In all the world, St. Augustine’s Guana Reserve is my favorite place to hike. There are seventy-three thousand acres to explore, but on a nice day there is always a crowd of people huddled at the entrance to the beach. The real Guana is a half mile past the hoopla, where a gorgeous, untapped resource stretches for mile after unencumbered mile. There is something about the vast monotony of the ocean and the solitude of this beach that draws me back again and again and makes me feel very large and very small at the same time.
I take my dog Fiona hiking with me, and once we’re alone, I remove her leash and let her run. I keep the leash in my hand and on the rare occasion I see someone coming in the distance, I hook her back up until they pass. I know pets are allowed at the Guana Reserve as long as “they are confined to a six-foot leash and are under control at all times.”
On a particularly exquisite day, Fiona and I are walking about two miles from the north beach entrance. Looking out to sea, I’m communing with nature and God, saying a prayer of thanks. She is sniffing a jelly ball. And then…
Out of nowhere a police four-wheeler appears. I clip the leash onto Fiona’s collar and assume he’ll pass by. With a beat like Guana, I figure he’d have important turtle nest securing to do, or perhaps a sandpiper with a broken wing might need assistance and I can get back to my meditations.
The policeman screeches to a halt beside us. It’s chilly and he’s dressed in a sort of SWAT getup, all black with a knit cap, his walkie-talkie bleating. The moment he swings a leg off his police rig, I know we are going to be at odds. “You are in violation of the Leash Law,” he says.
I actually look behind me to see if someone is hiding in the dunes and putting him up to it. “Huh? Where did you even come from?” I respond.
He gets out his clipboard and his pen. “I ask the questions. ID please. You are in violation of the Leash Law.”
I laugh. I don’t think you’re supposed to do that when a policeman asks you for your identification, and God knows I have a healthy respect for those flashing blue lights, but I can’t imagine a real policeman would be out there in the middle of a sand-blown nowhere, treating Fiona’s leash infraction like we’d committed armed robbery and were on the lam. “You’re kidding right? I don’t have ID with me. It’s in the car. And you do realize we’re on a completely deserted beach two miles from the public access?”
You will note all the snippy italics. It was like he’d flipped a switch and I went instantly from mellow acolyte to a wrongly accused Mrs. Thurston Howell, III. Fiona, always desperate to please, and sensing an impending storm, sits.
“I don’t make the rules lady,” he says. “I just enforce them.”
While I roll my eyes and harrumph and mumble “Preposterous…” under my breath, he takes down all my vital statistics, verifies them with his dispatcher, wastes fifteen minutes of my life and writes me a citation. And there you have it in a nutshell: the almost poetic triumph of rule rigidity over unapologetic culpability. Fiona (who has always known it is fruitless to argue with authority) remains in her best-in-show “sit,” hoping no one will notice she was the reason for the whole mess.
As I write this, I wonder, would anyone have handled the situation with good grace? Is there anyone out there who would have thought, “Okay. There are leash laws and my dog was off the leash,” without adding a snarky, “On a deserted beach…”?
Should I have continued to commune with nature and God after the cop went on his way, instead of dragging a tethered Fiona back to the car and wondering, “Will Guana ever be the same for me again?”
Article written by Marilyn Spiller