Tuesday, August 22, 2006

A Scruffy Dog, a Beach and a Stick

This past weekend we took Baxter on a road trip to Portland and then the Oregon Coast. As soon as we hit the highway Bax curled up on his bed and went into what we call his "travel trance," a meditative state that alternates between staring blankly and sleeping. He only rises to window-level when we hit the brakes, at which point he checks to see if there's an impending stop or if it's just a temporary slow-down, in which case he's back in the trance zone within seconds.

Portland was as lovely as ever, but the city was experiencing the same heat wave as the rest of the West. This meant Bax spent most of his time in the air-conditioned motel rather than his preferred back-of-the-car napping spot while we hit the bookstores and restaurants. Much to our relief, the coast was about 30 degrees cooler and also as lovely as ever. We walked up and down the beach, watching pelicans and soaking up the salty air and the pale, cloud-filtered sunshine.

For us, trips to the beach are more about just being near the water and seldom involve actually getting in. Same is true for Bax. Even though he finds lakes and creeks irresistable, Baxter has never been a big fan of swimming in the ocean. I think he, like me, finds the waves a bit cold and intimidating. So Baxter managed to stay remarkably dry for most of the day...that is, until we decided that no trip to the beach would be complete without a game of fetch.

We found a very large piece of driftwood (Bax loves a challenge) sitting on the beach next to a small, salt-water pond that had formed just inside the breaking surf. I think we all spotted the stick it at the same time, because Baxter immediately began hopping up and down in place as if to say "throw it, throw it!" But when my husband picked it up and heaved the big stick down the beach, Bax made a 90-degree turn and dove straight into the salty pond, swimming out to the middle to search for the stick. The fact that the stick was sitting on the sand about 20 yards in the other direction completely eluded him. And our hopes of returning to the motel with nothing but sandy feet to wash were dashed in a matter of seconds. Now we had a salty, slimy, stick-free dog looking confused and swimming around in circles.

I guess we should have figured this would happen. Baxter prefers to play fetch in the water (apparently even if that's NOT where you threw the stick). He gets tired of fetching on land and quits after about two rounds. But if you throw a stick into a pond, Baxter will play fetch all day (or until your arm collapses in exhaustion, whichever comes first). I don't know why it's so much more compelling to fetch when water is involved...Baxter doesn't just swim for the sake of swimming, as some water dogs do. But he loves to swim when he has a purpose, a destination. So not finding the stick in the pond left Bax looking as confused as we did watching the stick go in one direction and Baxter go in the other.

Of course, being the dutiful dog parents we are, we decided not to dwell on our dog's lack of keen observational skills and instead we went and got the stick and proceeded to throw it over and over into the salty pond. (What the heck, he was already slimy.) And each time, Baxter launched himself into the pond with gusto, well ahead of our throwing the stick, and paddled around in the middle waiting for it to plop down into the water before him.

After we got back to the motel my husband was nice enough to volunteer for bath duty, which de-slimed Baxter nicely and made him a whole lot easier to ride in the car with the next morning. As we drove back home into the hot, dry sunshine, I found myself wishing we were still at the beach. As much as I enjoy a weekend getaway, it seems there is never enough time for surf-watching, strolling and stick-throwing.

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