Love Dad and the Dogs
by Laura Madeline Wiseman
Across the table, my phone vibrates, Dad. The day after Christmas, I left my elderly chow-mix, Echo, with him and his dog, for a trip from Nebraska to Acadia National Park. Amid the dog snuffling, collar jingling, and tail-wagging, my dad waved farewell. Now, I read the message. What’s going on in Maine? Are you staying in a log cabin? The dogs are fine and so am I. Love Dad and the dogs.
I write, then ride my bicycle to the Sundew Trail. On the helipad, three parked vehicles hold dogs. A ranger greets me, “We’re training rescue dogs today. If one runs up to you, don’t be alarmed. He doesn’t know you’re not lost.”
Once I’m hiking, the forest envelops over tracks of possum, rabbit, and bird, but between the trees leaves settle like coins. Then, a black dog in an orange vest noses me, collar jingling with such a find. She runs to her ranger. “I’m not lost,” I whisper as they disappear. In each cove, the tide pulls from the shore.
I bike into a freezing greyness. Not another appears. In this remote, out-of-the-way, untouchedness, I lock my bicycle to a tree, then hike the footpath to Little Moose Island where low tide makes land appear from water. I collect seashells as I cross the land bridge, then look for rocks. Besides the love of dogs, my dad has cultivated within me a love of earth—geodes, trilobites, pottery shards. In photos of such childhood hunts, always there are dogs. In one of me when I was a toddler, I sit on a dinosaur femur. In another, bundled in a stocking cap, I hold the handlebars of a tricycle beside pawing puppies.
I pocket rocks shaped like hearts, then scale boulders. Surf crashes. Waves slide between colossal stones. Though the social path is marked only by two sets of tracks—boots and dog prints—a seal joins my hike. She slips through the rollers, barks vanishing. Then I hike the Schoodic Head Trail to where rocks tumble in the surf. A sign warns against taking such souvenirs away. They plunk as they turn in a meditative song. I heed the warning, thinking of my dad.
Daily my dad drives to my grampa’s. The dogs swirl, fur glinting, between them, sniffing, begging for cookies, or shaking collars in the kitchen light. There have been so many dogs, but for Echo, caring for their aging wasn’t mine. She sometimes still fetches treats, greets visitors, or leans into my hand with recognition, but not always.
I return from the hike to my dad’s new note. Grampa is grumpy. The dogs are getting along well. Echo is a little restless looking for you in all the rooms, then plops down and goes to sleep. Love Dad and the dogs.
In the morning a voicemail flashes. “Laura, it’s your Dad. Call me. It’s about Echo.” I squeeze the phone hard, then drive to Mount Desert Island to ride at dawn. The park roads climb big hills through mountain forests. The winter humidity surprises. Despite my kit, my fingers chill as my torso sweats. Layers go on, then off. On the port security pier, an enormous seagull perches on a massive pulley. She blinks, then squawks. Pigeons wheel above the wetness. I pause to get a drink. Why haven’t I returned my dad’s call? If Echo was gone, wouldn’t I know?
Then I ride through Bar Harbor, stopping at overlooks or anywhere along the road where gulls turn, white crests rise, or to spot what lifts into the sky. At Sand Beach, I lock up my bike, then high step through trail slush, leaping over deep pools of melt. Others stamp in bright galoshes behind pedigreed dogs. I slosh my way to where the music of waves touch the beach. Many people walk the surf line, pose in the glitter for selfies or guide purebreds. A pair of grey-hairs walk Corgis along tidal pools. A woman in reindeer pajama bottoms and a stocking cap leads a Labrador and Weimaraner. I try to name the others breeds, but none have the purple tongue or fluff that says chow. The rest of Echo’s mix was a guessing game. “Spritz?” a friend might ask, or “German Shepard?” I shrugged. The mix didn’t matter. What mattered was Echo’s joy.
My dad is breathless the moment I return the call. “Laura,” he say as if hiking uphill, then rushes into story. He chained Echo outdoors, but she disappeared, leaving only the jingle bell collar behind. The new snow from the storm let him follow her tracks through his yard and neighborhood to the street, but then they stopped. “There was no sign of her,” he says, “I just about lost my mind.”
As I listen, I watch where the blizzard drops heavy flakes through streetlight, remaking everything into a semblance of what it was. Do all dogs lose their way? Sometimes Echo seemed lost in the backyard. A few times, she slipped passed me through the gate to saunter off on her own. Like the cliché of an elderly family member trotting into the blue yonder in housecoat and slippers, she failed to recognize her name, though I called it after her, Echo, Echo. Did neighbors think me mad in my pursuit? I ran after her, empty leash bouncing, calling Echos into the air, but she blurred ahead, her muzzle lifting towards the last scents of familiarity somewhere in the distance.
“I didn’t know what to think,” my dad continues. “I’m walking around and carrying her leash and her jingle bell collar. So I went back to the quote unquote scene of the crime, because my biggest fear was that someone had picked her up and took off with her. And that is what happened.” He explains that a neighbor had found her, then driven her to an emergency overnight place. As my dad stood where the tracks stopped, the woman appeared on the return trip, then stopped and spoke with him. He says, “It was just a miracle that I was actually there when this lady came back. I asked her if she’d seen a little dog and that was Echo of course. So I had to get in the blue truck and follow her to the place to get Echo back. I didn’t get back until midnight.”
“It just scared the hell out of me, but Echo didn’t even know anything had happened. She was just blissfully going along.”
“At any rate, in the process I’ve lost that jingle bell collar which was what started the whole thing. Echo is fine, but I was scared. So that’s the story of Echo’s escape, it’s like going to jail and picking her up, but they didn’t charge me anything of course.”
“Dad, thank you for saving her.”
When the call is over, the phone light fades, like a belled collar, lost for a moment to the snows, but with the possibility of a few more jingles.
About Laura Madeline Wiseman
Laura Madeline Wiseman teaches writing at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and 24 Pearl Street. Her essays have appeared in Mid-American Review, Sou’wester, Arts & Letters, Southern Indiana Review, Pithead Chapel, and elsewhere. Her essay “Seven Cities of Good” was an honorable mention in Pacifica Literary Review‘s 2015 Creative Nonfiction Award. Her Latest book is Through a Certain Forest (BlazeVOX [books] 2017). Her book is Velocipede (Stephen F. Austin State University Press, 2016), a 2016 Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Award Finalist for Sports.