My route to the dog park is convoluted. I leave home through the back gate and trundle down the alley. Then I turn along the stretch of Laurier Drive that overlooks Whitemud Drive. My pace is brisk until I come to the long wooden staircase leading down into Laurier Park. Once there, I follow a footpath that meanders alongside the North Saskatchewan River. When passing the Edmonton Rowing Club, I often see rowers carrying their long canoes on their heads from their storage hangar to the dock.
If I have time, I cross the river into Hawrelak Park using the pedestrian bridge. I think of that bridge as the park’s back entrance. Still walking along the river, my legs like the rises and falls in this section of my route. Then it’s under Groat Bridge, up through Emily Murphy Park, and back through Hawrelak’s front gates. Once inside, I skirt the lake and watch the resident ducks and geese for a few moments. They leave so much evidence of their presence in the lake that organizers of the annual triathalon invest considerable effort cleaning the water before they can let athletes swim in it. After leaving the lake, I pass beside the soaring white amphitheatre. At this point, I always hear music in my head, especially the blues. Every August, Bluesfest takes over that amphitheatre. In there, I became enthralled with the likes of Ronnie Earl, Janiva Magness and Delbert McClinton.
Back over the pedestrian bridge and down the path, I finally arrive at Buena Vista Great Meadow – the dog park. Every day, a mish-mash of canines romp unleashed here, creating a moving portrait of joy and freedom. They make new dog friends; they chase after balls thrown by their owners; they sniff each other’s private parts. Occasionally, one dog attempts to mount another, but it never lasts long. Red-faced owners rush in to separate the heated pair.
Whenever I’m here, I see the ghost of my old golden retriever. In her young, eager years, she’d race to get here as soon as we opened the gate. And she’d play as long as we’d let her. If we ran into coyotes, which happened often along the paths, she’d lie down on the ground in the most submissive position possible. In my flawed memory, she even has her front paws over her eyes. At the end of her life, she cued us to her upcoming demise by showing no interest in the dog park at all.
Now, when I walk through the dog park, I feel an urge to apologize for my lack of dog. I want to shout out: “I used to have one. Really, I did.”
But I’m not a shouter. Instead, I linger awhile. Sometimes a friendly canine enthusiast will point to a clamour of frolicking dogs and ask which one is mine. I shake my head.
“It’s just me. I’m walking myself today.”
Myrl Coulter is an Edmonton author whose newest book, A Year of Days (University of Alberta Press), is on sale now.