I believe in Bolinas. Bolinas—Bo—is my two year-old dog: compact, muscular, black, tan and white. People often ask me… “Rottweiler/beagle?” “Coonhound/lab”? “Greater Swiss mountain dog?”, and I smile, shake my head, and say, “I don’t know.” I found Bo on Petfinder.com, a website that features animals in need of rescue from all over the country. I saw his picture—the huge paws, white tipped tail, and the copper circles, like pennies, over his eyes, and fell in love.
He was in Indiana, on a farm with his siblings and several other litters of motley puppies. The woman from the organization who read my application called to tell me that she had matched me with “Buford” (his name then), and that he was a “sweetheart” and “shy” and that he would be on a bus coming to Connecticut in just under two weeks. In two weeks, I realized, I was going to be moving from Vermont to Massachusetts, settling into a new job. Hearing her words, I recalled those of one of my friends, who once said to me, “No time is the ‘right’ time for a dog, you’ve just got to get one, and adapt your life around it.” So, I made plans to drive south to claim Buford as mine. I stopped at a pet store on the way, choosing a green leash, and a blue and brown, paw-printed collar. As I drove, I thought up new names for the dog, and would periodically glance down at the collar and leash, wondering just what I thought I was getting myself into.
In the parking lot of the Enfield town hall, I waited with about thirty other families for the puppy bus to arrive. When it finally did, the crowd cheered, and it seemed as if true celebrities were about to emerge, and that we were their eager groupies. After the bus parked, the rescue group volunteers brought the puppies out one by one. I handed my application to a volunteer, and she headed into the bus. It took a few minutes, but then she emerged, holding him out to me. He looked at me with rolling, wary eyes, and began to shake. I placed him on the ground, affixed his collar and leash, and started to walk, but he wouldn’t budge. Around me were scampering puppies, happily walking with their new owners. Their tails wagged; my puppy’s didn’t. Speaking to him in what I hoped would be a calming tone, I lifted him up, and carried him to the car. He quickly fell asleep in my passenger seat, taking up only a third of it, resting his small head on the console.
I decided to name my puppy after Bolinas, a small beach town north of San Francisco, a place I often visited during the year I lived in California. While I had hoped to find excitement and new adventures on the West coast, my time there turned out to be stressful, filled with different jobs and days of deep loneliness. When the waves were good I would head to Bolinas to surf, and when they weren’t, I would sit on the beach and watch the fog move in. The town reminded me of New England, with its short center street, steepled churches and country store. When I felt homesick, I would go to Bolinas.
My dog has grown to mean to me what that town did four years ago. Now over his initial skittishness, Bo lives in the moment, has no time for stress or overanalyzing, for taking words too personally or seriously. After my teaching day is done, when my mind is filled with the mistakes I made, the lesson plans I didn’t get to and should have, or the capricious, often cruel words of teenagers, I take Bo to Groton Woods, where I walk or run behind him, seeing him sniff at every fallen leaf that he can. I watch him crouch in wait for another dog he sees up ahead, head alert, tail now wagging. I watch his ears fly back as he takes off in a sprint after a low-flying swallow; they often remain folded on his head, their insides pink, like human ears. I don’t know if Bo feels joy, but I feel it when I watch him run through the yellow woods.
My dog reminds me each day that I must get outside, must run, must include play in my rhythm and routine. I must lift up my head, and get outside of it. Just as surfing in the waters outside of that foggy town once did, my walks each day with Bo bring me sanity. I move through the park and see the seasons approaching and receding, the impact of rain and melting snow as we slosh through puddles, the meandering tracks of the dogs and people who travel this path every day, like we do. This I believe: animals are invaluable, showing us that life can be about being, if only for a moment.
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