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A Canine Presence In a Village of Poets

AT this moment, the crew of my neighbor's rowboat consists of a Labrador by the name of Sunshine. In terms of seating arrangement, Sunshine is the acting captain, because my neighbor is at the oars. She is keeping an instinctive eye out for kelp and debris and likes to offer a friendly bark at passing gulls or cormorants.

I know her ritual: In a few minutes, when the rowboat, which is older than a lot of trees, touches the barnacle-clad shore, she will jump ashore and shake herself dry. Then she will run over to my deck and look me in the eye, as if to say, "And what were you up to while I went driftwood hunting with my master?"

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I will tell a poet's kind of truth: I have been letting my senses drift through the open range of experience, while sitting at an ancient wooden table or employing field glasses to pick out the markings of gulls.

What kind of poetry gets to depth without getting wet? In the year or so since I moved to the village of poets living in shanties or cottages over the water, I have gotten my soul wet enough to express more than a word drift. The idea is to become one with the flow of living things and give a good listen to my neighbor when he's talking about floating chairs or the best ski slopes around the world.

Like her master, Sunshine is a traveling spirit. She can be seen early in the morning in front of a neighbor's woodpile or sniffing my off-to-work clothes.

I have also encountered her in the "harbor." Actually, the "harbor" is a sign on a single piling at one end of the beach, near the train tunnel. It's where summer gatherings of friendly talk and stories happen on any given evening.

Sunshine likes to sneak up behind me when I am visiting the "harbor" on a midweek day off and inquire as to what trail or clearing I have visited, or whether I have been to a good watering hole. She has the good sense to lead me to a tide pool and become so still that I get up enough savvy to see the little fish swimming in their kind of ocean.

ON days when traveling city blocks has tired me out, she will meet me in the parking lot at the top of the hill and invite me to walk down the long flights of stairs in a creative manner: It's not one step at a time or all the steps in one leap; rather, a few steps lead to a stop and sniff, with a bit of a bark. I have caught sight of passing sailboats with their running lights on or encountered the shadow of an owl while participating in such a descent to the shore path that runs behind the village.

At any hour of any week, Sunshine is likely to go off on the journey beneath the decks, which means she travels the length of the village, a distance of about a mile.

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She will come up on my deck after such a journey and bark in all kinds of different tones, suggesting that she has eavesdropped on different kinds of poetry, reviewing the creative work of my neighbors.

As far as being a friend goes, Sunshine has a way about her. She senses when I am creating and leaves me all kinds of space to drift from experience to focused thought and read it over for correction.

She is a difficult editor, because making sense is only the first step in creative reflection. It's the ripples that spin off quite naturally from the dominant image that evoke the real test. She will sit on my mat by the wood stove and get herself in a decision-making frame of instinctivity. The "thumbs up" bark comes when I least expect it, and then we dance around the old stove.

I have also noticed that Sunshine treats everybody in the village with friendly barking or a visit beside the stove. And she often will travel behind whatever rowboat is in the water and put her paw over the stern.

It's no wonder that a passing gray whale carried on a deep-water conversation; there was barking and spouting out beyond the kelp bed.

Sometimes, I get the feeling that animals have their own kind of poetic reflection, and it's a lot more involved in everyday talk than when people chat with people.

Because Sunshine visits me quite a bit, I am prepared to take her for a row when I get a rowboat. For now and a bit of the future, I am watering around in a kayak, which leaves room for Sunshine to be my wake.

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