For Writing Inspiration, Try the Bark Park


Sometimes a writer needs inspiration. Sometimes he needs solitude. Sometimes he needs to commune with nature, go to a place where phones don’t ring, computers don’t beep, and people don’t clog his thoughts with their petty demands and silly problems.

For me, all this can be found at the dog park.

Missoula’s Bark Park is on the east end of Jacob’s Island, a long, narrow finger of land between the Clark Fork River and Washington Grizzly Stadium.

The park is wide open at its center, rimmed with vegetation and cottonwood trees, and absolutely carpeted with dog shit. Perfect for canines who want to sprint after a ball or Frisbee, or for the search-and-destroy pooches who love to root through the bushes after terrified rodents.

When backlogged housework and a barren idea cupboard conspire to prevent me from putting words to the page, I like to load Houdini into the truck and take him down to the park.

Bob's dog Houdini, unclear on the concept of dog parks.

My dog Houdini, unclear on the concept of dog parks.

It’s a win-win. He gets some exercise and I get a heavy dose of negative ions from the rushing Clark Fork River. Some scientists believe that the negative ions put into the air near moving water can have a positive effect on a person’s mood, much the same way snorting a mixture of cocaine and Halcion had a positive effect on Mötley Crüe.

As Houdini, our Corgi/Dachshund/Marmot cross, enters his 12th year, his anxieties and neuroses have multiplied and intensified to the point where it’s like having a four-legged Woody Allen at the end of the leash.

The mere sight of another dog sends him into a fit of whining and paw-wringing. His high-pitched warbling sounds like an American Idol auditioner doing her best to out-wail Christina Aguilera. Other times, when he gets excited and starts to pant, he makes sounds like a chimpanzee trying to rap. Sometimes he just barks.

When we go to the Bark Park, he goes through his whole repertoire of noises.

"Hey, buddy, looks like you sat in something. I think it's a Payday. Nom nom nom."

"Hey, buddy, looks like you sat in something. I think it's a Payday. Nom nom nom."

Today, he made his monkey sounds as we got out of the truck in the parking lot. He knew where we were. He also really had to take a crap, because he couldn’t even wait until we’d reached the pole-mounted box of dog poop bags, let alone all the way to the Park. He likes to poop off-campus, so to speak, so while our yard barely contains any of his fecal offerings, any time he goes for a walk it has to stop right away while he grunts one out.

They say as your first bowel movement of the day goes, so goes the rest of your day. Well this morning, it looked like Houdini’s day would be tightly packed and two-toned.

Speaking of crap, the weather was typical today for the start of Memorial Day weekend in Western Montana. Cold and windy, with a big, low-pressure front of barbecue-quashing shittyness moving in. Not many people or dogs at the Bark Park this morning.

Houdini was off the leash, but his deep-seated abandonment issues kept him from wandering more than ten feet away from me. I went down by the river and sat on a log. Houdini stood two feet away, tongue lolling, looking all around like he’d never been there before. “Go see,” I told him. “Git.” I shooed him away so I could write a few thoughts into my notebook. He ran exactly three steps and froze when he spotted a trio of big dogs running directly toward him.

"Uh, I don't mean to be nosy, but you know there's a dog on you, right?"

"Uh, I don't mean to be nosy, but you know there's a dog on you, right?"

A black-and-white spaniel, a bushy, cream-colored Husky mix, and a lanky Great Dane/Doberman converged on Houdini, who stood rigid and indignant as they circled him, taking turns whiffing his whale eye. His hackles were up, and the big black Doberman/Dane started baying loudly, like a bloodhound. I looked up from my notebook and saw that he was mounting the cream-colored dog. He continued baying in earnest, and I thought, wow, this dog throws back his head and howls loudly when he mounts up. That’s a weird coincidence.

