Man with Dog

Patti See

The lone fisherman, in his red boat with his spotted English setter, glides along the water.  There is nothing else to breaks its surface.  Out my window is an L.L. Bean commercial: the brightness of the red boat on these blue waters, the perfect dog to take fishing. 

It’s too cliché to say the lake—this early morning—is like “glass” or “a mirror,” yet all of the clouds and trees are reflected on the lake’s surface so that if I were to photograph it at just this moment a stranger would not be able to tell what is up or down, sky or water.

Lake Hallie is so narrow, from shore to shore, that my husband and I recognize the regulars who fish here though we’ve never met them. My soldier son would say “30 meters across,” and I would say it’s the length of a basketball court.  Our neighbors across the lake say we live “across the street.”  My husband is sixty-eight, but when we moved here five years ago we became the new kids on this lake.

We call our frequent fishermen simply “handsome man” (a Robert Redford look alike with a fancy boat) or “man fishing with wife” (he baits the hooks for both of them; she wears a straw hat and complains) or “man-with-dog” (gray haired guy with a beautiful dog) the way a copywriter might address a new story board for an ad campaign.  This morning man-with-dog fly-fishes: smooth, easy throws like flicking a fine whip made of dental floss.  His dog—always at the bow of the boat, always at attention—watches the lake.  They float past me, and it’s too heart stopping to wave: the lake this early morning is a mirror.  Two men, two boats, two dogs. 

From my sliding glass doors, they cannot see this one woman watching.

Man-with-dog wears a ball cap and a blue denim shirt.  I can’t see, but I would guess his collar is frayed.  His dog has a long, regal face like everyone’s great-grandfather. The first year we lived here, I took their photograph from inside my house, and later I included it on a calendar I made for my husband.  Man-with-dog is a stranger who is a part of our lives.  He has no idea.

Man-with-dog trolls along the shore and casts.  He turns off his motor to float back down the middle of the lake.  He is a man of routines, as I am.  Who loves this man, I find myself wondering.  His dog of course, but if he has a wife why doesn’t he bring her?  If I were married to man-with-dog, I would beg to come along on a morning like this.  I concoct an entire life for him, beginning with the story line “a widower and his dog.”

He does not know I am up each morning at 6:00 to work out on my living room floor, what my eighty-nine year old dad still calls “calisthenics” or that I grow more and more in love with my aging husband, and sometimes the sounds of his snoring while I do downward dog or core synergistics or look out the window at our man-with-dog fill me with an overwhelming peace and warmth.  Man-with-dog and I do not know each other but we know the other’s patterns.  I stand in front of my bay window and wave.  He waves back.

Patti See is a frequent contributor to Volume One. This piece originally appeared on Wisconsin Life. To hear Patti read this, visit: www.wisconsinlife.org/story/man-dog