June 06, 2006
When my extended family gathers at camp, the group usually includes at least four dogs. And always fairly big dogs. German shepherds, collies, labrador retrievers, or mutts that are a mix about that size. And since family members tend to get dogs from rescue groups or shelters, they are almost always dogs with issues. Since we have plenty of room at camp, the dogs usually get along okay, but meal times can be dangerous. Many a meal over the years has ended with people leaping up onto the picnic table to avoid the snarling dogs going at each other underneath the table, fighting over a piece of food that has been dropped. At some point, my Red-haired Sister instituted the policy of putting the dogs on lines during meals, and that solved the problem. Now the main fights at the picnic table are between my father and me.
When I was growing up, we always had a dog. Well, we had cats too, and a horse, and gerbils. But as I got older, I realized I was more of a cat person than a dog person, and so now I live in a household with seven cats and no dog at all. Oh, I like dogs well enough, but they are just so much responsibility. I figured I didn't need to get a dog for my kids because they can always play with the family dogs at camp.
Red-haired Sister will often ask me to go with her when she walks her dogs. This ritual of walking her dogs makes some sense where she lives, but makes no sense at all at camp, where the dogs are racing around, chasing chipmunks, leaping off the dock, and running free all day. But I've never questioned the ritual because I enjoy the walks. I usually volunteer to take Zip, a gentle old collie, and we set off along the backcountry roads.
The road we walk on is narrow and curving, crossing over high meadows and then down through the woods, with quiet bridges over cattails and creeks. Bright orange day lilies bloom along the road, and the occasional house often will have a neat garden. We pass the old farmhouse with the apple orchard where we used to sometime go to gather the drops, the apples on the ground. Many years ago, my sister was riding a bike near the orchard in the rain, and she saw a tree get struck by lightning. The tree split down the middle with a loud crack. Walking the dogs gives us an excuse to take a nice walk, away from the crowd back at camp, and have lazy conversations on summer morning.
In the late afternoon, when we've all returned tired and sunburned from swimming out at one of the islands, the dogs are usually looking for some attention. They gather around us at the picnic table, where we gather to devour cookies, fruit, cheese, and crackers. You can easily spend hours throwing sticks or balls or frisbees for the dogs to retrieve. Some of them never tire of this sort of game. My youngest sister had one dog who loved the stick game so much that it was impossible to break up kindling for the fire. I'd pick up a stick and before I could even do anything, he would have his teeth around one end of it. I gradually got into the rhythm of throwing one stick, then breaking one.
At night time, the dogs join us around the campfire, usually content to lie still and keep an eye on things. Sometimes in the dark, I've stepped on a dog by mistake. I’ll get up innocently to go get another log for the fire, and suddenly I’ll have this snarling, snapping dog yowling in pain. A few of these incidents have taught me to be more careful. And though I am not a dog person, I like the presence of the dogs at camp, these creatures who get so excited about smells, who swim in the marsh with such enthusiasm, and who run through the wood with such crazy abandon.
Posted by jo(e)