The Mud at Millerton Point (unedited)

It’s almost impossible to find any place in Marin where a dog might be a dog, and our  attempts to find
such a place have proven continually futile. At Limantour Beach we let The Mighty Bayard run free within
the designated area, and he was having a great time, just running around wildly at full speed, and
challenging the incoming waves—not disturbing any nesting Plovers or upsetting the ecosystem in any
way that would leave a permanent mark, or destroying our poor helpless, defenseless, trusting planet so
severely that we all go skittering off into space—when a died-in-the-wool Marinite ran up to us snapping,
“WELL, it’s obvious YOU-TWO didn’t BOTHER to READ the dog/leash regulations…” and started looking
around anxiously for someone in uniform to further destroy our innocent, well-earned, God-given,
flickering glimpse of happiness. Why is it that people who are quick to quote the local law to you are
always bristling with such umbrage? It’s as if they themselves have given birth to that law and feel they
must personally protect it. That was certainly her stance. Perhaps she was the sole reason the Marin
beach, dog-lease laws came into existence. I can see the local council as they finally reach their breaking
point. They all lean in toward one another and one of them whispers, “Look, the thing doesn’t make sense
to me either, but, in the name of Christ, can we please just pass the fuckin’ law and get this goddamned
woman off our backs…Please! …please.” I realize that we should have been more appreciative of her
correction. When she spoke down to us like children we should have bowed meekly and maybe trembled
a bit, and showed, in some way, how thankful we were that she had taken the time to speak down to us at
all. And, thank god I didn’t have a gun.

Once, just beyond Lagunitas—a town with more dogs than people—the State park ranger charged us $10
to walk the dog-in-law in their park, on a leash, AND we were instructed that he had to stay on the
pavement. Three hundred yards in I said ‘Screw that’ and let the dog-in-law off leash only to have the park
ranger appear almost instantly beside us in his car. He looked at us sternly and shouted, “Keep that dog
on his leash, and keep him on the pavement. This is your last warning.” In Marin, dogs can’t run on the
beach, dogs can’t run in the forest.

It was with these wounds still nagging within my overly-sensitive frailty that I very meekly asked the woman
with the eager, bug-eyed Weimaraner where we might, in Tomales Bay, let our dog be a dog.
“Is there any place around here where we can let our dog run free?” I whined like a child.
“Yes,” she said good-naturedly, with only the slightest hint of residential superiority, “Millerton Point.” Then
she offered me directions, “Head out of town toward Tomales. It‘s maybe three miles, on your left.”
“The dog can run free there?”
“Yes. Millerton Point. I take my dogs there often.”
“Thank you,” I said. I think I may have bowed slightly.

We were familiar with Millerton Point. We had let the dog-in-law off-leash there to run at one time or
another, but had always thought we were getting’ away with something.

This trip, we were trying to squeeze as much delight as we could into our three days/two nights off work,
but with my very dear wife’s sprained ankle (and need of a cane), the near statewide edict against dogs
having liberty of any sort in any setting, and my tendency to carry every inconvenience, no matter how
slight or fleeting, around with me, a near-crushing martyr-like burden, with neither humble martyr-like
surrender nor noble martyr-like silence, it was not panning out to be the perfect dream get-away we had
planned. So, we went to Millerton Point, and we went out onto the trail, and we made our way to the
beach, with the Mighty Bayard straining at the leash every step of the way, and my poor, very dear wife
making her way along the sandy trail slowly behind.

We came up over a ridge to discover the tide was out. But not just out, the tide was further out than I had
ever seen it before, and I’ve been in this area for more than forty years now. There was a thirty of forty
yard wide expanse of mud between the beach and the water. That mud was as black and as slick as
engine sludge. It looked soft and frothy, something like a jet black crème brulee.

The Mighty Bayard, always fastidious—who walks around puddles and jumps over even the smallest patch
of mud, on the paths where we usually walk—was eager to be free. Knowing the animal as I do, I had no
doubt whatsoever that he would stay strictly on the dry shell and pebbled beach, when I let him loose. I
was bending over about to do that when my very dear wife appeared at the top of the hill behind us,
struggling toward us on the soft sand with her cane, and shouted, “NO! Don’t let him loose.” I took the
dog, and went back to my wife to talk sense to her. “DO NOT let him loose,” she reiterated.
“Why?”
“He’ll go running off into that mud and we’ll never get him clean again,” she said firmly, but [insert knowing
laughter here] naively.
So, I laughed and corrected her thinking. “Are you kidding? THIS DOG,” I said with authority, “jumps over
mud, and goes around puddles. He won’t go anywhere near that stuff,” I assured her. “Believe me,” I said.
“I know this dog, and he won’t go anywhere near that mud.”

