Just another spring day in the west, with smoke blowing in from winter field fires, brown haze suspended around the mountains ready to drop as the day warms, and my raft loaded on the trailer, waiting for the river. Maybe I have clients today, maybe I’m floating with my wife and dogs. This is unclear as the haze-filled sky. Unclear as the constant dreams I’ve been having. The morning unfolds slowly, not yet 6 a.m., and the dogs have been up since four, riled by a motorcycle revving like a chainsaw. Their angst melts fifteen minutes later in a series of ever higher pitched bursts of howling from both dogs and motorcycle. As I move through the morning I am faraway. What I see is a clear blue flat stretching into the distance, alternating in depth as it bends around an atoll. A tide pulling in and out like breaths. Slender silver tails, noses tilted down, sorting through the sand and silt.
What my neighbors see is a middle-aged man feeding two forty-poundish dogs, standing in a pair of boxers on the side of his house, shivering as the sunrise casts a deep orange glow on skin the color of a bleached deer skull. Bearded. Balding. Bespectacled. Slightly bellied and love-handled. The aches in the tendons of my elbows and fingers, knees, ankles, back, require whiskey and salve. My lifestyle of seasonal guiding and teaching has somehow managed to survive marriage and middle age, most recently Covid-19, and as travel-restrictions continue to stretch into a second spring, I find myself more and more immersed in saltwater daydreams. That is, until the wagging of silver tails transforms from bonefish to dogs, and Suki begins to lick my palm, asking for more breakfast.
Suki, a Potcake (breed of Bahamian island dog named for a pea and rice mixture fed to them from the crust of empty cooking pots), is a bronze haired temptress with smokey-eyed accents. She has a penchant for being quick to love and even quicker to nip at bigger dogs, tuck tail, and run. She has a vertical jump like MJ, and streaks like a greyhound over the landscape. She also has no interest in fishing, except for eating large amounts of dead things that can be found near rivers. In this way, she is a much better dog for foraging wild mushrooms and huckleberries, where it matters much less if she comes running straight downstream with an elk bone dragging from her mouth. Her father is most likely Cuda, a local ruffian that often finds his way to Andros South Lodge for scraps of food and scratches behind the ears. Suki was delivered to the lodge managers’ front door by her mother, Midnight, after getting her head stuck in a mayonnaise jar.
Her sister, Pirate, a stockier, blockier, shorter-tailed, brick and mortar white and black spotted beauty, looks a little like a Dalmatian, and came in the bargain. I don’t know who Pirate’s dad was, though did have an aggressive Pirate-look-alike chase myself and a client down the road as we were riding in the back of a pick-up on South Andros. Shyer than Suki but more curious, Pirate gets along with almost every dog she meets and often wanders off after other people, thinking they might make for a better home. When fishing, she stays a pace behind, ready to spring after hooked trout. She is smart and standoffish, communicates by staring into your eyes and grunting and growling in different ways, and although she doesn’t like to curl up on the lazy-boys like Suki, Pirate is often my favorite. Both dogs have widely developed culinary pallets that include yellow jackets, toads, kale, worms, raspberries, and dandelions. We have to cut their nails often, which would otherwise look similar to an ant eater’s. Where I would see South Andros Potcakes scrounging the beaches and chewing on various plastic and organic bits of detritus for sustenance, I now see Suki and Pirate unafraid to pretty much eat anything inland that grows.
And so it is with the dogs as a constant reminder, I have been dreaming of salt. Specifically the home of Suki and Pirate: South Andros. The island reaches out through them in its love and wildness. Ocean swells crashing against hard coral shores, deeply cut estuaries where it becomes debatable who the apex predator is, endless flats winding all around the unsettled western coast. Moments of uncertainty. Moments where I become a wave breaking on the shoulders of a great storm. Two-thousand people connected by the Queen’s Highway, three people per square mile of land mass, and one hundred twenty square miles of flats. The only place I have ever truly felt comfortable being guided by another guide. In the guides I recognize the people of small towns I have grown up with, in their stories, in their silences, in each guide’s reasons they are living where and how they are. Vast edges of boredom, sharper perspectives of coral built landscape. When I fish on South Andros I feel the vastness of potential in each cast. Each morning is continually fresh, as is my desire to stay outside from dawn until dusk.
And there are South Andros’s dogs, also carrying the wildness and love of the island. Suki and Pirate nudge at my elbows, paw at my legs as I write, suspended in the daydream. When the snow falls this winter, their coats will thicken again as they leap for snowballs. The daydream will also thicken, knowing Andros South Lodge has a new set of flats boats waiting for clients, that the lodge managers, Liz and Max, will be back to their antics of caring for the local Potcakes and making clients happy, and that my favorite guides will be back at it, polling deep into the wilderness of Andros’s west side. The runt that grew stocky and rolls dogs twice her size onto their backs. The eye-shadowed temptress that sprints fast as a greyhound after deer, nipping at their shanks. The barracuda shooting from the back of the boat’s wake, cartwheeling through the air. The bonefish pulling line into the backing. This is the center of the dream. South Andros and it’s forty pound love-sponges who scour the world with their tongues and teeth.