This is a haunting photograph of an indigenous Siberian and a laika hunting dog. If we were somehow transported back perhaps 15,000 year ago, we might be witness to a scene very much like this one.
Dog domestication may have happened as early as 30,000 years ago, and certainly by that time, there were humans and dogs living together, hunting together, working together.
We now live in a world so removed from those times. Our age is that of the smart phone and the online petition. It’s of a time of even greater delusion about our relationship to the natural world than the previous generation.
And it was more deluded than the generation before it.
But 15,000 years ago, there was no such delusion. Meat meant life. The mast from the trees fed the wild animals, and so humans and dogs were connected to the acorn and the beechnut by way of venison.
A trip to the grocery store gives us the meat now. The dog food is mostly the byproducts of our meat industry.
But at one time, the dogs helped us hunt the big game, and for their efforts, they got a bit of the scraps and the offal.
It was in ancient world that our union was formed.
Later on, we used them to manage and protect our herds, haul our nets and sleds, and turn the wheels of our machines.
But now, we don’t need them for those things. Most Western dogs don’t do anything but live as companions, a life that on the surface appears to be absolute perfection. It’s certainly true that there are millions of dogs in the United States right now who have better standards of living than millions of children throughout the world.
However, their brains and bodies are still yearn for a different time.
Virtually no retrievers have the rigor lives of their forebears working for market hunters in on the east coast of England or on Chesapeake Bay nearly a century ago. And one would be hard-pressed to find dogs that live as aboriginal hunting dogs, even though they still hold on in the redoubts of the Siberian taiga.
The urban and suburban dog lives in a world so foreign from its ancestors. It is a testament to the adaptability and intelligence of the species that so many dogs have made the transition without incident.
But let that town dog loose in a forest, and it will run. It will sniff where the wild turkeys have been. It will tree the squirrels.
The dog may be a cute pet that snuggles with the children, but in the forest, the beast is reawakened.
It is as marvelous as it is disconcerting.
But it shouldn’t be.
For in my own experience, my mind suddenly awakens to that ancient time when I step foot in the forest with dog.
We become canid smelling, ape seeing once again.