Annie led me through an opening in the bushes at Ona Beach and we discovered a vast stretch of white sand. Looking west, we saw a shallow lake covered with birds. Most were gulls, but a half dozen pelicans stood among them, tall and long-beaked. “Annie, look!” I shouted, astonished to see these giant birds standing still. I usually see them flying in a line over the ocean or diving for fish. We moved slowly toward the water, Annie wagging her tail, me chanting, “Oh my gosh, pelicans, oh my gosh.” They let us get within 10 yards before the birds rose up in a whoosh and flew toward the surf, gulls squawking, pelicans majestically flapping their wings.
The dog strained at the leash. On impulse, I let her go, the first time I have ever done that at the beach. I didn’t see any other dogs or people, and I really wanted to see how well she could swim.
Oh, what a happy dog. She flew across that belly-deep water, barely touching the sand below. The lake narrowed into a river heading toward the ocean. Her eyes glowed with joy as she rousted the birds again.
As she got farther away, I called her name. She chose not to hear me. Shedding my shoes, I plunged my bare feet into the river. It felt so good, even as wetness creeped past my knees and the rolling tide made me dizzy. It had been a hard day, but Annie’s joy was contagious.
She flew past me, spraying my glasses and my shirt with water. She paused to drink while I warned it was probably salty. She started toward the waves.
That’s when I began to pray. Annie didn’t know anything about waves, rip tides, and outgoing waves that might drown her. She scared the birds into flight again, stopped, wheeled around and ran toward a family of three just coming onto the beach. What if she jumped on them? I was too far away to do anything except shout a useless “off!” They pet her and she ran back toward me, crossed the water and bounded away in the other direction, so far I could barely see her. Her tan fur blended in with the sand.
“Annie!” I called, starting toward her. But I have been with dogs long enough to know that if you run toward them, they’ll keep going, thinking this is a game. So I turned back, running across spongy quilted surf sand, through the river and toward the entrance.
Annie sped toward me, but veered off at the last minute toward Beaver Creek, beyond the river, beyond the lake, where the water was deep. I dropped my sweatshirt and shoes by a log and hurried over to find her nose plunged deep into the beach grass, butt in the air, hunting some enchanting smell. Aha. I clicked the leash on and pulled her toward the water. Now we would see.
The sand gave way beneath my toes as I walked my dog into the river. As soon as the water grew too deep to walk, Annie started to swim. It was the most beautiful, most natural thing. Her paws stroked smoothly through the green water, her chin resting on the surface, no effort at all. “You’re swimming! I shouted, hugging her wet fur. She licked my cheek
When we came out, we sprawled by the log, both of us soaked and covered with sand. Sitting there on a warm fall day under a blue sky etched with white clouds, I felt young, strong and blessed. Anything seemed possible.