Lady gingerly wades into the water and immediately squats down and pees. Her facial muscles relax and her mouth turns upwards- a hint of a smile. She wades deeper into the pool, but rarely gets her back wet. I take off my sandals, step into the cold and drip water over her head and her back to keep her cool. The deep emerald pools lie under granite boulders that are covered in mosses of tangerine-orange and sea-green. Splashes of liquid sliver, like Christmas tinsel, pour into the pounds. Lady, tiptoes daintily over the rocks, stops to smell the earthy scents: animal scat and the muddy-smells-like-compost puddles.
Lady is an eight-year-old, 95 pound husky/wolf mix. She wears a thick, double coat: soft white tufts underneath are layered with wiry-white hair frosted in tips of black and tan. She has the distinctive white mask of a Husky, the golden eyes of the wolf. One ear flops downward where a cut has separated the top of her ear, evidence of a former life before she was adopted.
My husband, Lloyd, throws sticks for his younger dog, Jackson, a lab/border collie mix, who can fetch sticks and swim endlessly. Lady watches, but never once has she made an effort to swim after a stupid stick. Instead, she lies at my side, her head on my foot. I comb my fingers through her hair; it’s everywhere- fluff in the water, hair covering my shorts, hair riding on the wind. Matted, wet hair sticks to my fingers like spider webs.
After several hours of soaking and walking along the pools, we hike back up to our camp. The hike up is tiring for Lady. She walks slowly, watches me up ahead. I wait for her, tell her, “good girl.” At the phrase, she becomes youthful, if only for a few seconds- she takes a playful leap towards me, then settles back into her pace.
In her early years, Lady ran for miles. Our home on thirty acres could not contain her, so we walked further out in the open spaces behind our home. Sometimes, she’d chase a rabbit, and in seconds, she would disappear in the thigh-high grasses, then reappear far off in the distance, a mere speck on a hill top. Like me, she needed to run, needed to expend the energy bursting inside. The command “come” was not in her vocabulary.
Back at camp, Lloyd and I sit under the shade of Jeffrey and Lodgepole pines. Lloyd looks down at Lady, who is resting by my side.
“She’s starting to take on the shape of an old dog. See how her hips sink in?”
I look down at Lady and rub her back, her shoulders, massage her head. She makes her purring noise, a low rumble, almost cat-like.
In the evening, I cook dinner and we eat in the camper, chased inside by hordes of mosquitoes. From the table, I look over and see my lower legs in the full-length mirror that covers the bathroom door. A jaw-dropping, eye-opening shock smacks me. These legs cannot possibly be mine: the skin is papery thin, and where muscular calves are supposed to be, soft, sagging muscles appear. And even worse, light blue veins sneak through once-tanned skin.
When we return home from camping, I look on the internet, find the dog-age calculator, enter Lady’s age and breed. I learn that Lady and I are the same age; we’re in our early sixties. Our bodies are changing, but we are stubborn; our minds believe we are spry and agile, strong and energetic. I know this is not true, but I can still see myself running up hills, climbing rocks and mountains; the muscle memory is clear. I watch Lady sleep. She makes muffled barking sounds and soft howls, as if she’s dreaming of rabbits; she runs for miles over grassy hills, runs for the joy of the movement and the freedom to roam across the open land.
Kandi Maxwell lives and writes in the Sierra foothills of Northern California. She walks through forests, soaks and splashes in rivers, lakes and hot springs, and bends frequently in downward dog. She is a retired high school English teacher. Her work has been published in Fair Haven Literary Review, KYSO Flash, The Raven’s Perch, One in Four, Foliate Oak, and others. Her work has been nominated for The Best American Essay series.
Photo by the author.