Cholula was mostly a model canine during our family’s vacation in Maine this summer. She got along with other dogs. She was good on the leash, uncomplaining about the long line we usually left her on outside, willing to chase and retrieve a stick from the water when cheered on by the children and even willing to tow the children in to shore. However, as dusk turned into evening and we were caught up with dinner, baths, bedtime, several times, Cholula escaped from the house, unseen. Eventually, one of us would say, “has anyone seen Cholula?” and we would realize she was gone.
One night, she finally appeared on the deck in the dark and I opened the door. She came in soaking wet, even on the top of her head. Wet, relaxed, tired, and, I realized when she made an end run to the couch, dirty. Her legs were slathered with dark, wet, sticky, smelly mud. The mud of the clam flats of what we call the Basin, an inlet near the house. At low tide, the only way to get to the water is through that mud, sinking at every step. I’ve lost shoes in that mud.
I work towards the day when we have her full attention, when she will not willingly leave us. But while my husband was annoyed at the escapade, I felt something different—elation. Two weeks in Maine with the family is wonderful, but it is also two weeks with my two parents, husband, and three kids under the same roof and almost constantly together. The children love it wholeheartedly; they soak up all the attention and personalities and jostling perspectives, but I’m pretty sure there were moments when each of us adults wished for escape.
I imagine her journey: she leaps silently off the deck into the darkening world, shrugging off her domesticity as she enters the evening’s shadows. The pine and salt water in the fresh, cool air are the backdrop for musky, pungent animal scents that penetrate her body, pulling her forward along with the amplified rustles and snaps of various animal activities until she hones in on the trail of a particular animal and loses any last thoughts of home along with fear and caution and doubt as she fully enters the hunt. Cholula is not a dog who craves swimming. To take her swimming with us, I always have to drag her past the water’s threshold or cheer her on as she steps tentatively after a stick. She wouldn’t have plunged into the water on her own. An animal must have pulled her into the water after it, into the mud she sank into almost up to her shoulders and then further, into the water, that somehow even momentarily closed over her head. She followed the animal out into the night-black water, and not until the animal pulled away or disappeared did she notice that she was out there, alone, paddling through the deepening water into the deepening night. And so she turned back and came home, crawling across the same mud flats she’d flown over earlier in pursuit of whatever it was that took her there. Could it have been a deer? A muskrat? A skunk?
I’m relieved Cholula returned safely, and pretty sure she didn’t catch whatever she was after. But mostly what pulls me to her escape is that time of focus when nothing existed in her except the deer drawing her forward and onward. The dog who in the house on her way to her food bowl can get stymied by an open door to the basement stairs transformed into a fearless navigator of land and sea.
Before I had kids, there were times when I found peace in the pursuit of a single goal. Now, my days go by in a productive haze of endlessly juggled priorities—each of the three children, the family as a whole, parents, husband, dogs, friends, household, work, exercise. Every day, I work at being a good mother, spouse, employee, daughter—and every day, I question whether I’ve focused on the right things, whether I’ve met everyone’s very real needs. In the 8 years that I’ve been a mother, I’ve adjusted to this reality, and there are many days when I feel it works—at least almost. It is meaningful and deeply fulfilling. But it is relentless. It is exhausting to body and soul. I willingly embrace the glorious, chaotic, bewildering energy of my current life, but there is a part of me that whispers in Cholula’s ear as she runs—“Go girl, go.”