Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Life Indelible, Stick Inedible

We let the guys play in the lake every morning we stayed at Lynn’s, and they never seemed to grow tired of their hijinks. Perhaps if we lived there year-round (I’m considering buying lottery tickets), they’d grow blasé about having a whole lake to play in, but as it was, each morning was like Christmas for dogs, unlike actual Christmas, which, if you think about it, is rather boring for dogs.

At the end of the summer, I posted a quote from an E. B. White essay about returning to a lake. It included a lovely phrase about the “pattern of life indelible,” and here we are returning to a lake again and again each day as if it’s the first time.

Of course, part of that joy, part of that indelible pattern is, of course, chewing the inedible. Only a dog’s wisdom would choose the sticks that drop like manna over all costly vanities.

On behalf of all four of us, Comet would like to thank Lynn for giving us free run of her cabin for the weekend, and he would like to make reservations for a future date sometime soon, oh pretty, pretty please.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Family at 4,802 Feet

Lynn’s cabin is in Bridgton, and about two hours’ drive to the west is one of our favorite spots in the whole world: Mount Moosilauke. I was introduced to this mountain years ago when I was taking classes at Dartmouth. The college owns the land, and an old friend of mine who went to Dartmouth as an undergrad showed me the trails and let me know that well-trained dogs are specifically allowed to be off-leash.

Andy and I did this hike a few years ago with Gus, not long after we first met, and we’ve been longing to head back up the mountain.

Moosilauke has perhaps the best views in the White Mountains. The main peak has 360˚ views of the surrounding landscape, and it’s 4,802 feet at the peak. The dogs took the climb completely in stride, even though it’s probably the single greatest ascent they’ve done in their lives. Even so, I think it was harder on me than on either Andy or the dogs.

I’ve blown up the picture below because it just sums up the day for me, and I don’t think it translates in a smaller size. Neither Jax nor I am capable of flight, but when he sails across the mountain grass so high up, it’s hard to do anything but get lost in the air with him.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Warm Chill

Our friend Lynn bought a cabin in Maine a few years ago, and with great grace and generosity, she has mentioned to us a number of times that we can make use of it.

So, this weekend, we finally did. I’ve split the trip into three posts, so this first just deals with that first glorious morning when we woke up lakeside.

Lynn’s cabin is on Highland Lake, three miles away from the lake I spent a dozen summers at as a kid and as a young man. For me, a return to a Maine lake has a special significance, a weight of memory so vast that the air has a cool molasses quality, as if everything is slowed just a little. It gives a bright razor clarity to the smooth stones at the lake’s bottom and a sweetness to the dust of dry pine needles.

The dogs, of course, don’t indulge in this kind of nostalgic savoring of each slow detail. As I stood on the lakeshore in the cool air and the warm sun of the early day, they made whitewater and furfire out of the stillness and the yellow morning light.

I have learned to savor the slow creak of joints and the fog that follows me for the first few minutes of a precious day, when there’s no work to be done, no traffic to beat to the highway, no counting of quarters for the cup of cheap coffee that chases off the fog.

Instead, I stood on a lakeshore for an hour in the Maine fall and let air that was just a bit too cold for comfort blow through my bedhead and carry off that sleepy fog. I was jealous for a moment that the dogs could splash into a Maine lake as I have loved to do so many times, and I even considered jumping in myself for more than a moment.

It was enough, though, to watch them, to be chilled by the air and thawed by the sun, cooled by the water they splashed as they ran by, but warmed always by the sight of so much joy.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


There’s something about late afternoon light that makes a red Golden light up like he’s on fire, and as the days grow colder I still feel a warmth tingle through my limbs when I see those streaks of flame light up the woods.
My limbs, and the quivering fire that ever plays through them, for reasons, most wondrous;
Existing, I peer and penetrate still,
Content with the present—content with the past,
By my side, or back of me, Eve following,
Or in front, and I following her just the same.
              -Walt Whitman
                “Leaves of Grass (17)”
A few days after that late afternoon picture, we visited my folks in New Jersey and took a quick walk around their local lake. My dad obligingly threw sticks for them so I could try to get some classic action shots. The beach drops away slowly, so the dogs get several leaps in each time before finally swimming.

This is the same trip we took a little less than a year ago with a younger Comet and a healthy Gus. I was struck, as I always am, by the idea of cycles and circles, of losing and gaining, of how our endeavors are sometimes as silly and as satisfying as chasing a stick.

Comet showed excellent reach and great athleticism in getting through the water. He’s developed into quite the muscular young athlete.

