While I was in the Pacific Northwest last week, it was sunny and lovely, the way it is supposed to never be. Sure, there was ice on the puddles in the morning, and standing water everywhere — it is February after all— but the crocuses were blooming in every little nook, and the trees were budding, and there were fluffy clouds mimicking the thousands of sheep and lambs grazing the flat emerald pastures of the Willamette. As soon as I hit California it started raining, and it's still raining now.
I had a good time visiting friends and driving about looking at farmland, about the latter of which I'll have more to say later no doubt. But the most interesting thing I did was to stop by the house of a stranger.
Nick Davis is a name familiar to most older Aussie folks, but I'd venture to guess that more than a few newcomers have never heard much about him or his famous dogs. He got his first Aussie in 1964. His founding sire, SVCH Apache Tears Of Timberline TD, was the first Supreme Versatility Champion, and Apache gave rise to a long line of working, obedience, and conformation winners, back when it wasn't so unusual to see a working stockdog in the show ring. Nick's a delightful person, as acute a mind as anyone I've met. But beyond that, he has a lifetime of memories, anecdotes and knowledge to share about the early history of ASCA and how the breed and its club's ideas and ideals evolved.
He's not the only one, of course. Although Aussies are not a particularly young breed — the term was being used by the 19th century — as a registered breed they are. Quite a few people are still around who remember the founding days, and some of them had Aussies long before that. But now these folks are aging. The large majority of us now involved with Aussies came in after this period, and as most of us are without a mentor with this kind of experience, our human witness to early Aussie history is beginning to disappear.
What will happen if these people do not pass down their memories and their wisdom to the next generations? That's what I am starting to wonder.
Similarly, when I look through the photographs and pedigrees of the old founding Aussies, the most striking thing is how many of these dogs have no living descendants. No one valued these dogs enough to continue them. Now those genetics are completely, irretrievably lost. Who cares enough to save what's left?
Well, I do. I care about both things. I want the Aussie to continue to be what it was originally, ". . . primarily a working dog of strong herding and guardian instincts". That quote is from the preamble of the 1977 ASCA standard. I think of it as my Aussie mantra. It was written at a time when the working Aussie was so commonly available that few imagined so much could be lost so rapidly. The reality is that few present-day Aussie aficionados see that phrase as the most critical part of the whole standard, but I am one of that few. I know that I can only contribute a tiny mite to the endeavor of preserving that original Aussie, but I'm bound and determined to do what I can.
One of the things I can do is to help make a record of the past. I will be posting more about Nick, probably not in this diary but as a separate article, and I am hoping to also begin to create a photo archive. For starters. I don't want the roots of the Australian Shepherd and those who have contributed to them, to be relegated to vague dimming recollections.
Although so much is already lost, there is also so much that can still be saved. Memories, pictures, and genetics, all have a part to play in that process. But we have to get to work now, because all are slipping away, down the stream of time that never ceases.