The four-dog frenzy broke up when the owner called his dogs over. Houdini ran back over to me and his expression clearly indicated his disappointment that I had neglected to clear the Bark Park of all dogs before we arrived. I knew he wouldn’t move unless I did, so I sighed heavily and stood up, snapping my notebook shut. My cartoonish disgust was lost on him, probably because his brain is the size of a martini olive.

We walked along the trail at the edge of the open area, the same trail where I’d found a baggie of pot last summer. True story. I’d dropped my kids at summer camp at 7:00 a.m., and brought Houdini to the Park for a quick morning walk. No one else was in the park at the time, so I picked up the bag and looked around, waiting for the DEA or maybe Ashton Kutcher to jump out of the bushes with a camera.

Of course that didn’t happen, so I jammed it in my pocket and we left immediately. I don’t indulge in the sweet leaf, so I took it down to the food bank. Just kidding. I gave it to a friend. He later told me it was pretty crappy weed.

But the path was empty this morning, and we took a little trail through the bushes down to the river. As Houdini waded into the water, I went behind a tree to take a leak. Just as my third cup of coffee was leaving me, two huge yellow labs exploded from the bushes and ran right past me. Startled, I zipped up a moment too soon, catching some tender bits in my zipper.

“YEEEOOOWTCH!” I hollered. Just then a woman carrying a leash walked around the corner. “Oh, sorry,” she said. “Did one of them bite you?”

“Uh, no,” I said, turning away and wiping my hands on my jeans. “Um, I was just, uh, I mean, um, hey, is that a baby eagle?” I pointed over her shoulder to the river. She turned to look, and I ran back up the trail, Houdini hot on my heels. I didn’t slow down until we reached the gate. Humiliation averted.

"Let me out of here! I can't breathe!"

"Let me out of here! I can't breathe!"

There are two gates in the chain link fence at the entrance to the Bark Park. One is a swinging fence section wide enough for a maintenance vehicle to pass through, in case they ever wanted to bring in a backhoe to bury the tons of dog shit that people refuse to pick up even though there are free plastic bags and trash cans are located throughout the park, and it’s just not cool, especially when you step in a fresh pile in your new Nike trail runners that will stink up the house now forever now matter how much you clean them off with a stick.

The other gate is patterned on the airlock in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. You open one gate to let the dog into a small neutral area, presumably to keep him away from other dogs or perhaps sneaky, nosy women with yellow labs. Then when the first door is closed, you open the second door and let the dog out safely.

Houdini prefers to just walk around the end of the fence.

We didn’t last long at the park this morning due to the cold, windy weather, and my need for a tiny band-aid. Still, we were there long enough to have a few negative ions wash over me. Along with a little bit of pee.


Wanna laugh ’til your sides hurt? These ought to do the trick: Parenting Sucks. And I Love It.Bob Wire Will Pass on Grass, and The Guitar That Saved My Soul.

   Check out all of Bob Wire’s posts in his blog archive.


Bob Wire has gone to the dogs.

Think of it as Gonzo meets Hee Haw: Missoula honky tonker Bob Wire holds forth on a unique life filled with music, parenthood, drinking, sports, working, marriage, drinking, and just navigating the twisted wreckage of American culture. Plus occasional grooming tips. Like the best humor, it’s not for everyone. Sometimes silly, sometimes surreal, sometimes savage, Bob Wire demands that you possess a good sense of humor and an open mind.

Bob Wire has written more than 500 humor columns for a regional website over the last five years, and his writing has appeared in the Missoulian, the Missoula Independent, Montana Magazine, and his own Bob Wire Has a Point Blog. He is a prolific songwriter, and has recorded three CDs of original material with his Montana band, the Magnificent Bastards. His previous band, the Fencemenders, was a popular fixture at area clubs. They were voted Best Local Band twice by the Missoula Independent readers poll. Bob was voted the Trail 103.3/Missoulian Entertainer of the Year in 2007.

You can hear his music on his website, or download it at iTunes, Amazon, and other online music providers.  on Twitter.