A case can be made that, even though it is finally mostly behind us, the experience we shared because of Covid changed us – as a species – in ways we are still working to understand. It seems to me that we lost our sense of humor and more or less abandoned perhaps the best thing about being Homo sapiens: spontaneity.
Does anyone even remember anymore what it felt like to set out with one thing planned in your mind only to randomly, without warning or forethought, step off the merry-go-round of life, kick off your shoes and socks, and run barefoot under a sprinkler through the grass on a warm sunny summer day? I certainly do, and I refuse to accept that I am the last one left on the planet that feels likewise.
Admittedly, my forced retirement and self-prescribed Hermit lifestyle choices afford me a greater opportunity for frivolity and childish pursuits than many of you, but let this story be an inspiration to you all that, once you have read this, you figure out your own way to re-discover your inner child. That kid is still in there, buried under layers of grown-up responsibility, job and family pressure, assholes in front of you as you try to get to work on time, and complete idiots that can’t do simple fucking math in their heads at the checkout register while you’re freaking out on the inside, choking down the desire to completely lose your shit on the cashier while hoping you don’t miss your connecting bus.
I have written frequently about living within walking distance of a public city park where I take Daisy so she can sniff around, pee on every blade of grass she can find, and get some fresh air and a little exercise. I hate living in the city with every fiber of my being but, stuck here as I am, at least there is a park available to me where I can pretend, for a few moments, that I’m in the woods rather than this god-awful steel and concrete ‘wilderness’ that it actually is.
As I understand it, the park acreage was donated to the city by a family whose Farm had once thrived at this location in the late 1800s and early 1900s. As has been the case with so many family farms across the country, as the Industrial Revolution expanded, this family was ultimately squeezed out by property grabs. The textile mill Barons had come along waving fistfuls of cash in the faces of second and third-generation descendants, some of whom eventually decided they were above farming and getting their hands dirty and happily split the property up into pieces. Each took their respective chunk of the family Legacy and went their separate way. The parcel allocated for the park was donated to the city with the express condition that a baseball field be built and maintained, and that room was set aside for Public Access, including a playground, a walking path, and other types of recreation the city could decide for itself in perpetuity.
You are forgiven for being too busy to have ever noticed this, but many public places have their own “rhythm” about them, and by that, I mean what sorts of people visit them and at what times of day those visitors come and go. I have only come by this wisdom myself because, after seven years, I have happened by this park all throughout the day, the night, the weekdays, and the weekends. And trust me… There is a seasonal twist to how these rhythms generally ebb and flow. My park, for example, has the employed dog owners gathering over coffee that starts to disband around 8:00 a.m. And the stay-at-home or second shift types start showing up not long after, kindergarteners and preschoolers in tow at the playground until about 10:30 or 11:00… After which they are gone for either nap time or lunch time or both.
In fall and winter, the dog crowd is usually smaller, doesn’t stay nearly as long, and seems only to show up when there’s snow on the ground. Likewise, there are fewer children, and they don’t typically last more than an hour. As well, there are holidays and competing factors of whether the school is in session or has been let go for the summer. And all of this is to say that, basically year-round, the best time for Daisy and I to go to the park is mid-morning because it offers the greatest likelihood that no one else will be there, and I can let her off her leash and pretend the park belongs to us and we can do whatever the hell we want.
As I set this up, it is incumbent upon me to describe for readers a game Daisy and I have been playing since she was a puppy. By her very nature, she loves water and will do just about anything to get wet, roll around in the grass after she has been hosed down, or dive face first at the hose while I’m trying to water the garden or anything else I might be hosing down that she can dive bomb her way in front of. I can’t really offer an explanation for this, but -for whatever reason – she tries to drink the water coming out of the hose but seems to be biting at the water as part of the drinking process. I know it sounds strange, but to watch her do it is hilarious and gives me endless fits of laughter.
I have taught her over the years to understand the words “get a drink” and to associate this with not only going over to her water bowl or drinking out of my cupped hand during long walks on hot days when I bring water bottles along but during every manner of the nine years of our water frivolity. It is a lot of fun for both of us, and neither of us returns to the house dry.
And so it was one late spring morning, as Daisy and I embarked on our walk to the park, that a grand and glorious “accident” occurred while we played catch or, more accurately, keep away. On this particular day, doing what we always do there, the sprinkler system turned on, catching both of us by surprise. I mean, I knew there was a sprinkler system in the park, but we had never actually been there when it turned on. Needless to say, Daisy was beside herself – she couldn’t get to the sprinkler fast enough.
I don’t know how many of you are aware of this, but a sprinkler system this size (broad enough to water an entire Babe Ruth regulation-size baseball field) takes a bit of time to get to the sprinkler farthest away from the water source. What this means is that water comes out gently at each outlet for a period of time before reaching max pressure at the sprinkler farthest away from the water source. Naturally, with so many years of practice teaching Daisy to get her own drink, she ran to the one closest to her and did what she was taught to do. And, of course, I was egging her on… Saying “Get a drink” over and over again to encourage her. She was so happy and so excited that she ran around to each sprinkler, in turn, as if she had died and gone to heaven.
As I stood there soaking it all in (no pun intended), and before I had even had the chance to think it through, she put her nose right down on the farthest-away outlet at ground level just in time for it to reach max pressure and damn near blew her snout right off of the end of her face. You could clearly hear her ‘yipe’ in pain; instinctively, she backed away and tried to sort through what had just happened. Surely her pain-avoidance and self-preservation instincts were having a heated argument with her natural desire for water and her overwhelming need to “get a drink,” but that fight lasted all of 5 seconds because, before I could get to her to make sure she was all right, she was already shaking her head and shaking water off her coat and heading off to the next sprinkler.
I honestly can’t remember the last time I laughed that damn hard.
I am well aware that everyone with a dog loves them as I loved mine and confidently declare that theirs is the best dog ever. Maybe so, but in my life, I am fortunate enough to live with the ‘legit’ best dog ever. And I can prove this because, within minutes, Daisy had figured out how to proceed with getting a drink, clearly undeterred by the risks. The only thing I could do at this point, certainly the most reasonable and logical anyway, was to roll with it and join her in the sprinklers. I sat down in the wet grass, getting my ass completely soaked in the process, took off my shoes and socks, and proceeded to get soaking wet. I chased her towards the sprinklers; she chased me, and more than once, I called her over to me and sat down under a sprinkler right alongside her. You would think that, at my age, acting like a kid would be something long absent from the rearview mirror of my life. I’m here to tell you this is just not the case; The older I get, the more like a kid I become. Certainly, as long as I have Daisy, I expect to keep getting younger and more like a kid every day.
And why the hell not?!