Sunday, September 9, 2007

Shanti and the Kayaks

I start with a stop at the corner store for something for dinner, vainly hoping for something in the produce line, settling for an onion, a pepper, and a bunch of celery. Pretty much their vegetable inventory. No fruit. I add a bunch of carrots for my neighbor’s horse. And a six-pack.

Two twenty-somethings walk in, chuckling. “Never seen a dog driving a car before,” they laugh. “Oh, that’s his,” the woman behind the counter notes, nodding toward me. “Always does that,” she adds, referring to my dog Shanti, a white husky mix, who moves to the driver’s seat and patiently scans the scene for my return with each stop.

On the way to the state land at Stoney Pond she whines. I’m exhausted, but she’s bored. While I’ve been working my bizarre schedule all day, home now only as dusk approaches, she’s been stretched out under evergreen trees, watching birds, barking at an early morning hot-air balloon flight, rested and ready to go.

The weather has turned cooler too. I love September—I used to always schedule my vacations somewhere in the middle of the month. I had little competition for the dates, and it’s a perfect time to backpack in the Adirondack High Peaks—not too hot (the cool weather an asset when climbing), few bugs, no summer crowds on the trails, lean-tos readily available, and only early bear hunting season to circumvent. But alas, since becoming a college professor in 1990, Septembers are spent frantically fielding all the fruckus administration and circumstances channel my way. Hence my fatigue. But the cool weather also energizes my dog even more than her light daily itinerary.

Further, a week or so back she somehow slightly injured her foot, limping for a few days. “Give her these antibiotics, three times a day,” the vet instructed. He knows my hectic schedule, and added, “If some days she only gets two, that’s fine. Just continue it for two weeks. Also, here’s some Rimadyl—twice a day.” My last dog, a shepherd mix, lived almost sixteen years, so I know Rimadyl well—a powerful non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory pain killer. I shook my head. Shanti already is a mountain of energy stuffed into 50 lbs. of fur. Now she’ll feel no pain.

We start our walk—it’s usually a run, but I can feel myself getting sick—pain in my chest, the first signs of the bronchitis that twice has taken me out for a week in the past few years. Emboldened by the lack of people relative to August, deer wander across the path, and Shanti takes off like a jet, slamming around in her harness when she abruptly reaches the end of her 26’ retractable leash. She looks at me, then spins around and tries it again. And again. And again. “Shanti!” I finally intervene, my lungs aching from the effort. Damn. I’m definitely getting sick. I later contemplate those leftover antibiotics—500 mg. Cephalex. Keflex, I know from my pharmacy tech days. Usually prescribed every six hours, but for 7-10 days. I can think of several reasons not to flirt with a short course. I eventually give in to temptation, spreading eight doses over three days, hoping my immune system and some rest can pick it up from there.

The deer now gone, Shanti turns to sticks. She’s not fond of “fetch,” but she love to jump for sticks. I hold them out at shoulder height, and she jumps two and a half times her height to grab them. She plays hard, and I remember to hold the stick lightly, or she’ll sharply wrench my wrist or elbow yet again. [Even other dogs don’t like to play with her, since she’s just too rough.] The stick game, though, eventually tires her, at least a bit.

We round the corner of the pond (a small lake, really) and find three kayaks full of loudly laughing, joking people. Shanti goes ballistic, lunging and lunging to run out and do just-what-exactly-I-can’t-even-begin-to-imagine. As much as I love these daily outings, I’m relived when we’re back at the car.

I haven’t been kayaking all summer—just too much work. I love doing it, and even take Shanti with me—she sits right in front, anxiously watching the geese, ducks and beavers. I did think about going, although transporting the kayak is now a challenge; I used to put my short kayak atop my Toyota Echo’s roof with some hard foam designed for the purpose and a complicated system to tie it with rope to the frame. My new Yaris, however, has an antenna right in the middle of the roof (by the hatchback). Perhaps I can get it in the back with the seats down. Wonder how far it would stick out. And where would Shanti sit?

Then again, there’s always my girl’s Taurus. And where she’ll sit. And whether it can handle two kayaks. And the irony of transportation for transportation.

I had my first kayak lesson twenty feet offshore at Stoney Pond, capsizing and swimming back to shore. I’m an excellent canoeist, capable of a speedy pace in any size canoe, capable of righting a canoe in the middle of a lake and getting back in (a skill I had to learn in Scouts). I accidentally impressed my coworkers years ago at a summer gathering when my shepherd mix took off after me when I borrowed a canoe. With motor boats racing about, she wasn’t safe in the water (she was an excellent swimmer—we used to swim long distances together), so I pulled a wet, 90 lb. dog into the canoe, keeping us level and above water. Kayaking was a little different.

Balance. Sit low and straight. Soon you can even race about the lake with a dog in your kayak with you. Balance. Something my work life and, apparently, health could use. Maybe I should kayak more often. Maybe I should spend more time under evergreens myself. Maybe Shanti should drive.


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