“If you go slowly enough, six or seven months is an eternity—if you let it be—if you forget old things, and learn new ones. Even a week can last forever.”
Rick Bass, Winter

"In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer."
Albert Camus

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Day 95: The Road Retaken

Although it’s been three years, we remember our parts.  Pack the car with the dog inside so she knows she’s going.  Be sure to keep her food for en route separate, so it’s easy to retrieve for the hotel in Binghamton, if we have bad weather, or Pennsylvania, or even Maryland if the force is with us.  Aim to arrive in North Carolina early enough on Saturday to walk the dog on the beach before sunset.

We pass only one squall, in the Bermuda Triangle between Watertown and Syracuse, a place known also as Freak Weather USA which is notorious for sending horizontal snowstorms and wayward snowdrifts into cars, even in summer.  We get off with just a mild dusting, but if you look closely it appears that Zoe is staring out into the abyss. 

 We make it to Gettysburg, and marvel at all we won’t get to see: Civil War battlegrounds, a place mysteriously named “The Ghost Walk,” canons and historic monuments.  It’s bed, sleep, rise, walk through a park and hit the road again by 8. 

We are waiting for color to sock us in the face but it’s muted in Dixieland as well: a few daffodils that I don’t photograph at a rest stop when other needs take precedence, and finally these white blossoms, which look similar to the ones I photographed outside of Syracuse, above.  The weather is the same for five hundred miles: 58.  That will do for now.

We’re checked into our usual room at the hotel on the third floor.  We have stayed here every time because the view is most panoramic.  But with our tripod dog, those are a lot of steps to climb up and down.  We consider a Plan B, but then Zoe bounds up nimbly and we sigh with contentment.  We’re back.

But does Zoe know we’re back?  That we have returned to a place where she was blissfully happy five years in a row, from ages two to six?  Her first vacation destination before France?  She sniffs around with mild curiosity, but not the excitement we see in her when she returns to, say, her aunt and uncle’s house in Massachusetts and knows she’s about to romp with her saucy cousin Sadie, and have a new array of tastes to lick off in the pre-dishwasher canine rinse cycle.

But then on the beach, she wakes up.  I saw her do this once before in her life, when she was a puppy.  To watch something that had imprinted on her long ago arise from her limbic brain to fill her with happiness and also longing and sadness—the recognition that she had had to do without, and now here is what was missing back again, alive and fragrant before her.   

That it was me, once upon a time.  We had left Zoe with Mira and Doug when she was a puppy and we’d only had her for three weeks.  We’d had this trip planned for a long time for the summer of 2003: to drive cross country to visit Science Son in Seattle.  I was going to get a dog after the trip, not before, but then I walked into the pound and laid my eyes on this cute little eight-pound sheepdog baby and I was a goner.  So when we  returned from our trip, three weeks later, Zoe seemed pleased to see me, but happy in the generic puppy way, as though she were encountering just another pleasant, peppy person.  And then one moment in the living room she just woke up to me.  To my smell, my voice.  And out came these little keening sounds.  These high-pitched little cries of reunion and greetings of joy.  They were mixed with aching sadness too, it seemed: the recognition of what she’d almost lost, even though she could not have been in better hands.  Mira said she was glad she had witnessed this so that she’d believe my story was not an exaggeration.  And it made it easier for Mira to give her back to me, because by now, of course, she loved Zoe as much as I did.  I lay myself down at her feet and Zoe ran all over my body, sniffing and wagging her tail and kissing me and keening, and I felt myself to be more wolf mama than human, back in our primordial den, and I knew exactly who I was more than ever before in my life.

Now Zoe does that with the beach: she wakes up to it, but instead of keening sounds, she just lets our a woof and does her crazy gleeful run where her head bobs up and down and her big strong shoulders barrel into the sand.  And then she appears to be flying.  She knows exactly where she is and what she’s supposed to do.  She wants us to play our beach game with her: to find a stone or a shell for her to chase and dive for, never tiring as we do it again and again and again and again.

Then it’s time to meet a new dog, or four.  Time for the ceremonial butt sniffing.   

Afterwards, we return to the balcony where she can sniff the sniffing snout of the neighbor dog.  

In the morning she rises at 5:30 but it’s 6:30 now, so it’s not really so early.  She assumes her post on the balcony and watches the pink sky turn blue, and waits for the dogs of Dixie to know she’s back.

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