Missing Prudence.

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Last September we spent a week on Prudence Island, Rhode Island.  It’s a very special place for me. My grandfather discovered it in the ninteen teens when he was a boy scout, and he built a cottage there which our extended family shared for many years.

 After Grampa and Gramma died, my mom and her sisters inherited the cottage, but it was in need of some major repair and renovation.  My oldest cousin had always spent a lot of time on the Island, and had invested a lot of time and effort over the years to maintain the cottage, so eventually the sisters and my mom sold their shares in the cottage to him. He’s done a great deal of work on the place, and spends nearly every weekend there.  He’s really earned the right to the place, and I’m glad he enjoys it.

Last summer was the first time I’d been to Prudence for nearly fifteen years.  It has changed a lot, mostly for the better.  There are now many miles of trails to walk, and parts of the Island which were inaccessible when I was a child are now open to the public.  We walked all over the Island, averaging more than 5 miles a day, with no repeats for a week.  It was glorious and the weather was perfect. Martha was a very happy dog indeed.

This summer has been less active, and as the leaves start to turn I feel pulled back to Prudence.  I can’t spend a week this year, but I hope to make a couple of day trips.  I don’t intend to wait another fifteen years.

The magic of the trail

There is some kind of magic that happens when a group of humans and dogs walk together. We all start as strangers. The dogs are variously excited, curious, nervous, shy, or even afraid, finding themselves among others of diverse sizes, shapes and temperaments. The humans are friendly but cautious, watching their dogs reacting to the adventure about to begin. We introduce ourselves. Most of us will more easily remember the names of the dogs rather than the names of their humans. We take a final attendance check, and head out on the trail.

Three to five minutes into the walk, the leashes start to come off. Some dogs surge ahead, but others hang behind, close to their humans. Some of the dogs will stay on leashes for the entire walk, and that’s just fine. We watch our dogs chase up and down the trail, chasing each other, circling back to check on us, sniffing for a treat here and there. Big dogs, little dogs, running and playing and clowning but always moving forward, moving together, two legged and four legged, along the path to the destination of the day.

Sometimes we walk a loop trail. Often we walk to a certain point or place and then retrace our steps. As the walk progresses, we shift positions, walking and talking with different people in the group, different paces, many conversations. The dogs shift position, too, finding some pack order or rank as they move along, becoming more comfortable with each other, working together to progress along the path.

We stop, at least once, for a short rest. We stop sometimes because of the rules. They are few and simple. First, you must always be able to see the person behind you on the trail (unless you know you are last.) If you can’t see that person, you must stop to let them catch up and come into view before proceeding. Second, if you come to a turn or intersection in the path, you must stop until everyone catches up and knows which way to turn. That’s about it.

The rest is short because the dogs will tend to pick on each other if they stop moving forward for too long. Sometimes I think that’s true of humans, too. We turn back, or move through the loop, now relaxed and happy in our company, on to the end of the walk. We water our dogs, load into the cars with many fond goodbyes and wishes to see each other again soon. We have created a peaceful, happy community of humans and dogs for a little while. Our souls are the better for it.