It's a Rye Dog's World: Of seaweed, rocks and bear

Swimming in ocean and river is cool--but not so in the pool

Hank McFarland

Hank says that summer is here and that's fine with me. I have already grown a lot and learned a lot, and summer seems a wonderful time for dogs on the New Hampshire coast.

One thing that I learned as a puppy and have not forgotten is that Nancy does not care for dogs that lift their leg on her plants. Summer is a critical time to remember her warning as the plants are looking beautiful, and Nancy has great pride in them. I think any dog that tried such a thing would get a one-way ticket out of here, and that includes me. Hank is very surprised that I have not lifted my leg. He says it is "instinctive" with male dogs. There's that long word again. Well, I have a brain, and my brain is going to override that instinct, because I have no intention of moving.

Nancy and Hank have two children. One, named Sue, is grown up and living in her own home. She comes to visit often, and I really like her.

The other is Jay, and he has been away at college. Now he has returned home for the summer. I love that, because he is a good sport and likes to go swimming off the rocks in front of our home.

When we go swimming Jay and Hank put on special swimming clothes, and we make our way over the seawall and across the rocky shoreline. As we progress towards the water, the rocks become covered with seaweed and get very slippery. As you get ever closer to the water the rocks develop barnacles with snails living on them. Stepping on them is very uncomfortable, particularly for humans as they have more weight and fewer tender, fleshy feet to carry those pounds. Every so often Jay or Hank will let out a howl, and I know that they have made a misstep.

Our destination is called Cunner Rock, or sometimes Third Rock. Since the rock is located on the open ocean, there are usually good size waves rolling in towards the shore.

After swimming to low areas full of sea water we scramble up onto Cunner Rock. After we cross to the most seaward part of the rock, Jay and Hank leap off into the churning water. They disappear under the sea surface, then pop up and yell for me to join them. I can tell from the sound of their voices that they are freezing from the cold. It is scary! Waves are rolling in and breaking into foam on the rocks. Who knows what is swimming beneath the surface of the water? Maybe lobsters are waiting to grab hold of my tail; maybe other creatures of the sea would like to dine on golden retriever.

After hesitating for only a moment I take a huge leap of faith off Cunner Rock and land in the ocean near them. I go under briefly but pop right back up, snorting and wheezing. The water is cold even for a dog covered with fur, so I wonder how Jay and Hank can stand it. I paddle towards them. "Ouch!" yells Hank. I have paddled so close that my toenails have raked his stomach.

We head towards shore. I can hear huge waves coming up behind me. Whoosh! They break over our heads and cover us all in salty foam and green seawater but we paddle on. The current wants to pull us apart but we swim with passion and keep together.

I have a big advantage when we finally reach the seaweed-covered rocks on the shore, because I have four feet to help me keep my balance. Jay and Hank adopt my way of walking and crawl forward on their hands and knees until they reach dry land and can walk without slipping. When they stand, I can see blood coming from small cuts on each of them which must have resulted from brushing against the barnacle-covered rocks.

Fortunately my thick fur protects me from things like that. Nevertheless I am shaking with excitement. This has been one of the great adventures of my young life.


One day in the middle of the summer we all jump into the car and head north to the mountains. It has been really warm this summer, and I doubt that we can still go skiing, but Hank and Nancy must have something in mind.

We arrive late in the afternoon, and it is hot. All the snow has melted away including the special snow that is made by machines just for skiing.

After an uneventful evening Jay gets up in the morning and says that today we're going swimming in the river.

The river in question is a broad mountain stream that flows over the rocky valley floor between mountain ranges. It is called the Pemigewasset, and sometimes Hank calls it the "Pemi." The river drops quickly as it descends, and the water rushes over rocks and forms into swirling mountain pools. Even though the air temperature is hot, the water is clear and cold.

Hank and Jay find a sunny spot on the river where the water sweeps around and forms into a pool, then overflows the far side of the pool and continues its way down the valley. "Let's build a dam." Jay says, and Jay and Hank busy themselves removing large boulders from the pool and placing them where the water runs out. Soon the water level in the pool is getting deeper as the dam begins its work.

It doesn't take me long to get into the fun. I am able to pick up a lot of good size rocks and help in the project. Would you like to know how to do it?

First you find a spot where the water isn't too swift and roiled up so you can see down into it. When you have a good view of the bottom, look for a big rock, but not so big that you can't get your teeth around it. Next, hold your breath and stick your entire head under the water. Feel around the bottom with your lips, and, when you find the proper rock, pick it up in your teeth. Then, walk over to the dam and drop it. It's easy. The dam will grow quickly if you keep at it. With Jay and Hank helping it goes even faster.

Sometimes if you look closely you can see fish swimming around in the deeper parts of the pool. Hank calls them "brook trout" and says they are good eating. I'll never know if he's right about that, because try as I might I can't catch up to their darting movements under water.

When the dam is finished we are all pretty tired. Thank goodness Jay packed a lunch. We sit in the sun, listening to the river gurgling over the rocks, and eat sandwiches. Once again the technique that I learned at work pays off well. Staring at the person who is eating until guilt overtakes them results in plenty of tidbits.

Now, if we can find a flat enough rock it's a good time for a nap. It's good to see humans stretched out sleeping on granite boulders. Now they have a taste of what it's like to sleep on a hard floor.

