In old western movies if you saw a cloud of dust on the horizon you knew it was one of two things. Making all of that dust was either a troop of cavalry coming to rescue the settlers under attack by evil villains, or a pack of evil villains coming to attack. Either way, it was a bunch of people riding horses. And headed in your direction quickly.
That was old westerns. In my back yard a cloud of dust means my dog is playing fetch. She’s not like that kid Pigpen in the Charlie Brown cartoons who travels around inside his own personal dust cloud, created by his less than civilized personal hygiene habits. She stays pretty clean, although she does shed a lot of hair. All the time and everywhere she goes. No, the dust cloud is exactly that- a cloud of dust created by her rambunctious play.
Whether or not you believe in climate change, this year has been the hottest and driest on record where I live. It’s five days before Thanksgiving and for the first time since May the temperature has dropped below 80 degrees. And no, I don’t live in Hawaii, or California, or Florida. And with all that heat, we’ve also been the fortunate recipients of a fifteen inch rainfall deficit. The water level in the local lakes is down by several feet and the green green grass of home looks more like tumbleweed blowing across the desert.
Back to the dog. She likes to exercise, as any puppy would. Since she is a German Sheppard, she likes to play a lot, and strenuously. Fetch is good. I find a small log in the woods, something maybe eighteen inches long and three or four inches in diameter, and I throw it as hard as I can. As soon as she sees me starting to wind up she takes off at full sprint speed. I think she could take a cheetah in a hundred yard dash.
Since I broke my shoulder a couple of years ago my throwing arm isn’t like it was when I pitched for the sandlot sluggers. The dog is well past where the stick will land by the time it sails through the air. But she happily comes back for it, grabs it with her teeth and brings it back for another toss. I prefer a smaller tree branch to the tree trunks she likes so sometimes we compromise. She will bring a six foot long branch to me which is only two inches across. The damn things are so heavy and cumbersome I can barely throw them but she’s got the thing in her mouth running around with two inches on one side and the rest unbalanced, but firmly held.
Another game she likes to play is biting at my hands and feet. Sometimes it hurts so I’m glad she is just playing. She could probably bite either of my appendages off quite easily. But ten or fifteen tosses of the stick usually satisfies her.
And the dust cloud? As she thunders across the dry grass in the yard she will slam on her brakes when she knows it’s time to catch or pick up the falling stick. She slides across the yard and tears up the grass and stirs up the dust. There are now places in the yard where the loose and bare soil is about three inches deep. When she hits that patch of dirt at full speed and puts on the brakes, a huge cloud of dust erupts. I’m sure the neighbors see the cloud rising above the fence and think I’m using a bulldozer to dig a hole to the center of the Earth.
Oddly enough, having her chase the stick also allows me to give the arid lawn some water. She gets so excited chasing that stupid stick that starts to foam at the mouth. The slobber gets all over the stick, which then gets covered with dust that turns to mud. Globs of slob fly out of her mouth as she runs. Her fur gets covered with the stuff, as does the ground. And the stick. Sometimes that stick is so slobbery that when I throw it I loose my grip and it slips out of my hands. Bad throw daddy she barks. And brings it again.
The cloud of dust makes me laugh. She is silly. And loyal. And playful. But we really do need some rain.
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