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Summer on the Coast of Maine, Doggy-Style

dog on beachI’m spending this week on the coast of southern Maine. If I had a choice, I’d spend most of the week as I am right now: in a low-slung beach chair, toes buried in the warm sand, and book propped open on my lap, pages ruffled by the strong wind off the water.

Every few minutes I look up to inventory the surf, scanning for two heads—one belonging to my dark-haired daughter and the other her blond-haired friend—who are bobbing in the waves ahead of me. I have to squint hard to keep sight of them, in part because the sun is glaring, and in part because the tide is so low they seem a football field away. The girls appear as tiny figures, no bigger than lawn jockeys. The seagull stalking crabs a few yards in front of me seems as large as they are, as if this were a landscape by a very poor artist, maybe a second grader who fixed the figures on the same plane.

Suddenly to the scene comes a big, black curly-haired dog. It bursts through the dune grass behind me and hits the sand, galloping with its head high and plumed tail aloft. It speeds past a largish woman in a brown, skirted bathing suit on my left, about 50 paces away, who is startled by recognition—it’s her dog, I think.

And, sure enough, it is: She calls out to him—some name lost in the stiff wind. No doubt the dog heard it, though, because it quickened its pace and ran off down the beach, weaving around the sunburned folk walking the shoreline, and around the dollops of small children plopped here and there, digging in the wet sand. Its visit was clearly unauthorized, and the loose dog ran… well, like a dog on the loose: each stride stretched, long, his back arching exaggeratedly, as if it were bucking a rider.

With a great huff, the woman started to heave herself up from her chair, which was, like mine, low to the ground. When it contained her, it positioned her knees at a higher, unfortunate angle to her hips. I don’t know much about the kinetics of the human body, but at that moment I did know two things: It was going to be difficult for her to land upright quickly, and further, it was going to be a difficult landing to stick.

If a person were chasing another on the beach—say, one lover calling out to another after a spat, a parent on the heels of a difficult child, or a cop chasing a robber—it would never have occurred to me to get involved. But because this was a dog, and I worry (irrationally, sometimes) about the well-being and vulnerabilities of animals, particularly dogs, I gave thought to springing from my own chair and giving chase.

But I didn’t, because pretty quickly I saw that the dog didn’t have a real taste for freedom. It charged a hundred yards or so down the beach and then circled back in a wide arch, its pink tongue lolling crazily in its head as it came within a few feet of the woman and, now, her teenage son, who had emerged on the beach behind her and lunged at it, unsuccessfully.

Clearly, the dog was out for a joyride, well outside of any real danger and obviously enjoying this oddly cast game of cat and mouse. So I felt as free as the dog to sit back and dig my toes deeper into the warm sand. Now there was drama unfolding: Would the dog, Tucker—I caught the name when the woman shouted it once in my direction—tire himself out completely before she stuck the landing and was able to give chase?

Meanwhile, in the surf, two children bob, unaware.

The woman rocked her body in her chair, as if loosening it, like a ratchet working a bolt—back and forth, back and forth. The effect was a little like rocking a vending machine into place—back and forth and back and forth—a few inches at a time, until it finally lands in position.

And then suddenly the woman, too, stuck her landing, and, after steadying herself for a moment, trotted after the dog, “TUCKER!” she yelled, drawing out the dog’s name, “TUUUUH-KIRRRR!”

She caught up with her son, and the two launched a heated argument about Tucker and his unintended romp on the beach. I couldn’t hear all the words, but I got the gist—the family seemed to be staying in a house a few doors from the beach, and the son hadn’t latched something, and Tucker pushed its way through and high-tailed it to the beach, which for him was enormously more entertaining than lying in wait all day listening to the waves crashing on the shore, rather than actually running through them.

