The morning sun shone through the wide spaces between the bare branches onto the silhouette of a dog breaking the frost-encrusted ground. The frost yielded, and the grass turned to green again where Ellie had rolled on it; that little bit of body heat freeing it from its stiff winter encasement. The leaves were like stiff wafers in great mounds all around Dog Island; the only place in the park where no one rakes the leaves. In fact, Dog Island is a small oasis amid the formality of the Royal Park, where the usual etiquette does not apply. Here, dogs run free, the leaves pile up, and the trees tower above, unmanaged and unpruned.
A frightening looking animal charges through the gates and stands with ears pricked, ready to pounce on Ellie’s morning frost frolick. What looks like potential calamity almost always ends up as a lightning-speed chase through the maze of trees, and then a refreshing sip at the moat separating us from life dictated by humans. Here on Dog Island, the animals organize themselves, and they seem to do it very well, just not the way we’d do things. Another animal bounds in. It decides it is going to be dominant, and a little feigned cowering takes place among those gathered. Suddenly, it gets left behind. No one is interested. King for thirty seconds.
The truth is that for years I said I would never come to this place. Either it was too dangerous, too muddy, too disorderly, or too something-else. Everything that Dog Island represented seemed to be not me. In fact, it was so not me, that if I crossed the bridge over that moat, I might be in danger of becoming someone else. One day, however, Ellie decided that it was for her. She sat with ears pricked as I rested on an orderly park bench, and whined as she watched dogs of all shapes and sizes in a wild chase in the distance. Like a mother preaching to her child about the evils of candy (and forgetting how much she adored sweets as a child), I told Ellie to hush up; Dog Island was not good for her. Yet (also like a mother of a child), eventually I was forced to bend, and so we crossed the bridge over the moat together. “Just for five minutes in the early morning while no one else is around,” I said, strangely whispering so that no one would hear. Her raven black ears were pricked and her brown eyes focused, and like any excited child, she wasn’t listening to mother at all.
Within two minutes, a cross between a giant poodle and a German shepherd (can you imagine it?) came bounding in, and Ellie was off. As my five-minute plan collapsed somewhere on the hill, which the dogs ran incessantly up and down, I began to wonder about my objections to this place. There wasn’t really anything wrong with it. In fact, it was charming with the ducks paddling around in the last of the open water in the moat, oddly unafraid of the canines wrestling on the land above. Then it occurred to me that newness can be frightening, particularly as it means that we have to start questioning our old selves.
Order Rose in the Sand, Julie Lindahl’s prize-winning account of a decade lived on a Swedish island. Learn more about her non-profit for story-telling and the new initiative, Beyond Tolerance, at www.storiesforsociety.com.