Monday, March 9, 2009

Man on Wire / Dog at Park/ Free as Bird

Over the weekend, I watched the film Man on Wire, a 2008 documentary about Philippe Petit, a Frenchman who walked a wire strung between the World Trade Center buildings one muggy August morning in 1974. The stills and footage of the diminutive man strutting on a 7/8" wide cable hanging a quarter mile in the air were stunning. His performance lasted 45 minutes before he was arrested by NYPD. Years later, he described his time on the wire as the ultimate freedom, like that of the gulls circling above his head and--amazingly--below his feet. What struck me, though, was the clear difference in how the experience affected both Petit and his accomplices. He felt baptized, pushed into a new realm of possibility—as well as into celebrity; he beamed while recalling his experience. His friends, however, were reduced to tears at the memory of the efforts they had made and the risks they had taken. Their experiences were so intense that their relationships with Petit did not withstand it. Of course, my thoughts drifted to Dog Park. 

Our Dog Park is full of hundreds of canine versions of Petit--bold, adventurous, graceful, hyperactive creatures that are naturally oblivious to the efforts we humans make in their constant care and upkeep: feeding, watering, walking, grooming, medicating, loving. Every day I make sure my girls get a chance to run around like wild things, without the restriction of leashes. The burden of responsibility falls on me. I watch that their interactions with other dogs are friendly, that they don't stray too far. I watch for their poop and pick it up. I watch for the runners and cyclists and kids with kites and the crazy park neighbor who chases us on his motorcycle and Animal Control. I carry bags and leashes and water. I am Doggy sherpa—all so that they can experience a hour or two of freedom. 

A dozen years ago, as a novice dog owner, I worried about my older dog's freedom all the time. I adopted Roma from the Humane Society. A husky mix, she had been somewhat neglected by her original owners. She had no loyalty to me and when she got out of the house, she would run--a bad deal on Austin's East Side, just blocks from I-35. On a hike with friends in Bull Creek Park, she took off. She ran up the embankment of Highway 360, across the six lanes, down the other side, and into the woods. I did not see her again for ten days. Friends and I searched every day. We plastered that part of town and the park with Lost Dog posters. I got daily  calls of Roma sightings so I knew she was still alive and uninjured. One park ranger told me he had seen her in a trash can that very morning. My thoughts were mixed and stupid. "Maybe," I thought, "she needs needs to find her own way, to be true to her wild side. Maybe she ran away because she was unhappy, because domesticated life was so constraining." Eventually Roma let a stranger slip a leash on her, and she was returned to me. She looked unfazed by her experience, though she slept for two days afterward. Amazingly, too, she seemed somewhat reformed, coming when called, avoiding the street, and never, ever running away again. I have often wondered what she thought about while on her great adventure. Had she felt exhilarated, liberated? Was this her Thoreauvian experiment, to see if she could live better without humans than with their cushy sofas and cheesy treats and their constant, annoying demands (sit, stay, heel,down; hate them!)? I will, of course, never know. She will never tell me. 

I still have dreams of losing her. She is always running off, deaf to my calls. In the most recent dream, my ex-husband shows up on a bicycle unexpectedly after a seven-year absence, and Roma takes off after him without a moment's hesitation. Disloyal bitch. Or simply too loyal to her own desire for freedom—she is  in my mind anyway. In the meantime, I continue to be her benevolent dictator, keeping her leashed to this world as long as she will put up with it. 

1 comment:

  1. I was trying to explain to someone tonight, once again, why I don't have a chuck-it. It always takes me several minutes to fumble around and explain that I like to *find* a ball and throw it with my *arm* because I don't like to carry *stuff* at the park. Next time I'll simply say, "I am not a Dog Sherpa."


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