The grass crunched under each step, dried out by the hot, humid weather and the lack of rain. It hadn't been mowed in weeks. It didn't need it either.
The fact the grass felt brittle and had turned brown from dormancy didn't matter to Buster. The 8-year-old beagle mix had his nose to the ground tracking a scent of something other than his original target.
He zig-zagged across the yard, letting his nose guide every step. He abruptly stopped, looked around and changed direction. He bounced toward an area where his ball had been thrown.
It took a couple of minutes of sniffing everything in about a 15-foot circle before Buster found the soft rubber ball and trotted back with it in his mouth. He wasn't going to give it up immediately, but after hearing a couple of stern commands, he dropped the ball in the grass and turned away to sniff the same blades of grass he had already smelled multiple times.
I tossed the ball a different direction, and he took off after it. Once again, the scent of something I couldn't smell piqued his interest and distracted him from the original task.
A little pleading got him back on track and picked up and the ball and darted back to me, stretching out in the grass and letting the ball roll out of his mouth and settle between his paws. He lied there completely content, baking in the sun with his tongue hanging out. He could have stayed there all afternoon ... or until he needed water.
It wasn't long before he was tugging at his leash, wanting to head back inside to get some water.
He grabbed his ball and carried toward the house. Once inside, I took the ball and tossed in through our dining room and into the living room, hoping it would land among the other dog toys and bones he's collected.
Buster lapped up some water, walked into the dining room and then back to his water bowl for another drink.
As he headed toward the living room, he picked up his ball and brought it with him. He laid down on the cool carpet and fell asleep in short order with the ball near his paws.
Buster never became the hunting dog or tracker his nose suggests he could have been. He's skittish around loud, banging noises.
Fourth of July is the worst holiday around our house.
He still loves to chase rabbits and squirrels around the yard, and on a recent adventure along the Mississippi River, he nearly caught a frog. The instincts are there.
What he does well, and what he has always been able to do, is retrieve. He will chase down a ball, a stick or a sock -- he loves to steal socks above all else -- and bring it back. When commanded, he drops whatever he has recovered into your hand.
When he's feeling kind of ornery, he turns it into a game of tug-o-war. I don't mind. I do the same thing to him every now and then, too.
What he's taught me is you don't have to be hunting to enjoy a good day outdoors with man's best friend.
All you need is the space to roam, the time to forget about the world whizzing past you and a playful attitude. If you have those, you can have a ball, especially with a ball.