At the park this morning, chilled because I'd only climbed out of the shower thirty minutes before, but clear-headed and content in the newness of the sun and the freshness of the cold air, I threw Duncan's bright new ball as hard as I could across the park and watched as he scampered after it, his coat deep red with a distinct golden line around its edges. I watched the ball land and bounce before turning and walking in the opposite direction, an act, I've learned, that encourages Roo to chase after me even quicker. I'm careful to wait to see where the ball lands because occasionally he misses it and needs a little help in the search. But this morning he saw it bounce and hurried after it. I turned toward the east, the sun in my eyes, and listened to a chorus of crows in the bare elms along the sidewalk.
It took a bit for Duncan to return and when he did he dropped his ball at my feet, his grin wide and beautiful, his tail erasing the white smudge of the morning's frost. I reached the ChuckIt down to scoop it up when I noticed the ball he'd brought back was not the one I'd thrown, the bright new, shiny green one he'd traded it in for yesterday. It was his old ball, the ball we've played with for years, with the tear and scuff in the side, its green faded to a pale, almost tan sort of yellow from afternoons bouncing in the mud and the minutes spent bobbing along the surface of the river before Duncan returns it to the shore where I stand waiting. Its seams are dull and not as pronounced, but it has held together well, even overnight, abandoned in the park.
"Good boy," I told him, handing him a treat and scratching behind one ear. "You did good."
I don't know where that new ball is, lost among the leaves, waiting for another dog to find it and bring it home, but I know that even dogs recognize the value of an old, well-worn friend.