I was young and naïve. And just felt so bad for her, confined to that small house and yard in the city. I thought of my own persistent yearning for open spaces and prolonged physical activity. Fresh air and sunshine. Deep breathing. Denied these essentials and my sweat smelled sour like an old woman’s – body turning in that acrid report like a doomed thesis. She would be better off, I thought, with at least a brief respite from incarceration. Too young to possess much of a will, she was easily encouraged into the back seat of my car as we headed out of the maze of asphalt toward the banks of the river, three hundred miles distant.
Along the way, the poor thing whined and cried. She messed the back seat twice. I could restrict her, but not control her actions. After all, someone had to focus on the road ahead. I popped in an eight track, John Fogarty growling rolling on the river … as we undulated along that two-lane highway out of Desert Center. Far from soothing her, the music seemed to increase her agitation. Trepidation gnashed its shiny teeth in bursts too short to linger; there was no turning back. She’ll feel better, I thought, once we get there; set up camp. Maybe she just gets car sick.
Early summer air was already thick with gnats and the earthy scent of rushes and sand along the river bank. I wheeled in as far as I could, dirt road turning to sand. Alone at last, I popped the trunk, set my captive free to stretch her legs, and commenced to clear the site. After several pit stops to swamp out her quarters, it proved too late to lurch into the quiet, swirling tide and strike out for a swim in the arc of afternoon sunlight. Realistically I couldn’t abandon my charge, yet I craved that crossing in a visceral way: dive out, stroke long and strong to the opposite bank. Crawl onto land a quarter mile down. Walk half a mile back. Swim across again, arriving at point of origin: lungs heaving, legs wobbling, utterly content.
Sweet bird of youth, the innocent rarely know of what they are guilty until life unfolds, revealing their folly. It wasn’t illegal, after all – though I should have known, even then, that my brother’s Irish setter was bonded to her owner. No matter that the breed is meant to roam the open fields of the countryside, she was content enough to mark his stride.
Over the past forty-plus years, I’ve raised many dogs of many sorts. And I’ve learned, much as any human can, what comforts them; what distresses. Susie, wherever you are, you know I’m sorry.
I took her home without ever finishing staking the tent.