My sister-in-law's house sits up on a hill overlooking the Connecticut River in Hanover, N.H., (originally the subject of this essay). I drove all the way over from Maine to be her housesitter while she went away for a week. And puppy-sitter.
"Snowy" was a five-month-old mixed breed, a white Pomeranian-pug, we think.
"I wish we could tell for sure," Mary Beth said, bewildered. "But we really don't know what he is. He's just a good family dog. The kids love him."
Snowy was asleep in the corner of the living room when I walked into the house in the middle of the day. Suddenly, I felt like Mary Poppins.
"His dog dish is in the garage beside the kennel," she continued. "He sleeps there at night. He's really so easy to take care of, Nancy. But I must tell you. We have a landscaper coming Monday to move that hillside in the backyard, and you probably saw the guys on the roof. They're putting in a dormer, so the room you were going to be in just, uh, well, it isn't there anymore. But the river is still here, and I'm sure you'll get a good piece of writing out of it. By the way, Snowy doesn't mind the noise. And he loves the workers."
"Oh, I don't mind saws and drills either," I replied eagerly.
Really, I couldn't wait. This had always been my idea of a vacation. Near the water, near a college campus. And a village within walking distance!
But I had never taken care of a dog before.
As a cat person for 20 years, I was used to a quiet house. Very little play. Few rules. The cats went out at night and came home in the morning.
They slept all day. They communicated by rubbing up against a door jamb. Now I was going to have to get used to four extra feet at my heels all day. And paws on my lap. Could I adjust to that much ... togetherness?
Right from the start, Snowy and I were close. When I was in the house, he was in. When I went out, he went out. When we gardened (together), he was right there at my spade, sniffing the roots, and leaping for every weed I'd fling to the side. (My cats never did that.) And, before long, he had me trained. I caught myself saying, "OK, Snowy, let's weed that petunia bed out front," and, wow, he'd follow me!
Then it led to, "Let's go to the mailbox, boy!" And off we'd go side by side. I never knew that going to the mailbox could be so much fun.
When he wasn't by my side, though, he was occupied with temptations like the neighbor's cat food, my ballpoint pens, dried flowers, and shoelaces. His day was so busy he no longer had time for the midday nap. He followed the workmen under the ladders and into their pickup trucks. He sniffed the new birch tree and fell into its fresh hole. He pulled the children's toys out of the toy box, one by one, and never put them back. Socks that had been folded and stored in a third-story bedroom were suddenly beside the dishwasher.
After a full day of activity (his, not mine), I realized that if I was going to get any work done in town, I'd have to take Snowy with me.
A dog unaccustomed to a leash is a sight to see. His first reaction was to pull the slender rope, roll over on his back, and then hold it in his teeth.
When he eventually caught on that he'd been "leashed," he flipped over it. Then after a few bites and twists, he'd wrap it several times around a pole and come circling me eagerly, making one big cat's cradle. Finally, astonished and aggravated that he could be reeled in like a fish on a line, he just gave up. I carried him home.
Meanwhile, his antics amused the local sportsmen, who were accustomed to the retrievers and Labs they'd let prowl along the busy sidewalks and river paths - free rein. Were they laughing at my puppet on a string? My utter embarrassment for Snowy led us both back home where my charge could finally feel some independence once again among the petunias.
So much for my first day "on the job," I sighed. A sunset was making its way around the mountains and into view. I turned off the lights in the house and gazed across the river. Bats were just coming out and skimming the surface.
You could hear a few voices along the bank as students were pulling canoes out of the water. This is what I was supposed to be writing about, I grumbled. Instead, I was having mixed feelings about this mixed breed. It was time to put Snowy in his kennel for the night.
But wait a minute! Where was he? Where was that 10 pounds of wiggle? For a dog who was by my side all day, suddenly he was nowhere in sight.
Could he have wandered into the garage by himself? I hoped. Why, of course!
As I groped my way upstairs, all at once in the dim light I saw something, yes, white, streak by me in a flash and then disappear. As other lights went out one by one across the majestic Connecticut River, I reached down under my bed and touched the gentle ears of the only thing Snowy on a summer night in New Hampshire.