Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Arboretum

Despite living in this city for over 17 years, until very recently, I have never set foot in the arboretum. I've cycled past it or driven through it a million times, but I've never ventured in. As beautiful as trees are, I'm just not all that in to nature. I prefer to spend my time in sidewalk cafés or checking out funky downtown boutiques rather than picnicking with Canada geese and ducks in the middle of a bunch of trees.

But then I got a dog, and everyone kept saying to me, "Have you taken him to the arboretum yet?"

"What's so special about the arboretum?" I would ask.

"It's doggy heaven!!!!" area dog owners assured me.

And so it was that I found myself leashing up the Beast for a run one morning and heading south towards the fabled arboretum to find out for myself what exactly was so special.

I really don't even know where to begin... Suffice it to say, if I were a dog, I would LOVE this place...

First, there are the trees. Obviously, right. I mean, it's an a-r-b-o-r-e-t-u-m. But think about it. What do dogs love to do when faced with a tree? Sniff all the dogs that have been there before, and then pee all over the thing to leave their own trail. The first time I let the Beast off-leash in the arboretum, he literally ran from tree to tree to tree in a dizzying zigzag pattern, peeing on every single one. I don't actually know where he gets his pee reserves from, but he could spend the entire day peeing on each and every tree in the arboretum if I let him.

Then there are the other dogs. Brave dog owners from across the city flaunt the no-dogs-off-leash signs that pepper the entire 16 hectares of the arboretum. And there are dogs of all kinds. Fearless squirrel chasing German shepherds. Ball crazy Labrador retrievers. Leaping Jack Russells. Energetic pitbulls. Pony-sized Great Danes. Not to mention the most adorable Welsh Corgi that I have ever met. They run around all over the place (peeing on trees), offering the Beast more than enough opportunities to socialize. In fact, our little Romeo has snagged himself a couple of girlfriends who meet up with him every Saturday morning for little wrestle-and-chase dates (in between bouts of peeing on trees). And if they don't show up, it's all good. Because there are lots of other willing playmates to choose from!

And of course, there are ducks. Millions and millions of ducks. Although the Beast will leave wildlife alone 99% of the time, every now and then something inside of him goes absolutely crazy for ducks. Some sleeping prey drive awakens, and when he is done peeing on trees, off he goes, sprinting and leaping through entire flocks of ducks, causing them to disperse and rally in another corner of the arboretum, only to be disrupted within seconds of settling in. Perhaps he is practicing his herding. Whatever it is, it is so funny to watch that I even don't mind that his recall sucks when he is in the throes of rounding up duck droves.

And why are there so many ducks in the arboretum? Well, because of the big giant duck pond right smack int he middle, that's why! Which means SWIMMING!!!! ( Ducks or no ducks, the Beast is liable at any time to take a cautious leap into the pond. In fact, he loves the pond so much that even once it has dried up by mid-October, he still can't help himself from going in and wading in the mud (mixed with god knows what else, but it sure does stink!). Even the dreaded hose-down that he gets when he arrives home from one of these romps is not enough to dissuade him from his mud bath. And to the disenchantment of many other arboretum-goers, he has persuaded more than one of his canine friends to follow him into the stench hole for a little wrestle....

But best of all, there is a never ending supply of sticks, which he usually discovers under a tree that he has been peeing on. And sticks are the GREATEST THING EVER ON THE FACE OF THE WHOLE PLANET - at least according to the Beast. First of all, they make great toys for playing fetch, so on those days when I leave the house too quickly without a ball, the arboretum has this unprepared mommy covered.

Secondly, every dog knows that one of the best games in the world is keep-the-stick-from-the-other-dog-who-really-seems-to-want-it-as-badly-as-I-do.  The Beast will literally run laps around every single dog in the arboretum - with a stick hanging out of his mouth - until he succeeds in convincing one of them that they MUST GET THE STICK NOW!!!!! He will then spend the next few minutes torturing said puppy by kicking it into high gear and weaving in and out of trees to protect his stick at all costs. The odd time, he will let the other dog have his stick, but only so he can either (a) give chase and bark at the top of his lungs or (b) play another top-five favourite game - tug-'o-war. Either way, I have seen him wear down some of the highest energy dogs out there with his never-ending love of games to be played with sticks.

So yes, the arboretum is definitely doggy heaven. About the only thing that could make it any better would be if liver treats grew on the trees. And while the Beast likes spending time in any dog park that we take him to, there is something about the arboretum that has me convinced that it is his absolute favourite. Nothing matches the look on his little face when he realizes that we are about to enter this treed paradise. Certainly, his bum never wiggles as much as it does when he gets unleashed on arboretum soil.

One thing is for sure, it is my absolute favourite. Seeing the Beast run around like a kid at Disneyland, hopping from tree to tree, sniffing everything in sight, making new doggy friends, bouncing through the duck ponds, and chasing down or eating sticks puts a smile on my face every single time. (Not to mention how ecstatic I am that an hour in the arboretum is enough to tire him out for the rest of the day...).

But it's more than that. I have discovered, 17 years after moving here, that the arboretum is truly a gem within this city. There is nothing quite like a sunrise run through the tree-lined lanes that border the arboretum and that lead you straight into its heart. And there is nothing like spending a beautiful autumn day strolling through this magnificent park while sipping away at a Starbucks coffee. And there is nothing like watching the pink hues of sundown through the trees and over the canal. It is truly a beautiful place, a small refuge from the loudness and craziness of the city that surrounds it.

And I would likely have never discovered it had the Beast not come into my life.

So thank you, Beasty, for leading me straight into doggy heaven. Because it's a pretty great place for humans too.