Wyatt rocks the boat

wyatt the dog and the canoe
Uncertainty is the intersection where Wyatt, water and a canoe meet.

Wyatt the dog is not a fan of water unless it is placid and contained by a bowl.

Baths are preceded by an exhausting, French Connection-esque chase sequence. On post-precipatory walks, he has jerked me into puddles so he can circumvent them and prevent his damp paws from growing wetter. If he was human, he’d be one of those people bothered by the word “moist.”

Yet I recently became determined to make him a water dog, or at least an on-the-water dog. I blame having just read James P. Ronda’s perspective-flipping Lewis and Clark Among the Indians, which stoked a long-smoldering desire to revisit the Missouri River with a canine sidekick.

Wyatt would have been introduced to boating sooner, but the canoe remained under a tarp at a friend’s house for years while I bounced between jobs and apartments. By the time Anthony and I settled in a house and retrieved the boat, Reese, the only of our dogs to embrace the life aquatic, was old and suffering from hip dysplasia and arthritis (though he did climb into the canoe a final time while it rested in the yard). With Miles likewise a senior citizen and riddled with health problems, and as he shares Wyatt’s perspective on water, the Erebus—which carried Reese and I along 120-plus miles of the Big Muddy nearly 10 years ago—remained dry.

on the water at tarryall reservoir
A couple of aimless drifters.

Until Memorial Day weekend. What better time could there be to introduce a high-strung, H2O-fearing dog to the joys of paddling than a long holiday weekend in which people flock to our nation’s lakes, reservoirs and waterways?

I recalled Reese’s first outing, a quiet April day on Colorado’s Barr Lake. He capsized us.

But to my surprise, Anthony was able to coax Wyatt into the canoe, where he sat calmly as it rocked to-and-fro in the yard. He also didn’t protest a trial run in Reese’s old life jacket. Maybe he could be Seaman to our Lewis and Clark.

To test Wyatt’s sea legs, we settled on Tarryall Reservoir, which is nestled amid the Continental Divide and the southern end of the Front Range about an hour-and-a-half southwest of Denver and is filled largely by its namesake, Tarryall Creek. The State Wildlife Area surrounding the reservoir encompasses nearly 900 acres (the pond itself is about 175 acres) and sits at approximately 9,000 feet. The reservoir is a popular fishing spot (the Denver Post called it “an angler’s paradise” for ice fishing), though it is less heavily trafficked than larger nearby lakes.

Wyatt shocked me again by making it without incident from the parking area to the rocky beach, which were abustle with people and dogs. He settled before me between the seat and the thwart as Anthony slid the canoe into the water and climbed in. The humans paddled away from the commotion as Wyatt watched the shrinking shoreline.

On the Erebus’s maiden voyage, Reese flipped the canoe within a half-hour. With Wyatt not having rocked the boat after 30 or minutes or so on the water, I became (over)confident that we would remain dry and began making bold proclamations of river adventures to come: The Columbia! The Clearwater! The Salmon! The Yarlung Tsangpo!

Then came the pelican.

pelicans at tarryall reservoir
Pelicans, it turns out, do not have Australian accents.

The far reaches of Tarryall Reservoir are favored by waterfowl, including—in the summer—pelicans. A few of the jowly birds floated in the distance, and at least a half-dozen lined a stretch of shore where Tarryall Creek flows into the dammed pond. There was also one circling overhead, which we did not notice until it swooped by us while divebombing a gull that was dragging the remnants of a fish carcass onto the grassy waterfront.

As Reese had done those eight-plus years ago when a carp leapt beside the canoe on his introductory aquatic voyage, Wyatt jumped up and braced his paws on the gunwale, causing the canoe to lurch sideways. Luck favored the humans on this occasion, however, and we were able to throw our weight in the other direction before the boat’s edge dipped into the water and the dog tumbled out. Wyatt settled back in and the rest of the day brought smooth sailing.

When we finally put in at a secluded, creekside beach to stretch our legs and have a snack, Wyatt refused to drink the clean, tranquil water from his travel bowl. He sipped instead from the wild, unfiltered stream.

wyatt the dog at tarryall reservoir
Wyatt’s life jacket has instilled the courage necessary to venture more than ankle deep in water.
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