The Universal Notebook: Walking the dog
Rudy, a handsome black mutt from Kentucky masquerading as a flat-coated retriever, knows as soon as we turn onto Hillside Street that we are going to Twin Brooks. Yearning to be free, he first expresses his impatient excitement in whines that seem the farthest thing from an expression of pleasure. The closer we get, the louder they get, erupting finally into yelps and barks that hurt my ears unless he has his head out the car window.
Walking Rudy is the only exercise I get these days, so I am grateful that we live close enough to public reserves such as Twin Brooks in Cumberland and Pratts Brook in Yarmouth so that I can let him off the leash every few days for a real romp. He romps. I huff and puff in pursuit.
I keep Rudy on the leash at the peril of having my arm pulled from its shoulder socket just until we reach the little wooden bridge. Then I unhook him and he takes off, racing uphill in search of other dogs with whom to caper and cavort. Striding up the long, grassy slope, I feel like a Thomas Hardy character, a shepherd with his dog searching for his flock.
Rudy loves other dogs as much as he loves running free. He goes bounding up to strange Labs and goldens, huskies and Labradoodles, establishes his benign intent, then goads them into chasing him or he them. So far I have not seen another dog quite as fast as Rudy. He runs circles around his new canine acquaintances until his mouth is foaming and his tongue hanging out. He doesn't have much stamina. Too much time on the couch, I fear.
I feel sorry for dogs in South Portland who only have the sad scrap of Willard Beach to stretch their legs, even sorrier for the penned-in pooches piddling around in the dog park on St. John Street in Portland. Dogs want to run. Dogs need room. Dogs lead you to discover the few remaining places where freedom is possible.
Walking around Macworth Island is always a pastoral pleasure, but you can't let your dog off the leash there. During hunting season, Pratts Brook, with its miles of woodland trails, is too risky even with orange streamers tied to Rudy's harness. Our favorite daily walk is also perilous during hunting season. Rudy loves to walk down the railroad tracks behind the house, then into the woods and through the sand pit that is Yarmouth's favorite coasting hill in winter. But there are gunshots beyond the tracks, so Twin Brooks it is again today.
Rudy's best friend is a German short-hair named Simon who lives just up the street. They are the same age, same size, and same disposition, a couple of excitable boys eager to roughhouse. When there's snow on the ground, we let Simon and Rudy tear around the yards, tumbling and tussling, confident that the snow and frozen ground will keep them from tearing up the neighbors' lawns and gardens. They don't understand why we don't let them play every day year-round, why we insist on getting them all twisted and tied up in their leashes while they're just trying to have fun.
Until the snow flies, Rudy and Simon have Twin Brooks. But you haven't seen pure joy until you've seen two dogs rolling in the snow, wild and free for a few glorious minutes in the tame and tethered suburbs.