We had no way of knowing that our two day drive to Telluride would eventually take us to a gas station where, in the midst of Trader Joe’s snacks flying around the car, boy bands blaring on the stereo, the dim hum of girl talk which ranges from politics to cats to awkward sex jokes to whether or not we like the shape of our boobs, we would happen upon a dirty but affectionate puppy someone had left at a gas station in the middle of the American West, approaching the Four Corners.

Heavy immovable clouds hung on the horizon. Horses roamed freely. America is one of the prettiest places to drive through and life is too short to have it all pass by on an airplane. Still, such a long drive does take its eventual toll. Though something got us to the right place at the right time — a gas station in Navajo country where a little dog was left in hopes someone might pick him up. He was so small and vulnerable anything could have taken him, a car, a hard rain. He got lucky. We got luckier.

Usually abandoned dogs or lost dogs will run from you if you try to save them. Believe me, I’ve tried. This dog didn’t. He somehow knew on some primal level that his only hope of survival was charming any human into giving him food or taking him in. We did both. The benevolent act was enough to make the whole trip worthwhile, though the shadow that followed it was this: people leave dogs at gas stations.

The Telluride Film Festival starts today. Last night there was a gathering at the Sheridan Hotel. First Showing’s Alex Billington had kindly sent me the email chain invite to a party I wasn’t invited to. Chris Willman had also driven in and invited me to come and see Life Itself at the outdoor movie theater. That would have been something, as Telluride’s sky is nothing but deep blue and blankets of stars. But, as my teen traveling companions would say, TBH (to be honest), I was looking forward to getting into a warm bed with good wi-fi and the chance to reconnect to what was happening in the world.

Hollywood-Elsewhere’s Jeff Wells secured a whole house to rent for the fest and kindly offered me two rooms — one for me, and a whole downstairs with its own bathroom and television for the teenagers and their new pal, a scruffy puppy they named Cooper Navajo. We got lucky this time with so much space.

The puppy settled in for the night, after some burgers and a gentle cleaning. He seemed to be smiling, even though we know dogs might actually not do this. He had three overly attentive females doting on him. He slept and then he slept some more. One tiny life out on the unforgiving mesa spared.

It’s cold here in Telluride — bright, clear and cold. It’s puffy jacket weather. Coffee weather. This morning is the Patron’s Brunch where we will reconnect with many Telluride regulars — Ken Burns will probably be milling about. Ditto Alice Waters. There will be champagne, lots of good food, and a long wait for the bus to take us back down the hill. Afterwards, I will probably try to catch the first screening of Wild, the first of the Big Oscar Movies to show here. The Frances Ford Coppola Apocalypse Now tribute repeats tomorrow morning so I’ll do catch-up then. Film history is not something to miss.

Birdman has the feel of something special where the Oscar race is concerned and appears to be the strongest contender out of this festival. But it’s also possible this year will break the streak, that Best Picture won’t come from here at all but from a film released in a different way, Toronto, New York or one that bypasses the festival circuit entirely. It is only a pattern until that pattern is broken.

Day one, and we’re off.

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