We just returned from our latest G4 summit, the occasional coming together of my three best friends from college and myself. This year our legal eagle Eva couldn’t come, but Susan, Ginny and I spent a glorious few days at the White Gate Inn in Asheville, N.C.
We had a whole little house to ourselves, which was composed of the two-bedroom Joyce Kilmer suite and the one-bedroom Oscar Wilde. Can you imagine how much the two of them would have hated each other? But both were pet friendly, so we hauled along my 95-pound Shiloh Shepherd, El Cid.
From the get-go, this was highly fraught and terribly amusing. For example, at every possible transition, including slowing down or turning on the windshield wipers, Cid began to whirl, screech and trumpet like an elephant. Seriously. A god-awful racket. And when he tried to jump into the front seat and Ginny’s lap, it was dramatic indeed, especially because we were going 80 mph through Davenport Gap in the Smokies.
But we were flying across Tennessee and North Carolina to check into the inn and then go to Charlotte to pick Susan up at the airport when around Crossville, Tenn., I realized I’d made a critical miscalculation.
“Oh, no, I just remembered something,” I said.
“Is it bad?” Ginny asked.
“Oh, yeah.” I’d forgotten the change to eastern time which made us two hours late picking Susan up, since I’d also miscalculated the distance to Charlotte. I cannot be trusted. It’s clear.
But we finally were reunited and at one point I looked back and Susan had her head pillowed on Cid’s back and was crooning to him. She’s been dogless for a while and was clearly starved for doggish affection.
The next day we went to the Biltmore gardens. With Cid.
Which was ridiculous, but we did. It was blazing, blazing hot, and poor Cid kept drinking from and then jumping into every elegant formal fountain we passed. Some people beamed at him; others totally gave us the death stare. And everyone had to stop and pet him and ask what kind of dog he was until I felt like a Chatty Cathy doll: pull a string and “The Shiloh Shepherd was bred from old line German shepherds …” recording played.
At one point we were walking down the middle of one of the estate’s walled gardens, where banks of lavender hung down, booming with bees, when a woman came toward us shouting, “Is that a working dog?” I allowed that Cid was indeed a “retired” working dog, which is a nice way of saying that he trained as a search and rescue dog for a year and washed out and then herded sheep for another year and a half before his handler (me) decided we really couldn’t go much farther without totally disgracing ourselves (which, by the way, is still I think the farthest a Shiloh has gone in herding). So I guess I wasn’t really exaggerating.
“How could you tell?” I asked her. “I can just tell,” she said. And we proceeded to have a very nice chat with her and her roommate. She had Delta Society Rottweiler therapy dogs.
And believe me, Cid really worked that day. He wants me to tell you just how hard it is to keep a flock of three women together. If I got ahead of Susan and Ginny, he’d walk in front of me and stop me, then look back anxiously, encouragingly, to get the other two moving. If we were close together, he wound himself around our legs. If they got ahead, he dragged me like a cart horse until we caught up.
Finally we started back toward the car and hadn’t passed a fountain in a while. Cid was dragging; his tongue was lolling out of his mouth. So when we came to one of the main large terraced gardens with three giant formal circular ponds in the middle, I decided to let Cid have a drink.
I approached the fountain and before I knew it, Cid had jumped in and was up to his neck in water with a three foot stone curb above him and a look of total panic on his furry face. I screeched and Susan and I began to haul his heavy dripping, yipping, ass out of the fountain, while Ginny struggled in vain to find a point of purchase. It was all over in a few seconds, but we figured Cid had helped us establish our place as unrepentant revolutionaries. And imagined Edith saying to George, “Dear, I believe I see a large furry beast in the far pond.”
We sneaked back to the car along a balustraded walk that had yet MORE fountains, lower and safer and each one sampled by Cid.
And that is the tale known now and forevermore as Swimming at the Biltmore.
Photos courtesy of Virginia Dzurinko, artist and musician