Gritty soft sand pressed between hairy toes as he barefooted up the beach. Sun’s glow warmed his skin and the sound of wind in the distance and happy chatter of birds kept him on track along the trail. Sky-high wind in tree sounds. Bush rattling. Secret smells crept under his skin, from nose to bloodstream below.
Little Dude pressed on with purpose, he had somewhere to be, his favorite place in all the Earth. Crickets to the left, off in the distance past willow and grass. Crickets, by day? Or was night sneaking in like the cat, without warning? It was perpetually dark in his head, since that day he went blind, so these days, night could be a little sneaky and deceiving.
A bend in the riverfront trail and a sexy, wispy willow reached out to stroke his back, his butt, his neck and face. He took his time and let her work her magic. That long, slow caress made him feel more alive.
Sun warmed his spine, his scalp, his neck and black skin. Willow’s last few subtle whisks… and then as quickly as she came, she was gone. Willow was the sly one!
One last bend of the trail and there she was – the other woman, that quiet, soulful girl he'd seen in his dreams. She was his lady Columbia. She lapped at him and teased. He was totally sucked in. Again. Same spot, different day. Same girl, whole new feeling. God, how he loved summers in the Gorge.
His first tentative steps from Tierra firma to no la Tierra set him back a little. A zap, a shock. NOT warm, NOT welcome as he’d imagined her to be. Not like yesterday, a totally different animal altogether. Cold and a little heartless. Not like her sounds seemed to promise, lapping, laughing, splashing his feet.
Tiny fish fry scattered away as he shuffled deeper into her. Columbia River, deep and dark, up to his belly and over his back. Finally she was warming up, offering to carry all 50 pounds of him to a distant beach. Like he was just a small fry or a tiny puppy.
He loved the wake he could make, with a turn of his head. He surrendered to river and was weightless, his long, heavy back now soaring across space and time. On land, his long spine was low and slow on the trail. River was irresistible. Intoxicating. With wind and sun and trees, and the siren call of the ball, just out of reach...
He dog paddled against the weight of his saturated coat, looking for his best friend ball. Though he couldn’t see ball, he knew she was just out of reach, bobbing and babbling, “look at me, look at me!” Just then, a stick floated by, just to say hi.
Oh the smells! Bird and raccoon. Goose poo. Beaver even. Scent of woman, air, river and soil. Sounds of insects and beasts, salmon and sky.
River caressed him from the top of his sensitive nose to the tip of his insensitive tail. Tingling, mingling ears, floating around, trailing behind. Gut, neck and ankle weights no longer a drag. Undercoat afloat. Columbia shouting, "basset, be freeeeeee!!!”
“Dude?” the woman yelled from shore.
Of course, she was talking about him. He chose to ignore her, what with selective basset hound hearing and all.
“Dude, come back to shore. Dude! Baby, come back.”
He would have sworn ball bumped into him, but for some reason, he just couldn’t find it. He bobbed around underwater.
“Dude?!” The human’s pitch was an octave higher, closer to a monkey’s call. “Dude – come here!!!! Dude, don’t make me swim out to get you!”
The ball, the ball – where is that dang ball?
“Dude – you are blind. You have no business swimming out in those currents. Dude, come heeeeere! Dude, come here– now!”
Something about her tone, from the woman that carried him, cared for him. As long as he could remember, since that place where he vaguely remembered cages.
Dude reconsidered the importance of ball in the grand scheme of things. He tried his very best to turn his back on the frisky fish that wanted to play chase. He was trying hard not to answer the call of free-floating sticks… oh! but he really wanted to chase them, too...
“Dude, sweetie, come here. Dude...”
Dude didn’t understand English really, but he most definitely understood tone. He wasn’t deaf, after all. Just a little bit blind. But just for the record, he was no mamma’s boy. He was a swimmer. A survivor. And just like everyone else, more than a little crazy when a Hood River heat wave came to town.