They stood toe to toe, the stout woman in the brown-skirted suit and her stout boy, screaming at each other while the dog wove wide circles around them. They might have been screaming to be heard over the wind, but I kind of doubted it, since I could almost hear their words from where I was sitting, many yards away. “Why didn’t you [mumble, mumble] like I said [mumble]… and you always [mumble],” the woman accused. “[Mumble]… not my fault! And [mumble, mumble]…” the boy yelled back.

I understood that impulse: the need to point the finger at someone as being the cause of this misery. One minute, you’re sitting on the sand, at the start of your one week at the beach this year, the first good day of sunshine, only to find yourself—within minutes, chasing a dog you didn’t want to bring anyway, who gleefully zigged when you zagged, happily kicking up sand while you, purple-faced and winded, can do nothing but argue with a teenager on the beach. It isn’t fair. No, more than that: It’s grossly unjust. Someone had to pay the price; it was, simply, someone’s fault.

A few days prior, I had emerged, rumpled and grumpy, from the car after a rainy drive to the beach house and, needing to send an email I’d neglected to send before leaving home, immediately attempted to connect to the wireless router. But I couldn’t—the laptop is new, and the old password didn’t work, or didn’t appear to. I came a little unhinged. It wasn’t enough to puzzle out why the password didn’t work… someone had to accept responsibility. It had to be someone’s fault.

“Who changed the password?” I demanded, staring hard into the faces of each family member in turn. “It’s not the same password, so who changed it? The password used to work, and now it doesn’t,” I hissed, adding, “and you can’t tell me you don’t know what happened.” (It turned out, by the way, that the password wasn’t “happyplace” but, rather, “Happyplace.” How infuriating is that?)

Eventually, Tucker got himself all, well, tuckered out. He slowed enough to be caught by the collar and, subsequently, he allowed a leash to be clipped to it. Led by the boy, he trotted dutifully home, placid as a lamb, pink tongue drooling onto his black curly chest.

As he passed by, I caught a better look at him. He was some kind of standard poodle, clipped around the face and haunches into a fancy cut that seemed impossibly out of step with this laid-back Maine vacation vibe.

Sitting here on this beach, far from the place where we live out the rest of our lives—the place, for me, of work and ringing telephones and endless emails, and for him of poodle clips and “No!” and endless heeling—I sort of understood: that urge to mix it up, to put yourself somewhere else, to leave things behind. The need to gather a head of steam and, each in our own way, get a little unleashed.


Photo credit: bigbird3

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55 Responses to Summer on the Coast of Maine, Doggy-Style

  1. Bdot says:

    I wish I was on the beach, nothing but HOT sand here, 114 today:(

  2. Bdot says:

    I wish I was on the beach, nothing but HOT sand here, 114 today:(

  3. Way to kick off my summer reading– bloggy-style!
    I can almost taste the salty air up there!

  4. Way to kick off my summer reading– bloggy-style!
    I can almost taste the salty air up there!

  5. BL Ochman says:

    Boy Ann! you sure can write!
    Benny and I both enjoyed this post. He’s a Labradoodle, not a Poodle, but he loves nothing more than racing through the water and i love watching him.

  6. BL Ochman says:

    Boy Ann! you sure can write!
    Benny and I both enjoyed this post. He’s a Labradoodle, not a Poodle, but he loves nothing more than racing through the water and i love watching him.

  7. Tim Jackson says:

    Damn you Ann- if that isn’t one of the best written short essays I’ve read in years. Honestly- I give up trying to write something that you’ll like; I’m simply and terribly, woefully unskilled by comparison.

    I can live each of those images (and have, many of them). Written with laser-like accuracy, I can feel the sand between my toes and feel the lazy awareness of the children.

    Ugh… I’m unworthy.

  8. Tim Jackson says:

    Damn you Ann- if that isn’t one of the best written short essays I’ve read in years. Honestly- I give up trying to write something that you’ll like; I’m simply and terribly, woefully unskilled by comparison.

    I can live each of those images (and have, many of them). Written with laser-like accuracy, I can feel the sand between my toes and feel the lazy awareness of the children.

