Balla Bambina seems too long and too Italian for a sprightly 14-week-old Welsh corgi puppy, but liberally translated as Dancing Girl it's a pretty neat name Elizabeth picked for her new doggy.

Her mom and I surprised Elizabeth a couple weeks ago, picking her up at school and saying we were going on a spur-of-the-moment drive to Portland, where she'd meet a new friend we were sure she'd like. The hairy old guy who came to the door didn't strike her as particularly interesting, but boy oh boy, the four pups racing around in their backyard pen electrified her with happiness.

We all knew right away which we'd pick, the foxy-looking girl herding her brothers and sister around, the oldest of the litter.

Total success at house training is still a ways off for Balla or Bena or BB or Belly - we haven't compromised on an abridged name yet - but she's otherwise the star of the house, lucky to get to walk anywhere at all when Elizabeth is home, lugging around her baby dog.

It's amazing how much love and emotion my skinny 39-pound 5-year-old contains. It radiates off her like heat from a hot woodstove in a mountain cabin, filling the room and reflecting off the walls as her puppy licks her toes.

The softball fields and swamps east of my office fill with Canada geese this time of year and they get up quite a ruckus as Balla races around in circles, her belly dew-wet from the three-inch grass.

Though geese are little better than feathered reptiles in the personality department, there's nothing more evocative of fall. Living near the crest of an isthmus between the estuary, ocean and bay puts us right on their flyway, and they often pass no more than a hundred feet overhead. Combined with the deep bass of foghorns rolling in from the shrouded autumn river, their honking is the best sound I can imagine, short of my kid's laughter.

Maybe because the puppy takes such obvious delight in these last warm days, I got to wondering this morning about whether geese somehow appreciate sitting out in the brilliant green outfields, whether they're capable of being happy as they leave slimy little souvenirs behind for the consternation of ballplayers. I used to hunt the noisy honkers and I'm not overly inclined to romanticize them, but I like to think they do experience some form of joy, at least as they jockey for position in these marvelously clear blue skies, seeing a new horizon each day.

I drove my wife's car over to Sauvie Island and back last week for a fund-raising banquet and took some joy myself in opening the sunroof to the stars and rushing night air. It felt like flying.

Although Highway 30's a route I know all too well, there's a sense of mystery attached to driving at night, a feeling that when the sun rises we might just find ourselves in a strange, enticing place. Better than in the daylight, I can imagine the stories flashing by inside the houses illuminated by TV screens, lives I'll never know - maybe friends, maybe monsters.

Of course these feelings are stronger when actually passing through somewhere a bit more exotic than Knappa and Clatskanie. Whether on an icy cold Mexican bus across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec or the infamously thief-infested Peruvian night train from Puno to the coast, I've worked up many a fantasy about the scenes that passed unseen in the dark, the people unmet.

It's easy to forget that for others, we are the exotic villagers, our customs odd beyond belief and our every action worthy of a note in the travel diary.

Elizabeth and I were walking on the Long Beach Boardwalk last week, she pushing her puppy along in her own old stroller, when Japanese tourists politely and gently descended upon us. Digital cameras whirring, we were captured for all time - the adorable puppy, the beautiful blond girl and her incongruously homely daddy.

I enjoyed basking a little in my daughter's and her puppy's reflected glory, a celebrity by association in someone else's home movie.

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