Just then a woman came around the corner with a dog off leash and her dog, a large loveable idiot, was
running along the dry beach with his tongue hanging out. I raised one eyebrow and nodded at their fine
example.
“DO NOT,” my wife insisted, “let Bayard off-leash.”
“Nonsense,” I said, “He just wants to run with this other dog.” And I bent over and unhooked the dog.
“Don’t…” my very dear wife said, but too late. “He’ll go in there and we’ll never get him clean.”
I felt no need to even respond to such foolishness and, snorting a bit, turned in time to watch with
complete astonishment as both Bayard and that other idiot ran through the tall grass, down the slope,
over the beach and directly into that mud.

Once in there, they started chasing after each other in large swooping circles, running occasionally back
onto the beach while galloping along together, snapping and jumping and bumping into each other for a
bit before running out into the mud again. The mud was so loose and so deep that both dogs were into it
up to their chests. They lunged forward awkwardly, struggling to stay on the surface until their footing was
attained again, then they ran along the beach for a while before returning to the mud. Back out in the
mud, they ran joyously in wide circles, scattering mud in all directions. It was a wonderful thing to watch.
Bayard was soon covered in the stuff from head to toe, with only his back and head unsullied with the rich
deep black yuck, and I was laughing hysterically. He couldn’t get enough of that muck. Both dogs were
having a great time. Cold as I am to my fellow man, I truly enjoy watching Bayard have fun. So, I was
having a great time. The woman who owned the other dog was laughing and having a great time too. Let’s
see now…  

When I turned to see if my very dear and remarkably perceptive wife was enjoying this as much as the
rest of us, I discovered that she was not.

Thus begins the comedy routine where I attempt to capture the galloping, ever-evasive Bayard and re-
leash him, so that we might drag him off of that beach and find some way to get him clean again. There’s
a little bit of pressure here because the woman we’re renting a room from for two nights, has made it
perfectly clear, by phone, face to face and in print, that any pets staying in her place “must have clean
paws” before entering the stupid little room she’s rented us for twice the rate we charge our own guests
for a nice room, in a nice hotel, including a full breakfast. The carpets in her place are a light tan color
which is, by pure chance, perhaps the ultimate contrast with this very very VERY black mud the dogs are
playing in. So, there’s that. Add in my wife’s displeasure with me—for releasing the dog against her better
judgment—and  Bayard’s evasive actions, and let the race begin. Now it’s me chasing Bayard as he runs
out of the mud, across the path, through the waist deep brush, over the pebbled beach and back into the
mud. Comical as this scene may appear from a distance, my very dear wife, from her distance, finds no
humor in it. She’s absolutely correct of course, but how was I to know that the dog who side-steps
puddles, would suddenly turn into a happy mudder?

For a short time he was in brush so deep that he could hardly move and I thought I had him trapped, but
he escaped to the mud again, and I waded out there in an attempt to hook him up, but he escaped. My
wife now stood herself upon less-than-perfectly dry land. Her cane and boots were eight inches deep in
that mud. I had both legs in it half way up to the knees.

Then I could not extract myself.
My feet were sinking into the stuff and I could not extract myself.
I was being sucked downward. There didn’t seem to be a solid bottom, or if there was, I hadn’t reached it
yet, and I was sinking steadily.
One of my legs was in it almost to the knee and the other was up to the knee and soon to be up to my
thigh, and I was beginning to panic. I couldn’t get out. It was like being in one of those terrifying dreams
where you want to scream but somehow can not make a sound. The thought that I may have waded in
over the berm, and I might be in yuck thirty feet deep flashed through my mind. Was I going to perish in
quicksand?
“I’m sinking…” I hollered at my wife. “I’m sinking!” I was truly frightened.

She could see that, and was as concerned as I was. So, she very kindly did not take the opportunity to
respond in a thick Germanic accent—“Vat are you sinking of?” Instead she hobbled over toward me as
quickly as she could and shouted. “Lie flat upon the surface.” Extending her cane toward me, she
shouted, “Lie flat upon the surface, and crawl out.”

Desperate, and with no other options that I could see, I did that. I bent forward, placing my chest upon the
mucky surface, and from there managed to extract one knee. I then knelt on the muck, and crawling like a
baby, slowly pulled myself out.

(Later, she told me that I had Bear Grylls to thank for that very good advice.)

As we were pulling into the driveway where we were staying, the landlady just happened to be pulling out.
She stopped to roll down her window, and judge us, and find us wanting, and to unwittingly shake her
head, clearly wondering why life is so cruel as to continually send her such riff-raff as guests. I
understood.  I didn’t like her any more than she liked us. I asked her casually if there was a hose, and she
squinted at me and, with great caution, asked why. I was clever enough not to tell her that our dog was
covered in a thick black yuck from his pads to his jowls. Instead I said, “Oh, we’d just like to rinse the dog’s
paws before he goes inside.” And she snapped, “Well, please make sure his paws are thoroughly dry
before he goes in, and please keep him off the bed.”  Then she drove off, and we waited in the car for a
bit to be sure she didn’t return immediately.

My boots are still encased in the mud from that day’s adventure. They look like I’d spent that afternoon
spreading hot tar on a flat roof. …

Oh, and my very dear wife reminds me that that mud smelled like rotten fish,