    Ugh… I’m unworthy.

  9. Mo says:

    Living the past 13 years of my life in southern maine, I can’t help but wonder if you were sitting on my favorite beach? Goose Rocks by chance?

  10. Mo says:

    Living the past 13 years of my life in southern maine, I can’t help but wonder if you were sitting on my favorite beach? Goose Rocks by chance?

  11. Fabulous post, Ann. These kinds of posts are my favorite: just a snapshot of a moment in a place, seemingly uneventful, but to the observant eye, really an experience and a lesson to be shared.

    To be honest, I’d much rather read your blog than the book I’m reading right now!

  12. Fabulous post, Ann. These kinds of posts are my favorite: just a snapshot of a moment in a place, seemingly uneventful, but to the observant eye, really an experience and a lesson to be shared.

    To be honest, I’d much rather read your blog than the book I’m reading right now!

  13. Your stories always make A n n a r c h y a “happyplace” to visit…!

  14. Your stories always make A n n a r c h y a “happyplace” to visit…!

  15. Liz says:

    A perfect introduction to the July 4th weekend (which is when I think summer really starts anyway… ) Your wonderful writing made me feel like I was RIGHT THERE!

  16. Liz says:

    A perfect introduction to the July 4th weekend (which is when I think summer really starts anyway… ) Your wonderful writing made me feel like I was RIGHT THERE!

  17. Ann, how perfect! I can smell the sand and the sea in your words. Ahhh.

  18. Ann, how perfect! I can smell the sand and the sea in your words. Ahhh.

  19. Ann Handley says:

    Thanks Bdot, Jen, Liz, Steve… love that you stop by. Thank you!

    @Tim: Quit your whining, or I’ll have to hurt you. (Again.)

    @Shelley: My favorite thing to write about are small moments that live large, like this one.

    @BL: I actually love watching dogs at the beach (mine, or anyone’s…), too.. they love it so fully.

    @Mo: *This close* to Goose Rocks. Actually, it’s at the end of Goosefare Brook, the very end of Ocean Park, just before it becomes Ferry Beach (or is that Kinney Shores?) You know it?

  20. Ann Handley says:

    Thanks Bdot, Jen, Liz, Steve… love that you stop by. Thank you!

    @Tim: Quit your whining, or I’ll have to hurt you. (Again.)

    @Shelley: My favorite thing to write about are small moments that live large, like this one.

    @BL: I actually love watching dogs at the beach (mine, or anyone’s…), too.. they love it so fully.

    @Mo: *This close* to Goose Rocks. Actually, it’s at the end of Goosefare Brook, the very end of Ocean Park, just before it becomes Ferry Beach (or is that Kinney Shores?) You know it?

  21. Bonanny-

    Thanks for taking me on vacation with you, dearest. I love your melodic writing. It always makes me sigh and smile.

    Leighster

  22. Bonanny-

    Thanks for taking me on vacation with you, dearest. I love your melodic writing. It always makes me sigh and smile.

    Leighster

  23. JP says:

    OK – something weird happened – as my comment appeared at the end of a different post after it was submitted to this one…hmmm. Anyway, here it is again for the “Doggy-Style” post. :)

    Good heavens! Thanks for the brief, yet oh-so-lovely, transport! I needed it. :) Sigh.

  24. JP says:

    OK – something weird happened – as my comment appeared at the end of a different post after it was submitted to this one…hmmm. Anyway, here it is again for the “Doggy-Style” post. :)

    Good heavens! Thanks for the brief, yet oh-so-lovely, transport! I needed it. :) Sigh.

  25. Jan Richards says:

    Wonderful, all, thanks…ultimately becoming unleashed rather than unhinged.

    (And great password, I mean Password).

  26. Jan Richards says:

    Wonderful, all, thanks…ultimately becoming unleashed rather than unhinged.

    (And great password, I mean Password).