In fact, Comet’s vet spent a couple of minutes admiring his musculature at a checkup the other day. I was oddly proud.

Jax, for his part, really learned how to maximize that last contact with the sand in order to fly back out of the water.

Comet’s not too shabby either. I love that you can see the divot from his last leap even as he’s well into the next.

Swimming season for humans is well over, but the dogs will swim until the water is completely frozen over.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Temperate September

September in Connecticut brings temperatures that preclude human swimming, but it’s at this time that we see the return on our investment in all-weather dogs.

September is fetch-time, when overheating isn’t as much of a danger, sticks fall willy-nilly on the grass, and even the fishermen aren’t quite as common on the lakeshores.

September, coincidentally, is also the month in which Jax began to offer Comet some serious competition in the game.

Currently, though, Comet’s more experienced and wily in the game of mid-water keep-away that inevitably results when they both get to the stick. He’s also just a bit faster in the water. Some pups might be turned off of a game they rarely win, but Jax’s drive is a little extreme, so he never seems to tire of chasing a blazing Comet.

Fall Guys

Though it isn’t yet technically fall for another week or so, Andy and I decided it was time for mums, gourds, bales of hay, and even some Halloween decorations.

The dogs go rather well with the fall colors, so once we were done, I posed the dogs in front of our new seasonal wares.

Unfortunately, the yard slopes off precipitously towards the street, which is nice for motorists’ viewing of the gourds and not so nice for the photographer as he attempts to capture his dogs in their fall colors while he slides gently down the slope.

I know I’m biased, but Jack really is turning out to be a handsome dog. I love that you can see the blue sky reflected in his eyes.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Flour Power

Andy made Chicken Piccata last night and the dogs, who usually have to wait outside the kitchen doorway, were not subject to our typically strict enforcement.

As he dredged the chicken to the dogs rapt attention, he flicked some flour into their eager faces. I thought the results were so adorable that I went and grabbed the camera.

I find photographing the dogs indoors at night to be nigh-impossible, since the flash always makes their coats look strange and results in incredible eye glare. For this picture, I held a single layer of paper towel over the flash. The results were a bit red and required a little post-processing to get rid of the remaining eye glare, but the moment was certainly captured with its silliness intact.

The next morning, we headed out for a hike in one of our favorite places, and the sunshine made some crisper, better-colored pictures possible. The dogs take to the grassy trails with even more gusto than they stare at raw chicken.

The goofy anticipation in the last photo is replaced by a goofy joy in coming back to a beloved whistle that has always meant affection and occasionally means cookies.

I knew I had taken a photo at a spot that had also given me one of my favorite pictures of Gus and Comet together. I liked this photo a great deal when I originally posted it back in October. What I didn’t realize, though, was how deeply I would be struck by the similarity of the actual photos.

This is from last October, only two months before Gus died. We had no idea, of course, what was about to happen, and even though Gus is gone, I can see him in Comet, the dog he helped train, and in Ajax, the dog who shares more of his genes.

The continuum of Gus’s life is both broken and unbroken, just as he is gone and is right here in the grass, running beside his brothers, always just around the corner but ready to race back to me the moment I whistle up a memory.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


This entry is a bit cumulative, since I’ve been hiking plenty with the dogs since my last early August entry. However, I haven’t taken any pictures since we left Vermont. This dearth of photography isn’t due to a lack of interest on my part but rather to a fundamental fact of the local ecology.

The August mosquitos have made an extraordinary showing on our favorite stomping grounds. So, we had two choices: give up hiking altogether for a few weeks, or hike incredibly quickly and without taking breaks. We chose the second option, so photos simply weren’t realistic.

Hikes in August, then, became a kind of an intense steeplechase of swift walking and jogging over rocks, streams, and muddy swamps. The dogs were rather enthusiastic about this development.

We did, however, stop and pick wild raspberries and blackberries on one hike, which resulted in a thorough mauling by the mosquitos and a horrible case of poison ivy on my legs.

Today, however, was just cool enough to calm if not eliminate the little biters, so I did stop briefly to try to get a couple nice shots of the guys as they practiced “stay.” In terms of the lighting, I picked a substantially better spot for Comet.

Photographers call the first and last hours of light in a day the “Golden Hour.” The sun picks up that mellow, diffuse hue that lights up certain kinds of subjects. It was late in the day when I took these, and while it perhaps wasn’t technically the last hour before sunset, it seemed like a pretty Golden hour to me.