Sunday, May 22, 2011

From Here to Eternity?

Cleo at Asilomar

The beach is the doggy version of Disneyland.  If you’ve ever taken a small child to the Magic Kingdom, you know what it is to take a puppy to the beach: the wide-eyed wonder of the first glimpse of Cinderella’s Castle, the miracle of dancing with Pooh, the overstimulation of the crowds and the shows and the sights, the sheer joy of downing a Mickey-shaped pancake, the unexpected friends waiting to share a boat ride through Pirates of the Caribbean or the bossy bullies who push in line for Indiana Jones, the temper tantrums when it’s time to leave and the sound sleep of the nap that follows—all of these are reflected in a dog’s trip to the Land of Sand and Sea.

One of the wonderful things about living where we do is that we’re only five minutes from the Pacific Ocean.  Actually, given that we live on a peninsula, we could head in three different directions and hit the ocean sooner or later.  Usually sooner.  To the south of us is Carmel Beach, designated by one travel magazine or another as one of the top five most romantic beaches in the world.  The arms of the beach embrace Carmel Bay with a tenderness that’s palpable as soon as you stand on the great dune that overlooks the water.  Whenever I go there, I always imagine the sense of safety and homecoming the first explorers must have felt as they rounded Point Lobos and got their first look at Carmel Bay.  Of course, that feeling would have been quickly dwarfed by their first glimpse of Monterey Bay, just a puff of wind to the north.  Carmel itself is a quaint faux English village, complete with cottages, postage stamp gardens and the profound inconvenience of a prohibition on street lamps.  One of its many claims to fame is the fact that, for a few years in the ‘80s, Clint Eastwood was its mayor.  It is also extremely dog friendly, thanks in part to another famous resident, animal activist and erstwhile songbird, Doris Day.  Today there are more canine residents than full time human residents in the town.

To the north of us is the opposite end of the spectrum: Marina State Beach.  Monterey Bay is shaped like a giant jellyfish.  The tendrils are the massive submarine canyon, a sister of Arizona’s Grand Canyon, carved by the Salinas River into the floor of the Bay.  Marina State Beach lies on the surface of the jellyfish, just below the centerline.  After spending a day doing volunteer beach cleanup there, one of my students exclaimed, “People have got to find somewhere else to have sex and shoot up.”  Ninety percent of the trash she found on Marina beach was used condoms and hypodermic needles.  You don’t see many tourists taking in the mid-bay beaches.  We don’t go there, either.

Our beach, or the beach I grandiosely refer to as “our beach” is Asilomar Beach.  If I continue with my somewhat whimsical descriptions of my neighborhood, and who’s to stop me, the Monterey Peninsula looks like the head of a teddy bear floating face down in the water.  Just where the right ear meets the top of the head is Asilomar Beach.  It nestles snuggly up against Spanish Bay golf course, one of the renowned Pebble Beach golf courses.  It is a perfect blend of windswept sand, craggy golden granite bones and grass dotted dunes.  Snowy plovers nest there, fighter squadrons of pelicans skim the waves, swallows do their air-dolphin act, herons fish and any number of kestrels, gulls, pipers, grebes and egrets strut, dive, and wheel in the pure joy of being alive.

Oh, to see Cleo take it all in!  The wide-eyed wonder at the open expanse of beach and ocean, the miracle of unfettered running and leaping, the overstimulation of a riot of scents on the wind and the crashing of waves and the joyful exuberance of dogs and their people, the delight of digging through sand to discover a pocket of water or of burying your nose in a pile of soggy kelp, the unexpected friend ready to share a gentle nose touch or the bossy bulldog who sends you scampering back to your parents, the temper tantrums when it’s time to leave and the sound sleep of the nap that follows. 

Even though we’ve been to the beach countless times by now, as soon as Cleo realizes the direction the car is taking, she begins to squeak with excitement.  She gazes raptly out the window, panting impatiently at the delay of a red light.  As we park, she presses her nose to the glass, trying to catch a peek of a dog or the shoreline.  When I open her door, she plunks into a sit with a “Hurry up and get the stupid leash on” attitude.

On an unseasonable 70 degree day in late January, Cleo had her first beach adventure.  Being her usual affable self, she greeted and was admired by virtually every human she encountered.  On the rare occasions that the person didn’t stop to admire her, she paused and gazed after them as if trying to puzzle out what could possibly be the matter with them.  The socializing with people thing she pretty much had down from the moment she drew breath.  Socializing with dogs has been a slower process.  This first day, confined to her leash, she did alright.  She touched noses happily, but anything more assertive and she was cowering on Daddy’s feet. 

She manages a nose touch.
After several visits, we experimented with letting her off of her leash and she was most impressive, cavorting and leaping, running at our sides, never straying far from us.  One day, a gentle Golden Retriever came galumphing through the waves.  When he spotted Cleo, he turned sharply and started up the sand, tail wagging.  It was clear that all he wanted to do was say hello, but gentle as he was, Cleo tucked her tail between her legs and backed away from him.  As he came slowly on, she backed away more urgently.  One padding step forward on his part, three skittering steps backward on hers.  We were nearby and it wouldn’t have been a problem except for the fact that, for a reason known only to herself, Cleo turned and began backing towards the ocean.  Her expression turned from anxious to startled when she suddenly found herself ankle deep in cold water.  Unfortunately, rather than springing forward, she leapt backwards into deeper water.  “Honey!” I exclaimed, whacking my poor husband across the stomach.  Just at that moment, a wave broke over Cleo’s head, completely submerging her. 

I have three flashes of memory after that: Cleo swimming as if she were born to it, me taking a step forward, her making a mighty leap.  The next thing I’m completely sure of is that I am standing on the beach with a very wet Cleo in my arms, my jeans soaked from the knees down and my shoes squishing with saltwater.  For a moment she clung to me, her face buried in my neck.  Then she looked around.  Then she asked to be put down.  In an instant she was dashing back and forth, so proud of herself for having survived her first (and so far only) swim.  As we walked back up the beach, we passed a couple who had admired her on the way in.  The husband leaned down to her and said, “Well, not so fluffy now, are ya?”  She didn’t mind.  She just planted her soaking paws on his knee and laughed into his face.

With Daddy.
Yep, it's May 22nd.
Did I mention it can be a bit chilly here?
If you'd like to see Cleo in action at the Asilomar Beach, click here: YouTube video of Cleo

1 comment:

  1. She doesn't look cold. She is like her mamma, Gracee doesn't want other dogs sniffing her either, I think it is because they don't think they are a dog they are our children. ENJOYED
    and envy her more with each blog. Grandmother Jan