  27. I liked “…that urge to mix it up, to put yourself somewhere else, to leave things behind. The need to gather a head of steam and, each in our own way, get a little unleashed”, as I was trying to balance it ALL out. Great writing!

  28. I liked “…that urge to mix it up, to put yourself somewhere else, to leave things behind. The need to gather a head of steam and, each in our own way, get a little unleashed”, as I was trying to balance it ALL out. Great writing!

  29. Ann Handley says:

    @JP: I’m thinking it’s a server hosting issue. Of course, I *would* become unhinged about that kind of thing a few days ago… but now… FEH! Doesn’t bother me at all…! (yeah, right)

    @leigh and @jan: backatcha (the “thanks” I mean…) I appreciate you stopping by, as always.

    @vin: I highly recommend it, for those both 2 AND 4 legged.

  30. Ann Handley says:

    @JP: I’m thinking it’s a server hosting issue. Of course, I *would* become unhinged about that kind of thing a few days ago… but now… FEH! Doesn’t bother me at all…! (yeah, right)

    @leigh and @jan: backatcha (the “thanks” I mean…) I appreciate you stopping by, as always.

    @vin: I highly recommend it, for those both 2 AND 4 legged.

  31. vahe says:

    Great descriptions… Almost makes me wish I were there…

    Hey, wait a minute… “almost”?!

  32. vahe says:

    Great descriptions… Almost makes me wish I were there…

    Hey, wait a minute… “almost”?!

  33. While enjoying your vacation in Maine, you might want to enjoy your own lobster trap. You can adopt a lobster trap at Catch a piece of Maine. The Springwise blog posted about it: http://snipurl.com/2syhs
    Springwise: Adopt a Maine lobster trap [www_springwise_com]
    Happy Summer Time!

  34. While enjoying your vacation in Maine, you might want to enjoy your own lobster trap. You can adopt a lobster trap at Catch a piece of Maine. The Springwise blog posted about it: http://snipurl.com/2syhs
    Springwise: Adopt a Maine lobster trap [www_springwise_com]
    Happy Summer Time!

  35. Jim Sutton says:

    Ann – Great writing and the sound and smell of the surf makes me long to be sitting on the beach. Why did I find myself worrying about the two girls, bobbing “unaware” of the scene on the sand? Is it my fear of unknown dogs and the potential they have to cause a little havoc? It’s quite a potent sub-text to the little concern about the password. Jim

  36. Jim Sutton says:

    Ann – Great writing and the sound and smell of the surf makes me long to be sitting on the beach. Why did I find myself worrying about the two girls, bobbing “unaware” of the scene on the sand? Is it my fear of unknown dogs and the potential they have to cause a little havoc? It’s quite a potent sub-text to the little concern about the password. Jim

  37. Elaine Fogel says:

    Ann, it’s time to start thinking about authoring a novel. It’s in you.

  38. Elaine Fogel says:

    Ann, it’s time to start thinking about authoring a novel. It’s in you.

  39. and when you write that novel (or that book of essays), I will buy them as gifts for my dearest friends, every one!

  40. and when you write that novel (or that book of essays), I will buy them as gifts for my dearest friends, every one!

  41. Lisa Mac says:

    HA!! I couldn’t get beyond, “It bursts through the dune grass behind me and hits the sand, galloping with its head high and plumed tail aloft.”

    The sight of a pup all happy and free like that is the greatest thing in the world. Unless of course the pup is yours!

    oxox

  42. Lisa Mac says:

    HA!! I couldn’t get beyond, “It bursts through the dune grass behind me and hits the sand, galloping with its head high and plumed tail aloft.”

    The sight of a pup all happy and free like that is the greatest thing in the world. Unless of course the pup is yours!

    oxox

  43. I could read you all day, Ann.
    Felt like I was there watching with you.

  44. I could read you all day, Ann.
    Felt like I was there watching with you.

  45. Alan Wolk says:

    Was waiting till I was on vacation to respond.

