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Free to Roam: A Dog’s Life with Robert and Kerstin Adams

Sally is also the subject of I Hear the Leaves and Love the Light, a book featuring 33 photographs by Robert Adams that were recently donated to the National Gallery. The exhibition American Silence: The Photographs of Robert Adams is on view at the National Gallery through October 2.

Robert Adams, Longmont, Colorado, Sally, the Backyard, 1982

Robert Adams, Longmont, Colorado, Sally, the Backyard, from the series I Hear the Leaves and Love the Light, 2020.115.1.9

Hi, my name is Sally. I am a West Highland terrier, and you may have seen me at the National Gallery of Art. I am the star of the exhibition by my human friend Robert Adams—after all, I’m in the very first picture you see in the show.

Robert Adams, Sally, Weld County, Colorado, 1984, printed 1990

Robert Adams, Sally, Weld County, Colorado, 1984, printed 1990, gelatin silver print, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary and David Robinson, 1995.35.3. © Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

Robert Adams, Longmont, Colorado, 1982–1992

Robert Adams, Longmont, Colorado, from the series I Hear the Leaves and Love the Light, 1982–1992, gelatin silver print, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Jeffrey Fraenkel and Alan Mark, 2020.115.1.23. © Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco. All subsequent illustrations are from this series.

A Wonderful Backyard

I am quite tall—more than 10 inches. And wherever I go with Robert—and our other constant companion, Kerstin—people call me adorable. To prove how right they are, I cock my head, wag my tail, and maybe, if they are especially nice, do a leap in the air. I am an excellent jumper. Robert even says I can fly.

Kerstin Adams, Robert Adams, R.A., Longmont, Colorado, Jacket Photo, 1982–1992

Kerstin and Robert Adams, R.A., Longmont, Colorado, from the series I Hear the Leaves and Love the Light, 2020.115.1.33

Robert Adams, Longmont, Colorado, 1982–1992

Robert Adams, Longmont, Colorado, from the series I Hear the Leaves and Love the Light, 2020.115.1.13

We live in Longmont, Colorado, in a house that is just perfect for the three of us. And we have a wonderful backyard. I once told Kerstin that the garden is “exactly right— / Not too big and not too tight.” I love to roll in the grass and smell the dirt under the bushes, around the birdbath, and even, when Kerstin isn’t looking, in the flower beds. I get a bit messy, but there’s lots to sniff.

Robert Adams, Longmont, Colorado, 1982–1992

Robert Adams, Longmont, Colorado, from the series I Hear the Leaves and Love the Light, 2020.115.1.15

This is serious work—some smells are good, but some are not. That pesky dog next door is always trying to burrow his way into our yard. I like car rides too. We take long ones, to wide-open plains. Kerstin and I romp for hours, with the wind in our hair and the sun on our faces, while Robert stands very still behind a large camera and carefully watches the clouds in the sky.

The World Is Changing

On one trip we were having a wonderful time when something hidden on the dirt road trapped me, and I couldn’t get out. I am brave, but let me tell you, that hurt. Kerstin wrestled my leg free, but she got hurt too. We got away from the trap, and I know how it smells now, so will never go near one again.

I heard Kerstin say there were more, that people were leaving them around to catch coyotes. But they also catch dogs like me, so we spent years fighting to get rid of them. She worked hour after hour to get something called a law passed that would ban them, first in our town, then the entire state. I sat right by her side the whole time, sniffing out any trouble. She will always be my hero.

Robert Adams, Longmont, Colorado, 1982–1992

Robert Adams, Longmont, Colorado, from the series I Hear the Leaves and Love the Light, 2020.115.1.22

We’ve also driven for days to visit Robert’s parents in Astoria, Oregon. They are very nice and he loves them a lot, but they say I’m always underfoot. I understand—their eyesight isn’t very good—so I try to stay out of the way. I love it best when we go to the beach, and I can run for miles across the sand and in the dunes. There are also lots of birds to chase, which is great fun. But when I see a very big bird—an albatross, they say—I stay close to Kerstin and Robert so that it won’t carry me off.

Robert and Kerstin talk a lot about how the world is changing, how people aren’t taking care of the beautiful plains, forests, and ocean. They think I don’t understand, but of course I do. I know they’re probably right, but when I’m home with them, curled up on Kerstin’s or Robert’s lap, or even better, when we’re all out in the yard—our own small haven—things look pretty good to me.

Robert Adams, Longmont, Colorado, 1982–1992

Robert Adams, Longmont, Colorado, from the series I Hear the Leaves and Love the Light, 2020.115.1.12

Robert Adams, Longmont, Colorado, 1982–1992

Robert Adams, Longmont, Colorado, from the series I Hear the Leaves and Love the Light, 2020.115.1.30

See more photographs of me in I Hear the Leaves and Love the Light. You can see our yard, meet my friends, and join me on my adventures!