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Wild About Utah: a game called ball; a game called chase

A black dog sits on muddy ground patched with grass. The dog's tongue is hanging out.
Katarzyna Bilicka
Sable.

Me and my partner have three dogs who love two games and this is their favorite time of year to play them. The first game is called ‘ball.’ There is one rule in ball: ball. The goal is to have the ball and taunt the other player that you have that ball. Sometimes, there are two balls and the stakes for both wealth and risk increase. But most of the time, there is just one. Me and the dog who loves ball the most, Sable, will go outside especially this time of year after all of our snow has melted and the ground has firmed well, and, with a ball chucker to ease my deteriorating shoulder, hunt for any token to play with. Usually she finds one first, leaping upon it like a fox hunting shrews in snow, then parades the ball with full royal vanity, pomp, and pride. My play then is to have another ball I’ve kept hidden in my pocket: the new most valuable ball. As I slowly reveal it, Sable freezes and stares. “Oh dear,” she thinks, “ball.” As I clasp it into the chucker, her jaw goes slack and now yesteryear’s ball drops to the ground with a dull thud. All she wants is this new old ball, because, well, ball.

Sable will then do one of three things. Most often, she gives a short enthusiastic dash in the direction that she believes I will throw the ball, then quickly sits to wait with patience, even though she’s already decided her lead. Sometimes, she will run all the way to the end of where she anticipates the arc to be complete to get an even more keen lead. And sometimes, she will try to snatch the ball right from the chucker. Wily is the game of ball.

Either way, as soon as she’s done one of those three things, I direct her to settle and wait. If she’s gone down the field to gain a lead, I will turn on my heels and throw the ball the other way. Ha. She must learn not to over-anticipate. If she is but a short way in front, I’ll throw the direction she anticipated to teach that good guesses are sometimes right. If she gets scrappy and goes for it before I’ve even let it go, I’ll make her sit and wait for it to already be downfield and out of sight, then when she’s settled, I let her go and she sprints like lightening to snatch the treasured new old ball. Once retrieved, she comes back in full tilt with fuller pride, and parades it yet again. I’ll find that first ball she dropped, and the game continues. New new old ball. Same new old game.

The second game played is chase. Sometimes it’s just my other two dogs which play, sometimes it’s all three, and sometimes it’s all four of us. This game is simple, though there is still one rule: chase. We’ll zip and zag all about the garden, ducking under trees, hiding behind bushes and intermittently stalking the chickens as intermission to catch our breath. We run, tumble and freeze when we all see a Eurasian collared dove unwittingly selecting millet off the ground while we are here, instead of biding its time in the safety of a perch until we’ve gone indoors. Even though chase requires fewer materials and less patience, it’s still, like ball, best enjoyed outside and in free form. It’s harder to break lamps that way, too.

So as our spring blooms and the ground firms, see what draws you to be outdoors yourself, whether it be games, or dogs, or robins or sunshine. Rediscover that it’s no longer hard to love being outdoors if it was, just as each crocus and violet surely must renew that same urge each year after it, too, getting through winter. Remember that no matter which draw you choose, even if none at all, every day a new surprise awaits for patient and keen eyes: the raptures of such a season of renewal, emergence and life. Doesn’t it feel good to be outside and play?

I’m Patrick Kelly, and I’m Wild About Utah.