    I love how you play the observer in so many of your blog posts, wondering about what some total strangers are up to, creating backstories for them, speculating on how they came to be in the situation they are now.

    It’s great stuff, and you’ve got a keen ear for it.

    AW

  46. Alan Wolk says:

    Was waiting till I was on vacation to respond.

    I love how you play the observer in so many of your blog posts, wondering about what some total strangers are up to, creating backstories for them, speculating on how they came to be in the situation they are now.

    It’s great stuff, and you’ve got a keen ear for it.

    AW

  47. Ann Handley says:

    Thanks for the generous encouragement, all. A book might be out of my league at this point.. I’m lucky if I can manage to post to this blog once a week, keep my job, walk the dogs, raise a few kids *and* clean my oven! ; )

    @Lara — Interesting idea there. Thanks.

    @Jim — I think I inadvertently & unintentionally foreshadowed something there… in the 2.0 version of this story (if there ever is one…) I’ll clean that up. The doggie romp happened so quickly that it was well over by the time they emerged onto the sand.. which affirmed for me that everyone does indeed live out their own little drama mostly unaware…

  48. Ann Handley says:

    Thanks for the generous encouragement, all. A book might be out of my league at this point.. I’m lucky if I can manage to post to this blog once a week, keep my job, walk the dogs, raise a few kids *and* clean my oven! ; )

    @Lara — Interesting idea there. Thanks.

    @Jim — I think I inadvertently & unintentionally foreshadowed something there… in the 2.0 version of this story (if there ever is one…) I’ll clean that up. The doggie romp happened so quickly that it was well over by the time they emerged onto the sand.. which affirmed for me that everyone does indeed live out their own little drama mostly unaware…

  49. David Reich says:

    I’ll be on the beach in Maine in 2 weeks, when we go up near Brunswick (25 miles past Portland) to spend a week near our daughter and grandson.

    Our pooch Loki will be there. He’s a black lab mix, so I don’t have to tell you how much he loves the beach. And our daughter’s dog Delia is a big black curly-haired dog — could have been the pup in your story, except when you mentioned the owner was a large woman, I knew it wasn’t my daughter, who is tall and thin.

    Delia’s getting a bit older now — she’s 9. She sleeps late and when on a walk, just lays down flat when she’s had enough walking. But get her near the ocean and she’s a young pup swimming non-stop as she chases sticks and balls.

    Can’t wait.

  50. David Reich says:

    I’ll be on the beach in Maine in 2 weeks, when we go up near Brunswick (25 miles past Portland) to spend a week near our daughter and grandson.

    Our pooch Loki will be there. He’s a black lab mix, so I don’t have to tell you how much he loves the beach. And our daughter’s dog Delia is a big black curly-haired dog — could have been the pup in your story, except when you mentioned the owner was a large woman, I knew it wasn’t my daughter, who is tall and thin.

    Delia’s getting a bit older now — she’s 9. She sleeps late and when on a walk, just lays down flat when she’s had enough walking. But get her near the ocean and she’s a young pup swimming non-stop as she chases sticks and balls.

    Can’t wait.

  51. Derrick Daye says:

    Ann,

    Nicely said. I’ll be heading back to Boothbay shortly…nothing like Maine!

    Derrick

  52. Derrick Daye says:

    Ann,

    Nicely said. I’ll be heading back to Boothbay shortly…nothing like Maine!

    Derrick

  53. Annie Too says:

    Ok, I am now seething in jealousy!! The Arizona heat has taken every ounce of liquid in my body… thank you Ann for brining a little bit of the Maine beach into my dry, hot life… now, If I could find a bit of sand to put my toes in.

  54. Annie Too says:

    Ok, I am now seething in jealousy!! The Arizona heat has taken every ounce of liquid in my body… thank you Ann for brining a little bit of the Maine beach into my dry, hot life… now, If I could find a bit of sand to put my toes in.

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