Off North Road

Runaway - a metaphor

By Russell Hoxsie - January 25, 2007

Ticker responded enthusiastically to my call for a walk this week, but when she first caught sight of me with leash and collar in hand, she changed direction like a shot, and made for the pond's edge. I was caught off-guard having had two years of serenity in the presumption that our two-and-a-half-year-old springer could not exit our yard unescorted because of our "invisible (electric) fence." We had abandoned the routine use of her electronic collar because she scrupulously avoided on her own the four-foot-wide strip of electrical activity the "the fence" provided. Even when I threw her tennis ball to the far side by mistake, she skidded to a stop well before she reached that invisible barrier. Then she would turn her head toward me and seem to say, "You'll never make a pitcher with an aim like that!"

A wire buried two inches deep around our yard's perimeter supplies an instantly audible warning followed by an electric shock to her collar if she invades the barrier for longer than a few seconds. During the first week of training, Ticker received no more than a couple of mild shocks, but they made indelible inscriptions on her memory of where the line lay. For several weeks the line was flagged with small white pennants, which we removed later on. Even our cat Mr. Mocha learned the limits of the "fence" in his feline intuitive fashion. When chased by Ticker, he easily escapes with disdain over the now unmarked boundary of wire and sits staring back at his pursuer, confident that she will come no closer, outfoxed once again. Ticker would wander off to other things and pummel the cat later within the confines of the house.

Menemsha Pond to our west has always been a super attraction for the dog. As a younger puppy, she raced back and forth on the narrow beach in a complete world of her own, frantically nipping at sand fleas and springing in graceful leaps over the marsh. Then, without signal she would bolt from the sand into the water and head out toward the middle of the pond where she would stay indefinitely chasing ducks, gulls, geese and anything that moved above the water. With great difficulty I could coax her in again but I remained fearful of her going unsupervised to the big pond and contend with changing tidal currents, outboard motor propellers, submerged mooring lines and freezing conditions in winter.

This particular day I watched her race over the marsh board-walk and splash into the water in one great leap where she raced after the dozen or so Canada geese and assorted water fowl swimming in the shallows at low tide. Her movements were bounding as she navigated the shoal water with heavy splashing and gathered momentum when her feet gained purchase on a sand bar. Within moments she headed again for the beach but sped toward Menemsha, then disappeared from my view around a curve two hundred yards to the north. When I went searching, I saw only about six paw prints at the foot of the board walk going in a direct line to water. Not a single print appeared in the un-traveled sand until I rounded the distant curve and saw a few prints where she had continued at least this far and then headed for parts unknown. The sun had gone behind dense clouds in the west but there was still light.

I returned home for binoculars hoping to separate one dark head with floppy ears at a distance from the dozens of ducks and geese in clumps everywhere. A flash in some shrubbery beyond the dunes let me have one bitty sight of Ticker still at great speed heading for the woods farther inshore. What a predicament, I thought to myself. The going under foot is rough and stony and I have already had my two-mile walk with the dog this day. I will have had a good exercise test in the medical sense, I realized, as soon as the image came to mind. I trudged through dune grass, up a short embankment with poison ivy, scrub brush, and occasional beer can. I slipped and nearly fell on some rocks.

My continual commands for Ticker to come home caught in my breath and I thought again of a maximum exercise stress test but felt well except for my anger and anxiety building. Fine blowing snow flew in my face, the sun was fast setting to my right and I worried about fast churning motor blades in the channel, the outgoing tide as it usually hurled through the jetties at Menemsha bight, and hypothermia. The weather station suggested there might be snow this evening. A couple of inches would obliterate the familiar smells for Ticker to find her way home.

I journeyed a rough circle and approached home base where our good neighbors Linda and Darby Campbell tried luring the passing Ticker with their own dog Gwen. The lure succeeded but, as soon as Linda called to Ticker, our truant dog ran off in another direction, gone from sight and sound. By human lore, her two-and-a-half dog years are equivalent to 17 of ours. She is a teenager of poor and impulsive judgment and doesn't possess enough common dog sense yet. Soon the Campbells started out in their car to roam the woods now darkening and I returned home next door to see if by a miracle Ticker had returned. Of course, she had not. As I rubbed my cold feet into some sense, I began to wonder why the afternoon had been so unsettling. Ticker had run away before, almost in the exact fashion she had done today except for the increased distance traveled. She always had returned; we had forgotten. Except for this day, the "silent fence" had worked well.

Could Ticker and her runaway today have been a metaphor for matrimony: a bride lost only temporarily from her original family as she begins another with her groom? Come to think of it, our son will be married next Saturday and we will gain a daughter. Perhaps our sense, at once, of gain and loss, or in another sense, joy and sadness, combine to produce the universal tears of weddings.

Thick with muck of wetlands, hungry and thirsty beyond all past, Ticker was found by Gwen's owners who searched a mile distant down a long road we often walk. The Campbells saved the day. Ticker lay fast asleep in her safari crate by seven o'clock and I lay aching on the couch, chastened, lucky to be alive, and bound to chew on my worry to the end. Soon, Ticker gravitated to the couch after nudging two cushions into place beneath her head and I slid to the floor for more room.