A few weeks ago, we decided it was time for our last swim for the summer in Boone Lake. Both my husband and I had family in town, and a group of us decided to do our annual splash across the water, from the dock to Goat Island. The swim isn’t far, maybe a quarter mile, but because of boat traffic, my husband canoes or kayaks or paddle boards alongside us to make sure boat drivers see our bobbing heads and don’t run us over.
We stood at the dock’s edge, and jumped off and into the warm water and began our swim. We weren’t far out, maybe 10 or 15 yards—I can’t remember—when we heard a splash from the dock. I looked back, and I saw our little brown dog paddling her little legs to reach us.
“No, no,” my husband said from the paddle board, I said from the water. We made shooing motions. “Go back.”
She didn’t look at us directly. She pumped her little legs and looked forward, toward Goat Island.
She’d jumped in the water to be with us before, but always when we were treading water or lolling around in flimsy floats by the dock, not going anywhere. She has a terrible habit of trying to climb up on us, as if we are her own version of a float. Or, if we are actually on a float, she tries to take over the whole thing, flopping around from one end to the next as if she is on patrol. If there is no room on the float, then she makes herself comfortable on top of whoever is on the float. I should add here that the girl has nails, and if you don’t know that before she gets on the float or on you, you know it after.
But she’d never before followed us swimming to Goat Island. Apparently, being left behind was not an option this time.
I was worried about her. She loves to swim, but the length she had swum until that point had only been as far as we could throw a ball and back. I worried, too, she’d scratch the people swimming with us if she tried to climb on top of them. But she pumped her little legs as fast as she could and kept to her own space, and soon enough, we were on the shore of Goat Island, taking a break for a few minutes until we swam back.
Except she was tired. The only way I knew this was that as we started to splash our way across the lake and toward the dock, we had only gotten a short ways out before she used her tail like a rudder to turn around and swim in the opposite direction, back to the jungle of Goat Island.
“No, no,” we said again, though I don’t know why we bothered. She’s been our dog for years. We know she ignores us when she wants to—but in the moment we had forgotten. Look who needs retraining now.
As she scrambled up rocks and branches and onto Goat Island, I worried she would run off into the brambles and bushes. But soon enough, my husband paddled to her, grabbed her and put her on his paddle board, and she rode for a while like that, resting until she got her energy back. Then she splashed again into the water, and there was her little brown head, bobbing along with the rest of us as we reached the place of our journey’s beginning, and its end.
I’d like to think our dog swam with us because she could not stand to be apart from us, but really mostly from me. After all, she and I are together all day, every day, as I write from my home office, as she lounges in her doggie bed in a patch of sun near my desk. I don’t know what I would do without her. She’s why I don’t get lonely during the day; she’s why I feel safe.
And on the last swim for the summer, it could have been that she loved me so much, waiting at the dock for me to return was a hardship. But it was the end of a season, after all: it could have been that she’d simply never been to Goat Island, and it was time she got to go.