Bear parades down the pathway, her tail swishing triumphantly, eyes bright, brimming with excitement, focused on the dusty car in the driveway.
She throws a glance over her shoulder to make sure I am still following, that we really are going out together in the car and this isn’t some cruel joke. When she sees me, she tosses her head with a grin and skips a couple of steps onward as if anticipation is bubbling from the very soles of her feet. I watch her knees and wince as we both stumble down the long path from our house to the driveway. It is defined by a curving line of smallish rounded rocks, not quite as smooth as if they had been plucked from the bed of a river, but just about. They are not good stones for a pathway.
“Relax Bear,” I try to tell her, but hearing her name she gallops on and then stomps and dances in the driveway.
When I reach her side she surges forward, her back end swings wildly from side to side and she cranes her neck to try and look in the window of the car. She is too polite to put her paws on the door and peek over the lip, but if she were able she would open the door herself and probably already have the car backed out on to the road.
I swing the door wide and Bear takes a running jump to help her creaky knees hoist her up on to the seat. Then she sits, her tongue hanging long and pink out one side of her mouth as I roll down the window a bit so she can feel the wind on her face and smell all the interesting smells of the world rushing past.
Bear is an expert passenger now, having spent countless hours in the back seat of our old car, trundling over back roads through tiny towns halfway across Canada and back again. But I remember the first time I ever had Bear in the car with me. She was two years old and I picked her up from Morgan’s house to take her for a long walk at a conservation area slipped in between fields of corn in southwestern Ontario, a small forest amidst a sea of farmland.
That day she leapt onto the front passenger seat and sat tall and proud as I pulled the car out of the driveway. We turned right and then right again and the car bumped onto the dirt road out of town. Giant corn stalks marched along either side, hemming us in as though we drove through the thick of a forest. The late afternoon sun hung low in the sky before us, silhouetting the corn stalks ahead and making the ones that lined the road shine a brilliant golden green.
Bear perched eagerly on the edge of her seat, anticipating grand adventure. I was so excited to have her with me I kept running my hand over her fur and throwing giddy glances in her direction.
It was all very "Norman Rockwell" until a plume of dust bloomed ahead as a truck pulled on to the road. I squinted to make out the shape of the vehicle lost in the backlit dust cloud and it took me a moment to realize Bear was no longer sitting beside me. When next I glanced in Bear’s direction, her bum was where her head had been, tail tucked firmly between her legs, and her head had disappeared in the shadows of the foot well as she tried to dive to safety.
I watched in bewilderment as she wiggled and pushed and jammed her muscular 80 lb body in to the small space between the seat and dashboard. By the time she got herself situated, curled in a tight ball that filled the entire foot well, the truck was long gone. She looked up at me with bugged-out eyes as if to ask, “Did you see that?!” and then tried to slither awkwardly over the console and put her head in my lap.
Bear has faced down much bigger beasts on wheels since that day and now acknowledges passing vehicles with barely a bat of an eyelid. In fact after about five minutes on the road, Bear is already bored. With a couple of loudly inhaled nosefuls of air, Bear sighs deeply and then settles down on the back seat with a grumble that sounds very much like “are we there yet?”