A few days ago, I took the Mighty Belle to a “new” off leash dog park. It wasn’t new, truly, but it was new to us, located in an inner city park next to the downtown campus where my daughter attends classes, rather than on Minneapolis’ chain of lakes. I’ve never taken Belle there for two simple reasons: it’s small, and parking is problematic (call me stingy, but I refuse to pay for parking simply to let my dog romp). I’d much rather take her to the larger, more picturesque, less infrastructure-stuffy Lake of the Isles park. But that day was different. That day, it was cold.
Now, when a Minnesotan says it’s cold, we usually mean it. Cold to us is not something reserved for a pesky observation, or a flip of the wrist throw-away protestation. When we say cold, we usually mean frostbite cold. Hypothermia cold. Life-or-death sort of cold, to evoke the dramatic (which we would never do). And today was supposed to be cold. I believe the high was touted at around -3 degrees, up from an overnight low of -15, but with a wind chill factor that would drive temperatures to feel about -35 or worse. Not exactly hanging out at the dog park weather, even in Minnesota. Not good for people, and not good for dogs, except perhaps the heartiest, most arctic kinds. And not even then, really.
Still, though, dogs gotta do their business, and I know that Belle gets somewhat mopey if she doesn’t have at least one good romp a day. So when I acquiesced to driving my daughter in to her classes at the local community college rather than having her take a city bus, as is usual, I thought that it would be a perfect opportunity to take Belle out, as well, and perhaps check out this other off leash park, since we would be so close. After all, the temperatures had surprised me – they had gotten up to 5 degrees above zero, so it seemed like a fine opportunity to park a little farther away, where there were no parking meters and no cost, and wander over to a new experience. Even if we didn’t stay long, the novelty of something new would no doubt give Belle a bit of extra fun.
Luckily, we found a non-metered parking space pretty quickly, and close to a ploughed pathway (wallowing through 3 foot high snow drifts, which is about where our snow pack is now, is not exactly my idea of fun, nor is shepherding my giddy golden retriever along a narrow downtown street looking for egress into the park itself). Yup, it was mighty cold, and the wind was just plain wicked as advertised, but I was ready for it, layered and bundled to the max. It took us a while to find the dog park, because it was tucked away into a somewhat secluded corner without a direct pathway leading to it, so we had to meander for a while, but Belle was really enjoying the new environ – and all the squirrels that were flouncing around. There’s nothing better to tease a giddy golden retriever in the city than cheeky urban squirrels who don’t know better than to go into hibernation in the depth of winter.
When we did find the dog park, I was impressed. Yes, it was small, but it was craftily laid out, with evergreen trees to block the wind, and strategically placed limestone boulders to not only give owners a place to perch (had the rocks not been covered with a foot or so of snow) but also to make it interesting for gamboling pups engaged in raucous games of tag. There was even a kind of bridge-like structure for the more curious dogs; I was pleased that Belle decided to pad across it without much encouragement.
And surprise, surprise – there were other dogs there, and one of them was even a pal from Belle’s “regular” dog park, so she had fun romping and wrestling with Scout and Slim for what turned out to be almost an hour, while we owners filled the time with small talk: “Come here often?” and “How old’s yer pup?” and, of course, “My, that wind is cold!”.
But I was also delighted to find an actual piece of artistic sculpture in the middle of the dog park, near the entrance. It was a simple column, rising about 8 feet in height and about, um, maybe 5 feet around, with a core of concrete and an outer sleeve of some iron ore type of metal. Circumnavigating the metal layer were cut out words, conveying quotes about dogs. I didn’t see any credits (well, maybe the credits were somewhere, but they might have been covered by snow, or perhaps I just didn’t notice them – it was mighty cold out, after all), but they were rather typical dog type sentiments (I added credits where I could): “Lord, please make me the person my dog thinks I already am.” (author unknown); “Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.”(Roger Caras); and, “If you get to thinking you’re a person of some influence, try ordering somebody else’s dog around.” (Will Rogers).
The one I loved the most, though, was at the very bottom, attributed to Henry Ward Beecher, a Calvinist pastor, abolitionist, and brother to Harriet Beecher Stowe of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” fame. The entire quote read: “The dog was created specially for children. He is the god of frolic.” But the words that caught my eye – and my imagination – were “the god of frolic.”
The god of frolic! What a wonderful way to epitomize a dog! The way they romp, they gambol, they scamper or scramble, and oh, how they can fly, feet barely grazing the earth, running full out with utter abandon! It doesn’t matter if they are large or small, purebred or mutt, graceful or a bit clumsy, these critters sure know how to run without inhibition, without care, without conceit. And if they happen to be running towards you, to you, if you happened to have called to them from a distance, and their eyes are set on you, their focus is on you, on coming back to you – that look of utter joy and devotion as they fly to you is just one of the most beautiful things in this world.
So that day, a few days ago – which in all honesty I had feared would be a drudging responsibility – turned out to be a blessing (as so often days are, despite my best efforts to make them less so). Despite the cold, we explored, discovered, made a new friend, became reacquainted with an old one, got some much needed exercise (both of us) and trembled on the verge of ignition (those pesky squirrels, teasing from the safety of the “dogs must be leashed” part of the park!). And I absorbed a new phrase that will enrich my ability to relate to a very specific, very loved, very much appreciated part of my world: the Mighty Belle.
And not just The Mighty Belle, but Belle, the God of Frolic. Ah, indeed. It suits her well.