Archive for the ‘deep thought’ Category

shackleford ponies

I used to go to those islands all the time. When I was a kid the Southern Outer Banks were my summer isles. We used to drive down across the Alleghenies, the cut through the Blue Ridge, and then wind our way around the North Carolina Piedmont for what seemed an eternity.

And we’d get all giddy and silly when we crossed the first causeway that went over saltwater. Children from the interior are certainly easily amused.

The sandy isles are made to weather and contort with the currents and the wind, but they aren’t likely going to withstand the king tides of climate change.

And this coming hurricane, which they are calling Florence, will be a disaster, of course. I hope the Neuse and the Cape Fear Rivers don’t swell up in the storm surge and decimate all those little cotton and pulp mill towns.

I hope those old banker ponies will still roam Shackleford Banks, and little kids will fight over who saw the first feral horse when the family drives over to Beaufort.

Blackbeard used to use the islands as his pirate haunts, and The Queen Anne’s Revenge ran aground on a sandbar near Beaufort. And the old pirate met his demise at Ocracoke.

But when you listen to that Jimmy Buffet music on the beach, you feel that pirate’s presence in the hot salty air.

And you feel the hospitality of these saltwater people, whose lives are made during the tourist season if the shrimp and oyster boats don’t bring in a good profit.

They know the storms, but the bad ones are still pretty bad.

And I cannot tell you much but a piece of me aches for what is coming.  I hope that all will be okay in the end, but I know that every one of these storms takes a bit away. It takes life. It washes away a whole beach. It floods out a little town.

Nature builds the hurricanes over the warm late summer seas. We just now help in the process by making the seas stay a little warmer a little longer.

Those island towns have made fortunes off of West Virginia coal miners’ vacation funds. The carbon released from the burning of coal has made the earth retain the sun’s heat, as did the burning of petroleum in air-conditioned cars of all the tourists coming down  And so the force that made the islands ultimately will bring them down a peg.

Nature gives. Nature takes, and humans can never accept the unjust mismeasure.

But the storm is coming to the islands and coast, and let’s hope when this passes we can think about the warming seas and burning of fossil fuels.

I hope we can, but I wonder if we will do anything about it.

Because it may not happen this time, but someday– and someday soon– the Outer Banks will slip and slide away into the frothy waves of the Atlantic.

And I will have lost a bit of the happy times of my childhood, and we will all lose the tern-filled beaches, the nesting grounds of the loggerhead sea turtles, and the place where the waves crash and the dolphins cavort.

A bit of America will be gone, another bit that we squandered away in our stupidity and ignorance as the cars and plants churned up the carbon into the sky.




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The Flinty Rain

anka eager

Friday night, I took Anka out for her final run out. The wind was blowing a bit, and every so often, I felt a few raindrops splash against my skin. The week had been unseasonably hot for September, but on this Friday night, the air had a chill to it. And the rain that hit me was cold and flinty.

The whole weekend was a torrential downpour, and the temperatures dropped low and autumnal.

Yes, it is about that time everyone realizes that summer is about to ease its way off the scene. Sure, there will be still be a few days where the sun beats down enough that one will wish for cool drink, a cool breeze, or a nice little rain, but the ordinance of time says that those days are more finitely numbered.

I do remember what day this is. I remember distinctly having these exact thoughts on this same date in 2001. On that day, the air was cool and crisp in the morning. The sky was as pastel blue as I have ever seen it. The leaves on campus were starting to turn, and I knew then that summer was going away.

I had just started my third week of college. I was a freshman, and I was even more unsure of myself then than I am now. My schedule on Tuesdays (and yes, that was a Tuesday) was to be in class almost the entire morning.

I walked from my first class, which was my American government class, to my psychology class, and I let my mind roll around in the reverie of a what could turn into a lovely September day. I watched the robins on the campus lawn, and I made note of the lazy city squirrels that loped around without any fear in them.

When I made to my psychology class, one of my classmates said a plane had hit the World Trade Center. I thought it was just a little private plane that some idiot had accidentally flown into a building.

It was beyond my comprehension that anyone would use commercial planes to act as weapons of mass murder. I had come of age in the roaring 90s. Those were the days of the great tech bubble, but at the time, it felt like the good times would go on forever. Clintonian technocracy had solved the problems of the world, and the election of George W. Bush was an anomaly, a simple accident of the electoral college. All would be made right soon enough, and the world would make sense again.

Every single one of those delusions was crushed on that day.  George W. Bush would use those terror attacks to recast himself as a war time president, and even the most mild of Democrats would be harangued as “soft on terror,” just for offering the softest critiques. Bush would lead us into the mess of Mesopotamia, and then he would be re-elected, foul up the response to Hurricane Katrina. And the sugar high of his tax cuts couldn’t put a band-aid on the casino economy that eventually came crashing to reality.

