We don’t get many hot days on Dartmoor, but recently we had one. Twenty-four degrees, no clouds and little to no breeze. Sitting in the shade and reading a good book would be an ideal activity; but equally, it is a terrific day for doing some outside projects. Unless wisely chosen, I risk melting in the heat. Fortunately, we have a long list of possible projects: filling potholes, jet-washing loose paint from the outside of the house, gardening, washing windows, mowing the lawn, or pointing the shed. But a bonfire at high noon with no breeze was my choice.
The pile of rotten and useless old posts, left a few months ago from when Roger finished re-fencing the south side of the property, was calling to me.
I lathered on my sunscreen and covered most of my skin in bug spray. Millie and I headed out to the lower field and commenced to building a fire. Sam elected to exercise his old boy rights and snooze on the kitchen floor for the better part of the morning. Meanwhile, Roger was tending to a leak in one of the pipes under the stairs. This was not on the day’s to-do list, but when he went to grab a screw driver from his tool bag, it was swimming in water. Yes, a slow and steady drip from the pipe above had filled the canvas bag below. Roger’s plans were changed.
But not mine. In our spot for bonfires, I piled some wood and cardboard and set it alight. Those old fence posts – rotten and soggy from exposure – went up in flames as if they had been saturated in accelerant. On went a few more post, and then a few more. As the fire raged, I sacrificed the picnic table which was beyond repair. After a few hot and sweaty hours, the pile of wood was nothing more than a circle of hot coals. And my ankles, where I missed patches with the bug spray, were aflame with bug bites. The itching was agonizing. As the heat was growing both with the sun and the bonfire, I could feel the sweat trickle down my back. Looking around, I found Millie near the stile which leads to our river access. It was time to cool off and get refreshed.
With complete joy, Millie jumps from rock to rock. She stoops low to the river and bites at the water as it passes. She wants to jump in, but swimming is not her thing, preferring to paddle no deeper than her belly. It’s not that she is afraid of the water, it’s more, she’s not comfortable with having her feet lose contact with the bottom. That slimy, slippery, rocky, river bottom. More than once, I have stepped too quickly and found a boot full of water. But, Mille is sure footed and will happily skitter up and down the river on rocks.
While Millie is darting about, biting at the water and gathering her ball as it floats past on the current, I have carefully clambered out to the middle of the river. The water is cool and refreshing. Dragon flies skitter past. They too manage to play in the water, but not swim.
Millie drops her beloved ball, and with a focused look, tells me to throw it. I give it a high Federa-esc lob and it lands up river stalling in deep water where there is little current. Millie waits and watches. If it were bobbing down river, she would surely station herself atop a rock and wait for it to float nearby. But this is something altogether different. She must be thinking, What am I to do? How do I get that ball? It’s not moving. Surely, it should be moving. There is no way I’m going to SWIM to it!
I issue encouraging words, but no amount of coaxing seems to get her to release the contact her paws have with these stones. So, I slip off the rock where I’ve been sitting and begin to dog-paddle toward the ball, “C’mon Millie, you can do it. This is how we swim.” She barks with excitement. Running up and down the reedy shore line, trying to get that ball before I do. My hands and knees are sliding across the mossy rocks below as the water isn’t that deep. “See Millie, this is called dog-paddling. You can do it.” She barks in response, sizing up her options. Moved by her competitive nature, Millie takes a tentative step off her underwater perch and takes her first splashy strokes. Catching the ball in her mouth, she quickly makes it to the other side of the river. It’s true, dogs know how to swim. Some, however, swim with grace. It is safe to say, Millie does not.
On terra firma, Millie shakes the water from her coat and clutches the ball in her mouth. She is not giving it up anytime soon. And, despite the heat of the day, this is enough wild swimming for this little collie. The bonfire is burned down. The leaky pipe is repaired. Dinner awaits. Millie has learned how to swim and Sam is taking an early evening stroll about the garden. Roger is heating up the hot tub, and me, well, I’m sitting on the new bench on Gin and Tonic Hill. Bliss.