This is Tongue Point at Salt Creek Recreational Area, a prime spot for whale watching.
Sadly, I must report that Gracie and I saw zero whales.
I've lived most of my life with dogs who are bolters.
Though the views were lovely from the top of the bluff, our prime destination was the beach.
But how to get there?
A dog who is a bolter, if you haven't had the pleasure, is a beast who is driven to escape the confines of his existence and run
He will sense the slightest gap in the front door, and using his muzzle ever so slyly to widen that wedge until he can slip through, fast as a flash, and escape.
He notes the click of his leash coming off his collar, and cunningly twists his head just so to either twist out of the hands of the unsuspecting human, or slip the collar off altogether, dashing away in an instant.
He happily jumps over fences, digs under gates, or tunnels his way out of any backyard contrivance designed to keep him in check.
And once he is free, the accomplished bolter does not come when he's called.
Even though he perfectly understands that command, and may actually be quite obedient to it when wandering around the house or on leash (aka in captivity), if you beseech him to "Come!" during a bolting session, he will laugh at you.
Oh yes, he will.
He will curl up those panting lips into a rascal-y grin and simply giggle to himself at the absurdity of your suggestion.
* * * * *
It's hard to live with a bolter. They are a crafty lot, always thinking not one, but two, three, or ten steps ahead, plotting to win their freedom against all human devices meant to contain them. And once they are free, they are devilishly hard to catch.
But it's also hard to stay mad at these free spirits. They are driven by beautiful instincts to want nothing more than to simply run free. And what could be more natural for a dog than that?
We followed a winding trail along the edge of the bluff, offering more tantalizing views of the beach and the adorable mini-island at water's edge.
I have been very well trained by the bolters in my life.
Kelly, the dog of my childhood, sidestepped the issue of bolting to a certain extent by being a country dog. In the lake culture of rural southeastern Michigan in the 1970s, he enjoyed lovely freedoms, and was mostly allowed to run as he pleased, roaming miles in this direction or that, on rare occasions even logging an overnighter. Any attempts to control that blarney bloke were a joke - he could skillfully twist his collar out of my fingers in a blink of an eye, toss a smile to me over his quickly escaping shoulder, and go about his merry way.
Casey was the dog of my daughters' babyhood, and he could leap our six foot cedar fences in a single, shockingly graceful motion. Also a master of the front door wedge, he slipped out during a UPS delivery on the day before my first daughter was born, and I spent the next 90 minutes wandering through the fields with an empty leash in my hand, alternately hollering his name and timing contractions.
And Ranger, beloved kindred who tried to please me in so many ways, was not against a mad romp himself. His signature manuever involved the not-quite-latched door from the laundry room to the garage, which never closed properly when one of the big garage doors was open. His ears would pick up the subtle distinctions between a proper click and the gentle sounds of air passing through the unlatched door, and oh so silently, oh so stealthily, he would slip through the laundry room door, out the garage, and run bonkers through the neighborhood before I ever knew he was gone.
Looping inland from the bluff, the trail led us to the old WWII bunkers on the site.
So when dear little Gracie arrived on the scene, she met a well-trained adversary. Though she didn't display the speed, cunning, or guile of my former fellows, she was a true Irish lady and I assumed that she would also hold true to her breed's well-known reputation as skilled bolters.
I have not given her many opportunities to prove her innocence.
Finally, the trail brought us down off the bluff and along the edges of the creek that runs into the surf. Gracie stopped for a drink.
But lately, I've noticed a few non-bolting tendencies from this little girl.
When we walk, even on her literally fifty-foot long leash, she usually prefers to walk right next to me. She seems to feel safer there at my side.
And when she does forge ahead, she often turns around every now and then to make sure I'm still coming.
She's very obedient about not stepping out of the house until I go out first.
On the occasions when she does make a break, she wanders only as far as the neighbors' yards, and only for two or three minutes, before she races back to find me.
And though I can hardly believe it myself, nineteen times out of twenty, Gracie comes to me when I call her.
Even when she's running free.
We used to be up there among the trees. Much happier to be down on the sand.
And that has got me to thinking.
Out beyond the mini island lies Tongue Point and the Strait of Juan de Fuca,
which leads to the open Pacific. PNW heaven.
What if Gracie is not a bolter after all?
What if, miracle of miracles, she is the kind of dog who can, say, on a huge, empty, far-away-from-cars, beach, run happy and free with nothing holding her back but her pure, simple desire to stick close to me?
Honestly, to a bolter-accustomed human such as myself, that seemed almost too much to wish for.
Sniffing the salt air and listening to the bald eagles scream.
Still, I decided to try, and during our lovely visit to the beach this week, I found the perfect opportunity to give my dog a chance to prove her non-bolting ways to me.
Daughters three and four were off leash as well.
At low tide, the beach was big and wide, flat and sandy, quite unusual for a Pacific Northwest beach.
And thanks to the rainy forecast and remote geography, there were almost no other humans afoot. We had the joint to ourselves.
So, fighting my mental mindset and long, infamous history with my bolting boys, I dropped my end of Gracie's leash and let her run free.
And run she did. Far and wide, off into the sunshine, splashing through puddles, crashing into the trailing waves, veering in enormous arcs across the wet sand.
But never once did Gracie stray far.
Gracie and me together again.
And when I called her, she came right back to me, and sat at my side.
Apparently, Gracie is not a bolter after all.