, and at 8 o'clock Tuesday night, Buddy went to sleep for the last time. Orval’s grandson lovingly told Buddy that when he got to heaven, "Stay!" and wait for Orval.
Buddy didn't have to wait for long. Just two hours later, Orval followed him. They had an amazing life together, and they were inseparable to the end.
The family sent out a message saying:
It was meant to be, Orval followed Buddy around for years. Only fitting that he follows him now. I truly believe that neither one of them wanted to leave without the other. Buddy will also be cremated and his ashes will be spread with Orval's.
I believe that Orval's Heaven will be endless mountain ridges and valleys. And that he will spend his time crossing each of them, with a pack of dogs in front of him and Buddy leading the way. Orval will be able to breathe again and his body will work again. And all along the way he will find the people he has been searching for, along with friends and family, who have gone before and will follow in the future. And Dad's face will be lit with God's light as he chases the setting sun.
And for any of you who have been on searches with my Dad and followed him through the woods, there is bound to be occasionally one of the gnarliest briar thickets and Dad will go straight through the middle of it.For more about Orval Banks and his gift for communicating with dogs, check out this 2011 story in the Smoky Mountain News.