Nantucket Essay | Nantucket, MA
Nantucket Essays

A Walk with a Not Good Dog

~ by Robert P. Barsanti ~

Summer takes a while to settle into the island. For most of New England, Memorial Day weekend means finding the cooler, a swimsuit that still fits, and a lake. The Red Sox are still in first place, the grill just got its gas tank refilled, and thunder rolls up the valley. Out here, on God’s last best island, the first tenants are in and the heat is still on, Chad and his bros are carrying twelve packs up the middle of the street (just like it is in the catalogs), and the polar fleece pullover needs another wash.

Still, everything that lives out here is trying to push the sky into the right season. The daffodils have long since fallen, and the roses are heaving their way out. The hedges have swelled and hidden the neighbors, the stripers are running, and the ducklings have returned to stop traffic. Curls of cloud flip over head, the wind remains raw, and beaches are cold, but the bushes teem with deer, rabbits, and loud birds.

My boon companion has joined in the chorus. Surgery has long since robbed him of the primary drive of the spring, but the itch is hard for him ignore. He sits at the screen door and gets teased by the bunnies and the robins. He barks a quick warning to them, which they ignore. He hunches over, stares, then comes and nudges my hand off the table. I shove him away. Then he noses me again, and I shove him away. Then, he unveils his teeth and circles my wrist, as if I am a duck to be swum to shore. Something must be done. So, I find my shoes, fill a pocket with treats, leash the pup, and pull the boys out of the digital pool and pack into the world of wind and grass.

When the boys were younger and smaller, I could always find a playground for them to spin about at. Even in the gray summer, I would bundle them off and push them out into the sandy playgrounds. Failing that, we could visit the pool or the ice rink or we could walk the beaches picking up plastic bottles. But somehow, as they have aged, the options have grown smaller for us. They can compete in road races or hang out at the library or go sailing, but there isn’t much I can do other than wait outside in the car and buy them Watermelon Creams. Soon enough, I won’t have to even do that.

So the four of us—boys, man, and dog—head to Sanford Farm. We have walked from the parking lot to the barn several times. The boys find that distance just inside the realm of tolerable, and I find it just outside the realm of physical comfort. Unfortunately, my boon companion is not a good dog. A good dog would stay with you, or at least stop when you called his name and come trotting back with his head and his tail down. A good dog will not start singing all five choruses of the Song of His People. The Not Good Dog sees another person, or another dog, or a blowing water bottle and goes off, hell bent for leather and bellowing his friendly aria. If he is on leash, and I am well braced, he sprints until he is brought up short, then he tries again and again. But if I am listening for ghosts or looking at the clock tower, and the mood strikes, he is gone.

What follows is regrettably predictable. I follow at a jog, hoping that my heart will hold up while eighty-five pounds of toothed yellow lab goes thrill seeking. Should it be an islander, familiar with such shows of loud love from Not Good Dogs, there will be a smile and a firm bracing in case his love becomes overwhelming. For others, who have dogs that can fit in purses and eat sweets from their fingers, they see all of the barking fur and teeth come at high speed and think that they should have named their pet “Snack” and been done with it. Inevitably, she will bend down to pull her pet “Snack” up into the air and the Not Good Dog will think that he will have to leap up and say “Hello.” The sweaty middle-aged man jogging afterwards does not help calm anyone. Apologies are said, leashes are retrieved, and the world is dragged firmly back to regular order.

The boys lead the way today. Both of them have grown tall and have created lives for themselves in the shadows of their parents’ love. Everything in the light seems fine so we trust that years of care, support, and Blue’s Clues will keep them undamaged in those growing shadows. I follow along with the boon companion who remains enamored of horse droppings and something dead that smells delightful. At a lull, the Not Good Dog comes nosing up to the boys and bangs them in the shins. My oldest young man stops and waits for me to catch up. “I’ll take him from here, Dad.”

I give him the leash. Not without hesitation or the screaming of my better angels. The new season has risen around us, in spite of raw wind and sky, and the path has runners, walkers, bicyclists, other dogs, and one incontinent horse somewhere before us. The young man who escaped from his crib and who called 911 to see a police car and who once came home with only one shoe was now in charge of the rampaging love of my Boon Companion. Engrossed in their own conversation about something called Overwatch, they out paced their dear old Dad and left me about fifty yards behind. My Boon Companion, eater of my treats and demander of my scratches, didn’t even look back at me. He didn’t go off a roaming either, even when the horse passed. Two young men in short sleeves walking a Good Dog (on a leash, still).

Time, tide, and the season press forward, withhold what we will from them. The warmth will finally fill the ocean, and the sky and yet another summer will pass beyond us. I will put away the polar fleece for another season, hope that the Red Sox bullpen doesn’t blow up, and buy them yet another round of ice cream.

Articles by Date from 2012