Sports editor

Les Winkeler is sports editor and outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan.

After about age 12, there are fewer opportunities to experience unmitigated joy.

Prior to age 12, life’s simple pleasures could bring pure joy — a bowl of ice cream on a hot day, a new baseball glove or an impromptu fishing trip with friends.

The intricacies and responsibilities of life start becoming apparent by the time you reach junior high. That’s not to say adolescents and adults don’t experience moments to remember. Everyone appreciates the soaring, surreal feeling of falling in love, or the sense of wonder when you first set your eyes on a newborn child.

As a person matures, it becomes more important to experience joy vicariously.

Such was the case Saturday night when my wife and I drove to Hunting Branch at Bell Smith Springs with friends … and our dogs.

Beau couldn’t believe his good fortune when he hopped out of the car.

When he realized there was no leash restricting his movement, he bolted for a tree. He sniffed, scratched and did all the other things dogs do. Looking up, he spotted another tree and repeated the routine.

After pinballing his way around a dozen trees or so, Beau’s attention was drawn to the creek.

Technically, Beau is a golden retriever. He has a rich, reddish-brown color. He has the full, swishy tail and the characteristic feathering on his haunches. Without a doubt, he is a golden.

Now, as far as being a retriever? Not so much?

It’s not that he doesn’t understand the concept.

If you throw Beau’s favorite toy, he’ll run over chairs, through tables and small children to fetch it. And, as goldens are wont to do, Beau will bring it back … once or twice. Throw the toy a third time, and Beau will likely grab it, then retreat to a quiet corner.

It’s as if he’s telling us, “I know how to do this. What else do I have to prove?”

Meanwhile, back at the creek, our friends were tossing sticks into the creek for their dogs to retrieve. The dogs bolted toward the creek, leaping or splashing into the water at breakneck speed.

Beau?

He joined in the fun. He chased the other dogs. He swam in the creek. When another dog grabbed the stick, Beau happily followed, running back to us, dousing everyone in the vicinity with cool creek water.

And, so it continued for about 45 minutes. We threw sticks into the creek over and over, watching and laughing as the dogs interacted, marveling at their enthusiasm and their swimming ability.

It was about 30 minutes into this exercise that I realized I had been wearing a goofy grin the entire time. Watching the dogs running and playing made me forget about the heat and humidity, collusion, the Illinois budget crisis and the Cardinals blowing a late lead against the Cubs.

That’s what passes for pure joy these days. And, I’ll take it.

LES WINKELER is the outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at les.winkeler@thesouthern.com, or call 618-351-5088 / On Twitter @LesWinkeler.

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