I am alone with the dog in this old pasture. The September sun is casting light at steep angles among the green,
And my mind starts to wander as it often does when I am outside alone with a dog.
In many ways, I’m a pariah. I had this status cast upon when I was in school, and over time, I came to accept it– almost relish it.
Sometimes it takes me a while to open myself up to people. By nature, I am reserved and contemplative, but once I’ve allowed myself to relax my guard, I am open.
But not as open as I am here.
Here, I feel connected with all the biotic and abiotic forces. I am not a pariah. I belong.
Man is a strange species. He spends all his entire life alienating himself from the natural world. We call it civilization. It’s really the most complex examples of denial ever expressed in the human condition.
People think there is an “artificial”and a “natural,” but the truth is that it all comes from nature. It is merely our processes of refinement that make things “artificial.”
But though I am not a man of nature, like the rustic “mountain men” of yore, I am able to cast off the artifice for a bit. For a few short minutes, I can be Daniel Boone or Davy Crockett– and then someone deeper in the ancient past.
You see, I am engaging in one of the last ancient rituals of hunter-gatherer man that still remains with us: I am out with a dog.
More than 30,000 years ago, there were people just like me. They were out with their dogs, which were then just very tame wolves.
My imagination makes me dream of these people and their first dogs: What did they name them? What were they hunting? Did the dogs come when called?
These are my happiest times.
I remember long walks in the autumn woods with Goldie and Kizzy. It is the long fall break weekend at my alma mater, and I have returned to see the dogs.
I’ve come to bury my sorrow as the Senate passes the Iraq War Resolution and descends our nation into the madness of Mesopotamia .
Goldie flushed a grouse that weekend. Kizzy pissed where a coyote marked.
They were natural beings. As far removed from the madness of war based upon falsehoods as they were from the planet Mars.
I still dream of these two dogs: a cat-killing melanistic bullenbeisser and one of Lord Tweedmouth’s finest retrievers. They were two dogs that never would have been able to survive in the suburbs, but their memory casts a long shadow onto my prose.
They haunt my dreams even now.
I also dream of another dog, my uncle’s little bench-legged Jack Russell. He was a soft-natured little dog, who never came when called, but reveled in long walks on the beach on his much-chewed flexi lead.
It was from him that I developed my hatred for flexi leads, for dear Timmy would grab the lead in his mouth when you weren’t going fast enough. Over time, his teeth did a number on the lead, and every once in a while the lead would break. And he didn’t come when called, so you’d better know how to run if he should break free.
He was a dog that reveled in the scents that other dogs left on the sandcastles. He would smell them them, almost savoring their stench. Then, he’d cock his leg and leave his own stain.
We would walk along the beach together in those sultry North Carolina summer days all the to the old fort that once meant to stand as a one of the Lost Cause’s impenetrable redoubts but was soon captured and put to use in the blockade.
Little terrier dogs know anything about war. Nor do golden retrievers or demi-boxers.
They know nothing of the horrors their naked ape best friends inflict upon each other.
They know what lies before them. The smells matter. Some more so than others.
When I walked Timmy on the beach, I imagined that he was able to smell the traces of Bermuda or maybe the Azores or the coast of West Africa.
I imagined that he smelled these exotic scents and tried to parse in his brain what they might be.
That was my imagination running wild.
A dog’s nose might be good, but it’s not that good.
But that’s the thing about me and dogs: They awaken within me that which is childlike and that which is, at its very heart, savage.
When I am with them alone in the sunshine, I am no longer the pariah. I am no longer me. I am just being. And just being is the beautiful feeling in the world.
It must be the closest thing to a religious experience that I will ever be able to know.
This banal but ancient ritual, man and dog in nature– Just being.
Lost in a simple reverie.