Fetching relief from the dog days

City Diary

July 24, 2002|By Matt Buck

LIKE MOST of us around here, I've gotten used to rising early and getting errands done in the morning, before the day's humidity envelops the city in its death grip. One recent morning, I hadn't had time to squeeze in the usual outing for my 8-month-old Labrador retriever. And now I was paying the price.

We sat together in the dining room, I working at the table and he sprawled underneath it. Both of us were using the absolute minimum physical movement necessary. In my case, this meant lifting fingers off the keyboard and placing them back down again, and occasionally reaching for my glass of ice water. For the pup it meant restlessly shifting his oversized body with folds of unstretched hide.

Cash-strapped and forced into extreme energy conservancy, I had decided not to operate the air conditioner until my wife came home from work. I reasoned that because our brick rowhouse would retain the cool from the previous night's air conditioning, we would not need a new injection of air first thing in the morning. Our house didn't "breathe" well and so I was just turning a temperature control weakness into a strength. Right?

Wrong. But I am nothing if not stubborn. As sweat dripped from my face onto my computer and the puppy's shifting became more frequent and infused with a desperate whimper, I decided it was time to act. We both needed to get out of the house and seek refuge somewhere, anywhere.

The most essential thing to a Lab, besides its food, is water. And I don't mean the stuff in its bowl. Most Labs have an insatiable appetite for actually being in water -- swimming, fetching, splashing, playing. He goes into a nervously excited fit at the mere sight of a stream, pond or lake.

And I knew just the place to satisfy both our cravings. The city's much-maligned-of-late Robert E. Lee Park is only a 15-minute drive north from my neighborhood in Remington. Ignoring my dubious rule about afternoon outings, out the door we went.

When we arrived at the park entrance off Falls Road, it was the middle of the afternoon. The park was not yet crowded with after-work joggers and walkers. Aside from the odd fisherman casting a line into Lake Roland, we had the place all to ourselves. The previous night's thunderstorm had dumped a half-inch of rain into the lake and so water roared over the dam as we passed over the bridge below. The puppy's tail slapped against my leg; his ears pricked forward to catch the happy sound.

Even among the trees the air was warm and thick. But the deep woods exhaled a damp, cool breath, filled with the scent of wet earth. With no one around to distract him, I unleashed the pup and we ran to the water's edge.

Accustomed to our routine around almost any body of water, he leaped in immediately with a great splash and began swimming vigorously out to the middle of the lake. My role was to find a suitable stick and throw it out as far as I could so that he could retrieve it and proudly return to shore with it clenched in his teeth.

Upon returning to shore, the pup dropped the stick neatly at his feet and shook, showering me with water. Then, of course, he barked, eyeing me expectantly and pawing the sand in case I wasn't sure what to do next. I reached for the stick and we repeated the entire drill again and again. Finally, leaving puddles behind him, the pup trotted up shore from where I was standing and plopped down to have a good chew.

I decided to take a breather myself and sat down on the mossy bank. My shirt and shorts were drenched from the puppy's shaking. I took my shoes off and dug my feet into the soft mud and sand. A light breeze blew in off the lake, whisking over my wet skin and making me feel cool for the first time that day. The trees swayed slightly under blue sky and puffy cloud. As the puppy busily made mulch out of one stick after another, tail swinging back and forth, I watched as a heron fished a mud flat against the far shore.

And all the while my air conditioner in the window at home sat utterly still and silent.

Today's writer

Matt Buck teaches social studies at the Gilman School in Baltimore City and is a free-lance writer.

City Diary provides a forum for examining issues and events in Baltimore's neighborhoods and welcomes contributions from readers.

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