The winter I lived in the little house in the middle of the boat yard Dirv was going through a rough winter. The business he’d started as a shoestring, hippy outfit had become a growing concern and needed fulltime management. He was a sailor and loved the sea, the boat yard was a steady supply of yachts. Dirv had never intended to get tangled up in the business blues. The marina was turning into a demanding mistress.
On top of that his love life was tearing him apart.
One week I had Nancy sitting at the table holding my hand too tightly telling me way more than I wanted to know over cold coffee, the next week it was Dirv.
So, when he got an offer to captain a new yacht down to the Caribbean, Dirv took off south.
I was ready to pull a runner as well. It was March. I had built my new lobster traps, painted my buoys, been on one too many six-pack patrols. I was aching to be on my own again, out to Gotts Island
You’ll watch Cedar won’t you, he asked. I mean what kind of trouble could she be out on the island.
A dog on the island seemed a perfect match for guy on his ownsome like me.
Cedar was an Irish Setter. She was a wine dark, red wind of a dog. She lived to run and ran so light and free across the bare and empty fields that her feet scarce seemed to touch the ground. When the swallows returned to their northern home, she chased them as they dipped and wove in the brightness of early spring. They played with her, they above, she below, streaking and soaring, following the curves and dips of the land, dancers and lovers coming almost together then parting.
She meant well. She truly did.
She followed close out the door and down the porch steps, started to trot ahead and then caught herself, visibly holding herself back. She even had the grace to hesitate at the side of the town road.
But only the scantest hesitation while I looked back to latch the door against the unruly wind or bent to stretch. When I turned back, she was gone. Not going, but full out gone.
She only returned hours later, sides heaving, tongue lolling, covered in sticks and spruce needles and burrs. She came back wet and muddy and bedraggled as a wild Dionysian priestess after the rites.
If it had been only swallows it would have been fine. But better than swallows were deer. If Cedar caught sight or scent or the scant slip of a hoof on the ledges she was off and away.
She chased them through swamp and field and forest. She burst through thickets and brambles. She chased them clean off the island and the fishermen found her swimming after them in the channel.
The hardest part was that she knew she was bad. When she finally came back she crawled up the last 50 feet to me on her belly. Prostrated with guilt and remorse and full of desperate promises never to sin again.
The island hunters said there wouldn’t be a deer on the island come November and I ought to beat her and that would teach her.
Lyle said he’d take a clam rake to her if I didn’t chain her.
Lyford said someone ought to call the Game Warden.
I couldn’t bear to chain her.
Couldn’t bear to deny her the running.
Couldn’t bear to look her in the eye and see myself reflected there glowering down.
Dirv appeared again just before the early summer rush at the boat yard. He asked how Cedar was doing.
Shit, she’s driving me crazy, I told him
But isn’t she just the most beautiful thing when she runs, he said.
Cedar’s tail thumped the worn porch boards.
Yeah, I said, but she don’t listen for shit.
She looked past us both to the wild woods across the road.
To hear the call is no blessing. To know the wildness in your own soul is scant comfort in an ordered world.