Asturias Days


By Clellan Coe | June 24, 2020

Orbayu is the mist-like rain typical of Asturias, so fine sometimes that you can’t see it. It used to be the norm for weeks at a time, but like so much, like snow in the mountains or ice in the arctic, like, too, freedom to move and freedom to associate with friends, it’s a disappearing phenomenon. So, eyeing the sky one gray April morning as I started my run, I very much doubted the clouds would turn to rain. Not that it mattered anyway. Limited to running in the lane, I was never more than a minute from shelter. The dogs watched me step outside the gate, then took up their places on their side, one lying, head up and paws outstretched like a sphinx, the other standing over him. There they’d wait, watching me go by first in one direction then in the other, back and forth, for as long as I could stand to do it.

An hour running on the road flies by. An hour in the lane crawls by. How to make it go faster? One day I carried a piece of chalk and marked my progress on the side of the garage each time I passed, and as my mind wandered to the story of Ali Baba, I made it through some minutes without thinking about where I was. Another day I determined to not look at my watch no matter what, which instead made me think all the harder about time. The next day, with the hope that if wanting it to be over makes the hour drag, then wanting it to last should help time speed by, I pretended my run was my last hour on Earth, and that for every thought I wanted to explore, memory to revisit, and last good-bye message to compose, I had a mere 60 minutes, which was no time at all. I tried to feel sad, and to cherish the time. Yet that run in the lane was as tedious as any. And so on this gray day with its suggestion of rain, I again faced the riddle of how to hurry the hour while being glad too for having it. Be mindful, be in the present, I told myself: breathe, see, feel, hear, know. This moist air, this stone beneath my heel, this branch at my shoulder, these dogs waiting, this minute in this day.

As usual, the dogs perked up each time I passed by, looking both pleased to see me back so soon and surprised I was off again. Why, I wondered, when they knew the routine: I go by in one direction and a minute later I go by in the other, without really ever going anywhere. Or did they think I had? The stretch is 200 meters, curved and tree-lined, with the house at the halfway mark, and at the far ends I was definitely out of sight, probably out of hearing. But dogs’ strongest sense is smell, and I wondered if I was out of their range. Dogs can detect one part per trillion. Of what, though? And how many parts was I trailing? And why can’t I say out of their smell?

I guess dogs can smell anything. Last time I was in the Dallas airport some dogs were sniffing passengers, not for explosives in the security line as usual but later, as we were boarding the plane for our return flight to Spain. According to the handler I asked, they were looking for money. Another time, entering the country and just through passport control and waiting for our bags before going on to customs, my eight-year-old on one side and my 10-year-old on the other, a bag over my shoulder, I noticed a beagle wandering happily among the people gathering around the luggage carousels. I got my sons’ attention to point out the dog, and then on looking around for it, I found the jolly little beagle coming straight for us and his tall handler just behind. They stopped. The handler looked down at his dog, then at me.

“Have you got any food in your bag?” he asked.

What had we forgotten to eat or throw out? I knew the rules about entering the country with food. “I don’t think so.”

“I think you do.”

“Could it be a cookie?” I asked, wondering if the boys had left part of their snack. “We had some peanut butter cookies.”

The man glanced at his dog, then shook his head. “My beagle says not a cookie.”

I stared at the man, then at his dog, which didn’t utter a sound or take its eyes from the man’s face. The man looked again at his dog. He seemed to have all the time in the world. They both did. “My beagle says banana.”

Banana? Then I gasped on suddenly remembering the banana I’d packed, just in case, but had forgotten about at the bottom of my bag. Out of sight, out of mind. Yet emitting many parts per trillion.

Could my dogs, I wondered now, years later, detect a hidden banana? As I jogged by, they wagged their tails. “Oh, it’s you out here!” their looks said again, as if at a new discovery. The moist morning was a wet one by then, the rain so fine I saw the tiny droplets in the dogs’ fur before I felt any in my own hair.

But I was remembering the sounds and colors of the arrivals hall, the milling travelers, the carts and bags and grumpy parents, the dazed children. That long flight, that beagle, that eight-year-old and 10-year-old, both itching to pet it. That excellent homemade peanut butter cookie the dog didn’t bother to tell its handler about. It was only crumbs by then, but still delectable. The uniformed handler cool and suave, asking for my customs slip, the beagle, able to smell a banana, miracle enough, but also able to ignore everything else, waiting, eyes still on the handler. Our first bag coming toward us on the carousel as the handler scrawled something on the form I handed him. The bag passing on by, out of reach, then out of sight before circling back.

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