Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Community's True Value is Measured by its People and Their Dogs

Chloe' and I walk every day – rain or shine, sleet or snow – there are few things that keep us from the luxury of raising our faces to the weather of the day.

Down state our walks have a very predictable pattern – down the street, up the hill, past Notacat's house hoping for a brief encounter that always ends with Notacat racing up and down his fenced domain. Then it is be on to the Dog Park where Chloe' can lose her leash for a brief but thoroughly enjoyable romp in and out of the trees that make up a wooded green space nestled among the stately old homes of our historic neighborhood. Heading home she walks briskly, eager for a glimpse of a new Border collie that has taken up residence in a house on the hill. An invisible fence keeps the pup confined to her yard ¬ and provides some form of sadistic satisfaction for Chloe' as she runs in and out of Sasha’s personal space, taunting the young collie with her ability to roam at will without the fear of electric shock.

These down state walks provide little, if any, opportunity for getting to know the human residents of our neighborhood. Outside of a hello here or a nod there, few take the initiative for sustained conversation. We are rarely detained, despite the fact that we are always open to taking a risk – open to the possibility of a new great adventure. The sad fact is we more often than not return home with no new stories to share, no new adventures to spin into tales to entertain friends and family.

Walking on Drummond Island is never so predictable ¬ never so “white bread” mundane. Every morning on the Island brings the smell of adventure wafting through the trees – the possibility of new explorations to make us step a little livelier.

We always head out down Somes Road towards the old quarry knowing that each passing car will make room for Chloe' as she roams without being confined to a leash. Clif Haley can be depended on to stop and share a warning about marauding bears. Phil Perry always nods and waves – this despite the annoyance of having to slow to a crawl as Chloe' meanders too near the center of the road. Tom and Sue McCaskill, Roy and Judy Martin, Nancy Kleiner, Joyce Buckley, Carolyn Haley, and all our other neighbors can be counted on for a wave, a smile and sometimes even a friendly honk of their horn. Ross – along with his dog Chardonnay – never miss a chance to invite us down the lane to check out the blooms in his luscious, exotic gardens.

When we first took up residence on Somes I was anxious to start exploring, to meander through the woods and down the shore in anticipation of new adventures and discoveries. When I called Harry Ropp for permission to access his land there was no hesitation in his response – no harsh comments concerning my proposal to be allowed to freely trespass – he readily invited me to wander his woods as I pleased. His generous spirit has provided Chloe' and me the opportunity to have countless encounters with the deer, fox, Pileated woodpeckers and other residents of the wooded limestone cliffs. Our adventures and discoveries include slides down snow covered slopes along with witnessing the first shaky strides of a newborn fawn. We have searched forever for a rack we know must have been dropped by the buck we saw roaming the woods in November.

A similar kind welcome was also echoed by Gert Bailey – but not only did Gert share her beach with its gorgeous views of Potagannissing Bay, she opened up her heart. Each walk since has included a wave or a chat – our conversations encompassing everything from the day's weather to our own personal struggles with health issues.

Eventually we make our way to the office at Yacht Haven where Connor has set up a canine oasis. My walks use to simply involve circling out past the flag pole and then down the docks, up pass the boat houses on our way back to the woods. I might have waved and said a “Hello!” as we past by – but I never spent much time on that leg of our walk until Chloe' learned about Connor's stash of treats.

Chloe' soon trained me to stop at the Yacht Haven office on every walk. Actually, she doesn't always wait for me. She has learned, following the lead of other great marina dogs - Sophie, Cole, Owen, Katie and Finnegan – how to nose open the screen door and search for Connor in anticipation of a dog biscuit or two. Connor is the marina's “dog whisperer”. When I am at Yacht Haven and can't find Chloe' I know that she has headed to the office to get a treat – and to give me a chance to stop and chitchat for a while.

These walks through the Somes Road neighborhood are a joy. And the tales they inspire are as rich and vibrant as the tapestry of the woods we hike, the water whose shores we meander and the members of the community we encounter along the way. It doesn't matter how long Chloe' and I are away from the Island. We know that when we return we will be folded back in – made to feel welcome and part of the Somes Road neighborhood. The people and dogs of this little corner of Drummond Island have made it a good place to live.

A neighborhood is not defined just by the style of the homes that line the streets or their prices. A neighborhood's real value comes from the people who live there and how they help one another, swap stories, and take the time to share a dog biscuit and become friends. Millard Fuller once said, “For a community to be whole and healthy, it must be based on people’s love and concern for each other.”

Drummond’s Somes Road community can take pride in being truly whole and healthy as evidenced by its people ¬ and their dogs!

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