He's splashed along the edges of the river since our first walk to its rocky banks a couple of months ago. The banks are constantly changing as the level of the river shifts according to whatever the forces of this spring mandate. He seemed to always know how far in he could go and still be in control of all four feet on the shifting bed of the river.
I would toss rocks in, trying to entice him to go deeper into the river. Toby loves rocks and would always get excited about the splash and the possibility of a dive to retrieve whatever I threw. But if the rock went too far out, he would either stand and wait for me to throw one closer in, or he would take off in search of more entertaining games elsewhere. He was not going in to deep water, no matter what.
One Sunday, our first walk to the park where Toby could meet other dogs and people, we saw a family with a very small dachshund. The same river he plays in every day runs through this park - a couple of miles downstream from our rocky beach. He was tearing in and out of a great shallow eddy, having the time of his life. While keeping one eye on him, I watched the family next to me with the dachsie. The dad repeatedly picked her up, tossed her into the water, waited for her to swim back to him. She was shivering with cold and fear, her short black coat plastered to her tiny body. Yet he kept tossing her back in. She was a strong swimmer. I was horrified to the point of tears.
How many times in my childhood was I thrown into deep water and told to swim - or sink - on my own? How many times in my young adulthood did I fling my own tender self into waters way over my head and assume that the only way out was under my own power? At what point did I come to believe that the only way to learn to swim is to fight swift currents of frigid raging rapids from which I can find no footing? Alone.
Toby swam for the first time at six months. He was splashing in a shallow calm pool by the side of the river that we play in every day. The river races by us just outside the protected nook of our eddy pond. We'd graduated from rocks to sticks. His favorite game was to grab the stick I threw and bound out of the water and away from me as fast as the rocks would allow.
I retrieved the stick and threw it again. This time my aim was off, and the stick went farther into the pool than Toby had been before. He tore into the water with all the power and abandon of a grizzly going after salmon. By the time he got to the stick, his feet no longer touched bottom.
And he swam. No fuss. No fear. Just like he'd been doing it for generations. Every time I threw the stick after that first time, he swam. Even if the water was shallow enough to stand up in. He swam and swam and swam.
This weekend I took him to the park again, to a place in the river where the current is stronger. He swam for sticks as though there was no current. Strong. Confident. Happy. He would have gone to the middle of the river to get that stick. My fear of both the river and his puppy-ness kept me from letting him go. This time.
My six month old puppy knows what he can do, and doesn't concern himself to do more before he's ready. He swims because he can and because it gives him great joy. He swims because it's fun. He swims like birds fly - he was born to it.