When we wake up we are all hot from sleeping in the sun, and Hank and Jay's skin has turned pink. It's time to go splash around in the pool until the sun lowers in the sky and the temperature begins to drop. Then we head for home. I think it's too bad we don't spend every day like this one.


Late the following night we are all awakened by bright flashes of light, and they are followed by loud booming noises. Nancy says we are having a thunderstorm. It rains so hard that it sounds like a waterfall hitting our roof, and I look around for the safest place in the house that I can find, under Nancy's bed.

In the morning it is cooler, and the wind is blowing hard. Jay goes out and checks the river and says it is running too fast to go swimming.

Hank decides it's a good day to take a hike in the woods. He says that we have to leave in the afternoon so we won't walk too far, and Nubbin can come along.

After breakfast we head out up a mountain trail. At first the ground is flat and the trail is wide. The walking is easy for the humans, and Nubbin and I can race through the trees to our hearts' content.

Soon the trail gets steeper and kind of washed out. There is a lot of mud from the previous night's rain. The trail is cut into the side of a mountain. To our right the slope rises rapidly. To our left it falls off steeply.

"Nicholas!" Hank calls me over. "Go get it!" he yells as he kicks a small, round rock over the edge of the trail and down the hill.

Once again my retriever instincts take over. I race down the hill at breakneck speed, chasing that bouncing boulder. Brush crackles as I break it off in the headlong dash. Just as I am about to pick that rock off in mid air it reaches the bottom of the hill and comes to a stop. I pick it up in my mouth and proudly return it to Hank who is at the top of the hill laughing mightily. As soon as I drop it at his feet he gives it another kick and off I go again.

This is a terrific game for Hank who doesn't have to do anything but kick a rock from beneath his feet but it's beginning to tire me out. Standing next to Hank, Jay is enjoying this too.

Nubbin has been watching all this action and I think she would like a try at this. Hank must agree with me because he calls her over. "Nubbin!" he yells, "Go get it!"

He kicks another rock over the edge of the trail and down the slope but Nubbin just watches it roll away without moving so much as a muscle. Now I am convinced of one thing. Someone did a lousy job supplying her with instincts.

We continue walking further and further up the trail. After a while we come to a small stream, and in the stream something has built dams like the ones we built in the river out of stones. Only these dams are made of sticks and mud.

Jay and Hank look them over closely. "Beaver dams." Hank pronounces. "Aren't they solid?"

The dams are built in a cluster, probably six of seven of them in all, built so the water will overflow from one dam to another. Hank thinks there must be a whole family of beavers involved in their construction.

I have never seen a beaver dam before, and I don't think Nubbin has either. Suddenly we hear a loud slap, and I spot a beaver just as it is diving under the water. I hope Nubbin sees it. I just get a quick glimpse, but I can see that the beaver has a thick, wide, flat tail, not at all like Nubbin's or mine.

I turn to look at Nubbin and see that the hair on her back is standing straight up. She is sniffing the air. Jay notices her unusual behavior.

"I wonder what's bothering Nubbin?" he asks. "I hope it's not a bear."

Just then I hear a large limb snap and off in the distance see a huge, furry animal wandering off into the woods. Jay spots it also. "Look, there goes a bear?" he shouts.

Have you ever seen a bear? No? Let me tell you about this one:
This bear was about five times the size of a golden retriever, with great big teeth. It rolled from side to side as it walked. This bear smelled nothing like a dog and unlike a dog it had no inclination to wag its tail and be friendly.

If you ever are out in the woods and see a bear, do what we do. Run! I never thought that Nubbin could move so fast with her nubbin foot, but she did that time. I'm not sure what that bear had in mind, but we did not wait around to find out.


Hank's mother lives across Stinky Creek in a home on the beach. On the westerly side of her houses she has a swimming pool. Jay and his friends use it often, as do Susan and her friends. Hank swims in it almost every day in the summer, and he usually lets me go with him to lie around the edge of the pool while he splashes around in the water.

Don't you think this is a poor arrangement?

Sometimes I get to take a drink out of the pool on a hot day, but Hank's mother says that I can't go in for a swim.

I have tried all my best techniques to break down her resistance, including being overly friendly, the stare in the eyes method that works so well with food, and panting furiously to show how hot I am. She is really a tough nut to crack.

Sometimes Hank, Susan and Jay all go to the pool together, along with several friends. They start to throw a rubber ball around in the pool and play other games. I guess you can imagine the temptation this creates for me. I get on my feet and lean over the edge of the pool trying to intercept a throw or pick up a ball that someone has missed.

One day the action just gets to be too much fun to bear. Jay throws a ball in the general direction of Hank. I hurl myself over the side of the pool and pick off the throw in mid air.

When I hit the water, I can here Hank's mother shrieking. "Get that dog out of the pool!"

The pool is wonderful, cool, and refreshing. I paddle to every corner as Jay, Susan and Hank chase after me. Finally they corner me near the steps and usher me out of the water. Hank's mother is lying on a chaise lounge nearby with disapproval written all over her face.

In case you have forgotten what instinct dog's follow after emerging from water, I will remind you. They shake and shake hard to remove as much of the water from their fur as they can.

Before I follow my instinct I make sure that I get up real close to the chaise.

Then I shake, and I really do a first-class job of it. Hank's mother is drenched. By now you know that I am not a vindictive animal but there is a saying that goes something like this. "Every dog has his day." I'm proud to say that this is my day.

Next:  Learning about traffic

September, 2007