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Love a Dog, Plant a Tree, & Drive Great Roads

Push the speed limit on the world's great coastal highways: Australia's Great Ocean Road     Photo: Tourism Australia

Love a Dog
By Ann Patchett

I did not rush into getting a dog of my own. Despite the happy dogs of my youth, I wasn't sure about the commitment. What about those spontaneous trips out of town? What about vet bills and sleeping late and going for walks in the pounding, freezing rain? It seemed like a level of adulthood I wasn't ready for yet.

Oh, nobody's ready. It's just that one day you're walking through the park not even thinking about a dog, but there she is, the giant ears, the bright eyes, the tail that wags a full 75 percent of her body. In an instant, all those solid reasons become nothing more than a collection of flimsy excuses. The girl who is trying to give her away (she found the puppy by the side of the road in a snowstorm) gives her to you because this is Your Dog.

Or that's how it was for me and Rose.

Like any love, it was giddy at first. I couldn't get my work done. I kept having to stop and roll around on the floor with her. She followed me from room to room, licking my ankles. She was small and white, maybe a cross between a Jack Russell and a Chihuahua, without the deep neurosis of either breed. If shedding were an Olympic sport, she would have brought home the gold. I was besotted.

This is not to say that I didn't know love until my dog came along. I've loved plenty of people. I've loved plenty of dogs, for that matter. But Rose is my dog, and I am her person. Our commitment to one another is unshakable. She would throw all of her 17 pounds in the path of any pit bull to protect me, and I would do the same for her. Dogs know something about love writ large. The rotten part is that their life span is so much shorter than ours. Barring some seriously bad luck, I will outlive Rose by a large margin. She is 11 now. She has cataracts, and her back legs are weak. When we take long hikes, I always wind up carrying her home on my shoulders. Rose has taught me how to be a better person. I'm not sure I've taught her anything, except how to tell me when she wants another biscuit. Rose could not be a better dog. When she dies, I imagine I will howl like her ancestors, but the inevitable end of a relationship is no reason not to go there in the first place.

Ann Patchett is the author of Bel Canto and four other books.

Plant a Tree Each Year on Your Birthday
A single tree removes 685 pounds of CO2 from the atmosphere over a 40-year period—enough to offset 550 miles driven in a car. Check www.treelink.org to find native tree species in your area.

Push the speed limit on the world's great coastal highways.
The Great Ocean Road, Australia (www.greatoceanrd.org.au): Master the left lane, then gear up for 219 miles of salty air from Torquay to Warrnambool, along the southwest coast of Victoria. Better yet, do it in a Ferrari (www.touristaustralia.com.au). Pacific Coast Highway, USA (www.bigsurcalifornia.org): Drive south from San Francisco on Highway 1, a mainly two-lane paved road that hugs central California's rugged coastline past the village of Carmel and the redwoods of Big Sur. The Garden Route, South Africa (www.gardenroute.co.za): Head east from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth on this 490-mile coastal drive rich with white-sand beaches and a year-round Mediterranean climate.

Know your constellations.
To see all 88, you're going to need more than one hemisphere. Start by memorizing your first few at the Star Hill Inn, near Las Vegas, New Mexico. Owner Phil Mahon takes his guests on hour-and-a-half star tours where he introduces the major constellations, like Orion and Gemini, then helps illuminate the fainter ones, like the elusive Lynx. One-bedroom guesthouses from $170; 505-425-5605, www.starhillinn.com

Keep bees.

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