I. Walking the Dog
Most of the other folks walking dogs turn left along the packed trail after the bridge; I forge ahead along the tiny path that looks like compression in the grass. Brewster bounds ahead running to me and then off to the dogs on the other side to try to get a pick up run. Some of our walks are social, some are moments of solitude.
Here at Point Isabel, the trail is flat and the view is full bay from Oakland, to the San Francisco skyline to Point Richmond. A canal runs through the park that pulls in bay water and labs leap off the rocks after tennis balls that sometimes ride the current under the bridge to the wildlife preserve. Dog owners know we are lucky in this piece of bay real estate and our love of the East Bay Regional Park District is endless, and we hold it on high. We even fight for it.
Point Isabel is a weekend jaunt for Brewster and me. It’s a drive from where I live and we like to spend the day. I get coffee at the Sit and Stay Café and he gets his spa treatment at Mudpuppy’s. Different dog associations meet: the ten Great Danes clatter over the hill, the dachshund people take up a bench where their fierce fighters rule the space. Huskies accumulate on the point over the other side; their folks hold coffee and they flop in joy.
Many of the non-associated dogs are hypnotized by their owners holding the chuck-it and lobbing a ball across the vast expanse of grass. That’s the last resort for Brewster. We could play ball anywhere, but here I hope he finds a fast runner and they take off speedway style and tear it up until both their tongues are hanging out to their knees. I talk briefly to the owners, the how old, what breeds, is he a rescue? conversation because we know the dogs we find/who find us are the best—the least disappointing.
Names are called out as dogs wander to their friends, away from their people. There’s always a Max, lots of Busters, particularly yellow labs and my favorite, Taxi. Owners talk in high voices to their pets as if the sentence they are saying is translated to a dog language in this higher pitch. I try not to, but do. “Hey Buddy, ready to go? I got to be at work.” Which Brewster might get: buddy, go…
In the high grasses away from the crowds, Brewster bounces trying to see over the tops of the bushes. We head to a lower trail where a few couples walk, one with three Boston terriers whose eyes make me feel like washing something off my face.
We stride to the furthest part of the shoreline.
2. Why I stray
Which brings me oddly to my mother. The morning is crisp, the clean after the rain blew everything off the skylines and away from the coast and the blue is almost sharp and piercing. I want to walk alone because I want to sing. And I don’t want anyone to hear me because my voice is off-key and has a annoying timber. Just like my mother’s. And like her, I believe most things in life can be accomplished with a song in the background. She was dedicated to forties standards, and made her children fall in love with them too.
Night and Day, The Way You Look Tonight; When Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, were learned from sheet music and popular song books that rested on top of our piano. She sang Bye Bye Blackbird while she was kneading dough and The Trolley Song while ironing. Mother didn’t care what her voice sounded like, didn’t worry that she wasn’t hitting notes, she just carried on like she was say, alone on a dog trail looking at the water.
Our house had a porch right on Main Street. This was the route to the downtown of Masontown, Pa, two blocks away. We were so close, we had parking meters in front of our house. We had a glider, an old fashioned tin one that had a perforated seat and moved back and forth with a rhythmical squeak. On summer nights, when the sky was the blackest, the stars country-bright and the air and little damp and warm, we sat outside, some on the glider, others on chairs and some on the bannisters. Mom brought out the book called 200 Popular Songs and started to choose our playlist.
It didn’t occur to us that the neighbors didn’t want to hear our singing or that the people walking and driving by might think it was a little odd that eight people of various ages were outside like the Von Trapp Family doing a concert. Our neighbors were headed to episodes of the Outer Limits and Father Knows Best. We were crooning, Comin’ Through the Rye (whose lyrics I didn’t understand then, and don’t understand now) and felt like this was the best part of the day.
I did sing once, a long time ago, had some success training as a lyric soprano. Followed by polyps, throat work and the quick end to a half-note of a career. For a while it mattered that I once could sing well and couldn't anymore. Even on car rides, when all of us traditionally started up with the Beatles and moved from there, I refused to sing.
After a while though, I missed it, missed it in a way one misses someone’s embrace. Singing is centering, a kind of prayer and movement toward peace when I do it alone. When my sisters and I travel and break into song, we crack up, make up lyrics, correct each other’s missed notes and bring everything about that front porch to the moment.
So I head toward the shore, where the rocks are rough, so the dogs don't come this way. I'm singing It Had to Be You, enjoying my interpretation with the little quarter hold before the end of each line. It had to be you. I don’t look around to see if anyone can hear me; I am too involved in the way the song combs me out, rights me. Brewster doesn’t notice either. He has found a puddle to run in and out of.
I keep singing, until we turn the corner, where two German Shepherds are standing in the path, giving Brewster the “Hey, what you up to, want to run?” look. And I let him go, to the end of the earth and sing all the way home.
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