Tag Archives: dogs

Summer Happy Place

A friend of mine has been building her own water park in her back yard, one that includes among other things an outdoor shower and dog wash. I took both dogs for a lovely cedar massage bath and we talked about how summer heat meant seeking relief in the cool of the water.

I’ve been going to the water all my life. I love the rocky forest, adore the sky, dance around the fire, but my Element is irrevocably Water.

Ripples © by Alexander Kozlov

Yesterday the heat broke in the afternoon, a great whoosh of wind blew leaves, rattling and bone dry, and thunder rumbled, but not a drop of moisture fell. The thermometer dropped from 103f/39c to 88f/31c and the sense that I was imprisoned indoors lifted. My kayak was still on the car from Monday’s jaunt (more later) and I zipped over to the local launch ramp and managed to get both dogs in with me and go for a paddle. (No pics, alas, since my phone is so water-averse!)

Good Dog Pepper © by Paul Byrley

It was glorious, if a bit awkward getting sorted. Lily didn’t want to sit in her seat behind me. Seneca was confused and had trouble arranging her boney arthritic limbs. But eventually, with much splashing and a false start (white poodle swimming behind kayak) we were off. My old dog barked at the waves, my young dog leant against my back, too warm, but reassuring for both of us. I paddled without clobbering anyone. We pushed out against the incoming tide, aided by a breeze from the stern.

I was rewarded by an osprey rush-hour, each bird carrying their fish like a suitcase as they flew. A very large and splendidly marked bald eagle sat prettily in a tree. When I paddled too close, s/he flew out in a circle but returned, showing off the broad white tail, handsome walnut dark wings and snowy crown. Catfish like leviathans leapt near the boat, thrilling that is! What if one managed to flop IN the boat? It’s happened!

Blue Heron in Virginia © by David Pitts

A squadron of 21 white egrets flew overhead. We saw terns, tree swallows, geese, a green heron. I heard redwing blackbird, wood thrush and cardinal. Two very tall Great Blues flew in to find a roost, clearly a pair who wanted to be together. It looked tricky, all those long legs trying to perch in a tree.

Then the water breaks into rippled flowing colour of underwater and sky and three shades of each looping forth and back, I feel the most connected, I feel the flow, I feel at home.

Take me to the River.

all photos from Flickr posted with Creative Commons License

Get me to the River

2008 photo by miss karen on flickr

Yesterday was our first sweltering day this summer, appropriate, perhaps, on Summer Solstice. My mission was to fetch a friend from BWI airport, normally about a 75 minute drive. For some reason, traffic was jammed in all directions, and especially coming back. ugh!

The outside temp at 6:45pm was 97f/36c but ten minutes later, eight miles south and in the shade the thermometer read 84f/29c. What a difference a forest makes!! At peak summer, the change from urban heat island to rural cool is usually more like 10f/5c.

Cranky as all get out, I picked up the dogs and headed for the Potomac. They were ecstatic, of course, leaping from the car and racing down the shady trail. Lily was slurping cool water, belly-deep, when I finally arrived with gimpy Seneca, helping her climb over logs to get to the water’s edge.

The water was clear and cool, lapping the gravel beach. Branches hung down sheilding me from the view of the fishing pier. I shucked off my shirt and shorts and joined them, enjoying my first river swim of the year.

Where I grew up, the river was the stage on which life was played. In the summer, one would return from a hard day’s work, sticky and hot, and shuck one’s clothing en route direct from car to seawall. Depending on the number of observers and the time of day, one plunged in wearing some or all of one’s clothing. I remember standing on the sandy bottom and scrubbing the spagetti sauce and mayonaisse out of my uniform with a bar of ivory soap, the Harsen’s Island method of Pre-Wash.

Now, the embrace of the cool river as a reward for a hot summer day is not everyone’s cuppa. So many folks I know think of it as nothing but a filthy drainage ditch. Growing up in love with a river iss one of those things I took for granted, not realizing how extraordinary the rivery life was. Fast forward to Summer Solstice 2012 and find me in my underthings, paddling in the Potomac. Like a happy wet dog.

wet happy dogs

It’s a rare pleasure for more than just the obvious reasons. While the Potomac at Mount Vernon is healthy enough for bass and eagles and blue herons, it’s often choked with algae, a thick slimy green bloom of overgrowth, the result of fertilizer and sewage providing far too many ‘nutrients’ into the stream. The stuff gloms all over the native river grasses then dies and rots into a foul black stuff I call ‘dead spinach.’ Often this gunks up the river so badly I don’t even want to wade in it.

For whatever reason, this year the shore is relatively free of it, and thus the visible beach and the almost-clear water. So there I was, in bliss, the crazy lady swimming in the river. I could hear the murmur of conversation from the fishing pier and the laughing of water-skiers, fallen nearby. While I floated in the cool a bird came in low and landed on driftwood log near enough to see that it was a green heron.

So I float, weightless in a cool bath, spinning slowly under a hazy sky. What better place to be on a day like today?

Headwinds

I took the dogs to the river today, the sun was out! We’ve all been indoors too much, writing, painting, cooking. Today, walking was the first priority.

The winter beech leaves can be quite a bright golden peach in the winter, contrasted with the drabness of dried leaves and bark. The green of moss and holly are most welcome. Add the blue sky and you have a beautiful winter palette.

Of course the dogs were ecstatic. Oh, the joys of sniffing! Seneca forgets she’s a gimpy oldster at the park (this one) and romps like a puppy, a comical sight as she seems to gallop in slow motion. When we rounded the path to approach the boardwalk, a brisk wind was blowing off the river.

This is often the case; inland even a few yards the climate can feel very different from what’s happening on the water. Today, this strong, steady breeze was whipping the shallows into tiny whitecaps, making a frothy sound. And the bare branches were making that distinctive wintery roar. My hair flew around and I felt the cold come through the buttons of my jacket.

In the marsh a few groups of mallards were chattering nearby, then further back a flock of Canada geese rose up and make a V heading toward open water. But in the stiff breeze they seemed to hang motionless in the air. They were moving forward very slowly, and not really moving their wings. The wind alone was holding them aloft. It was eerie and beautiful, these big birds floating strongly, as if they reached the river on will alone.

Sometimes where we are trying to go is harder to reach than we expect. But maybe there is an added lift, an unlikely gift, from the obstacle.