Friday, September 14, 2018

Maggie Meets the Sea

We took a spontaneous, whole-family trip to the Seacoast last weekend, piling all three McPhaul kids and both adults into the minivan – along with the dog. Only the cat was left behind, and since he doesn’t even like the short drive to the vet once a year, he seemed OK with staying home.

I am a planner. I like to know what the itinerary is before I head out on a journey. This natural tendency became more acute once I had kids and needed to plan for snacks and meals and bathroom breaks and all the other minutiae that come with traveling – even if just down the road – with small children. Now that the kids are older and relatively self-sufficient, I’m able to “wing it” a little more. But I still carry snacks and a first aid kit just about wherever we go.

My husband, at least when it comes to family time, is more likely to improvise. He’ll tell the kids to grab what they need for any potential adventure – sneakers and swim suits, towels and lunch – and jump in the truck. He’ll take a drive without a pre-determined destination. He’ll change the plan as he goes – or just head out without one. If we’re going away for more than an afternoon, I make a list and check off items as I pack well in advance. He throws a few things in a bag five minutes before we walk out the door.

We know each other’s tendencies – and that sometimes, often, they are in opposition to each other. Usually we make it work.

So, when he mentioned this idea of driving to Portsmouth for the day, with several potential things to do while we were there, I threw caution to the wind and said, “Let’s do it.” And then, of course, I packed enough snacks to last us at least three days.

Along with visiting a friend who lives on the Seacoast and watching the hometown high school soccer teams, who were playing all the way down there Saturday afternoon, we also wanted to take our dog, Maggie, to the beach.

Maggie turns two this week. We brought her home when she was a tiny bundle of golden fluff. She’d never been outside until the October day, just before Halloween, when we collected her from the Vermont farm where she was born. We placed her promptly on the grass. One sniff and she was smitten. She’s loved being outside ever since.

One of Maggie’s favorite outside places is in the water. It doesn’t matter if it’s a lake, a river, or a muddy drainage ditch along the road. If her fur is wet, she is happy (unless a bath is involved). But she’d never explored the salt water – a fact of living in the mountains rather than by the sea.

Always game for an adventure – whether a morning run, a family hike, or just a quick ride in the car – Mags eagerly loaded up Saturday morning. She stuck her head out the window as we drove down the road, wind in her face, ears flapping, eyes half-shut in ecstasy. She whined in anticipation as we drove through the Notch, hoping to get out and jump into a river or run along a trail.

She leaped from the car when we finally arrived at the ocean, picked her way down the rocks to the beach and bounded toward the water. Then stopped and retreated as gentle waves broke and moved up the sand. Rivers don’t do this, nor lakes.

Several times, Maggie trotted forward as the sea water retreated, then backpedaled clumsily as it rolled again onto the gray sand. Finally, she followed the kids as they waded in up to their knees. She chased the rocks we threw into the waves for her. Lapped at the water as she always does and shook her head in confusion at the briny taste.

She got used to the waves, then realized the ocean is filled with treasures. She started coming back to the beach with long, bushy strings of bright green seaweed clenched in her teeth, proud of her discovery in this odd-tasting, always moving water.

We humans stood and watched her antics, thoroughly entertained as we so often are by this goofy dog who chases butterfly shadows, begs for bits of broccoli, and is entirely obsessed with squirrels.

Then we carried on with our unplanned road trip, meandering along the shore before turning inland to the next thing and, eventually, north toward home. It was fun to explore, even briefly, a different part of the state. Back home, contentedly tired, we all agreed the best part of the day was watching Maggie meet the sea.

Original content by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul, posted to her blog, Writings From a Full Life. This essay also appears as Meghan's Close to Home column in the September 14, 2018 issue of the Littleton Record.