Sunday, August 16, 2009

Our Summer Holiday

I like summer in New York City because so many people go away. That they take with them dogs who are my dog's friends is one of life's recurring disappointments; expecting it, preparing ourselves with diversions, doesn't spare us, though. Knowing how much I miss Phoebe's friends only hints, I suspect, at how much she misses them. But we try to remember, as we go about our daily rounds, that when we discover another dog absent on holiday we're likely to run into one who's just returned.

Dogs leaving town is bad enough; nastier still is the weather August usually entails. This year we've had little to complain of: rain enough for special mention in the record books, but unremarkable temperatures. Then last week came along, and I wish it hadn't. On our dawn walks to the park we heard more air conditioners rumbling than birds chirping. Never good news.

We didn't just endure two days of griddle-hot sidewalks for barefoot Phoebe and utter ennui for me; we survived them by taking a vacation one afternoon. We prepared a book bag, and off we went to cooler climes.

Our destination was a spot just inside our open balcony door; high-rise cross ventilation is a blessing, and there's no traffic to get there and back. Phoebe adjusted pillows on our chaise longue. I served our favorite restorative (fresh papaya juice). We took our places, side by side. I reached into our bag of remedies and took out a volume at random. There was breeze enough to flutter the pages of the first book I opened.

We had a wonderful time romping with parka-clad kids through a picture book about sled dogs. I was reminded of how much Phoebe enjoys snow, and how happily she wiggles into a wool sweater.

Then we turned to squirrels. Phoebe doesn't chase or threaten them; she studies them and invites them to play. She appreciates my squirrel vocalizations, perhaps more than the squirrels do, but I must thank our tree-dwelling neighbors for listening to me as attentively as they often do. I read aloud Steele and Koprowski's chapter on "The Cache" from North American Tree Squirrels. This had a deeply relaxing effect on Phoebe, who rested one forepaw on my arm and gazed up, expectantly, waiting for the next revelation. In a glassine envelope tucked into the book, I found a newspaper clipping I cherish, and shared that with her, too. Pictured above the fold on the first page of The New York Times sports section is the squirrel who climbed up and down Yankee Stadium's right field foul pole two years ago this month. Has that squirrel's book been written?

Finally we joined Peter Freuchen for a refreshing hour. I read to Phoebe, from his Arctic Adventure: My Life in the Frozen North, his description of frightening wolves away from his tent by singing to them. I'm sorry he was in danger, but his report made me laugh. If I sang to the heat and humidity, would they flee?

Phoebe and I are ready for the rest of August. We've got more books full of ice floes and sleds and blizzards and heroic hounds. We may schedule a few more vacation days.

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