And so my summer ended with those terrorist attacks, and for the first time in my life, I began to think about my country differently. I became disillusioned by most of it, and I still pretty much am.

I also remember on this day that the plane that hit the Pentagon flew a course right over my college.  I bet if I looked up into that clear sky, I would see the jet trail pasting a white line in the blue sky.  I would see only the banality of airplanes in the bright sky, and I would think nothing of it. I would not know of the murder coursing the sky above me.

The sky above is like a dome covering us from the seeming infinity of the Cosmos.  It is a shelter that gives humanity a veil from which to hide from the stark realities of being so profoundly alone on this planet.

We don’t expect death to come sailing down upon us from the sky, especially in this country with it nuclear weapons and technically-advanced military.

But this time it did. This time we were vulnerable. This time we were scared, terrified, and bewildered.

And on that day, my 18-year-old brain was struggling to come to terms with it all.

So the past weekend was the falling of the flinty rain and not the clear skies of 2001, but the coolness of the air puts me in the right mind to wonder and mourn and take stock of what is to come and what has truly happened since then.

My life will be forever measured on 9/11s.  It is a date more profound for me than my own birthday, for even though I lost no one on those attacks, I feel that I did lose something, my own sense of invincibility.

And I also lost my sense that the world had been figured out by those in power. The next 7 years would prove to me that no one power really knew how to fix or manage anything. They were either too incompetent or too corrupted to do so.

I tried my hand at being politically active, and I still am in my own way. But the deep disillusionment meant that I would turn to animals and nature as my opiate to ease my suffering a bit. That’s why I have a blog like this one, and I don’t have my soap box blog, where I tell you how I would like the country run.

I’d rather revel in animals than wallow in that self-righteousness and in that idealism again. Both of those are a mud too redolent for this hog.

To write about animals is a luxury for some, who feel to compelled to write about the world in its horrors to avoid the very issue, but for me, it is the balm that keeps me sane enough to exist.

A robin on the lawn, a lazy loping squirrel, and an eager German shepherd wanting her ball thrown are all better to things for my prose to consider and dissect than the crumbling, broken world of man.

It is how this cynic keeps his romance of life going, and it is this romance that makes life so precious and sweet. That, and true love, of course.




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The Old Man and the Dog

neo mastiff

The Old Man didn’t know where the time had gone. All he knew now was that six years had passed since he drove home with a Neapolitan mastiff puppy, which he had named “Brutus.” And the little cropped-eared hippopotamus of a puppy had matured into a massive creature. It took the beast three years to reach 146 pounds, and for two years, he was a fell stallion among dogs.  But in his sixth year, Brutus was starting that ascent in old age, which comes awfully early for dogs in this breed.

In his prime, Brutus was slate gray and wrinkly.  He woke with the Old Man each day, and after his morning turnout, the big dog would trundle back into the house. The Old Man would prepare a hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs and sausage, and he would talk to the mastiff dog as if he were human. For as an old bachelor, now living fairly well on his pension, he had little company to entertain him, so he allowed his big dog to be his comrade at arms, his confidant, and his dearest friend.

The tunnel of the years was growing closer and closer on both Brutus and his master.  And the master knew it was coming sooner for Brutus than for himself.  So he knew now was the time enjoy the dog as best he could. He doubted that when the time came that he would be able to get another dog.  It took two years of hard core obedience training to turn that sloppy pup into something that society would deem a respectable dog, The stubbornness of Neapolitan mastiffs, especially plucky males like Brutus, meant lots of leash pops and shouting. The Old Man was not an expert at dog training, but he was an expert at exerting his will. That’s how he’d made a killing in the insurance business, and how he’d also gained many admirers and enemies– and not a single true friend.

He had owned dogs all through his life, mostly poorly-bred over-sized and oversexed male Labradors, but when that time came to collect his pension and go off and lounge in the world, he felt an aching for a real dog. He bought a few books on dog breeds and then became infatuated with the lore of the Roman Molossus, the dog of legend that is said to be the ancestor of all the European mastiffs. “Said to be” is, of course, dog world speak for a wondrous flight of fancy. But the Old Man was not an historian or a dog expert. However, he loved movies and novels about the Roman Empire, and he thought that somewhere along the line he might own a piece of Old Rome.

Within four months of retirement, he was on a breeder’s waiting list. Six months after that, he picked up Brutus and brought him home, and the two had begun their six year odyssey of training a ham-headed mastiff into a civilized guard dog.

His neighbors thought he was insane for bringing such a beast into the leafy green neighborhood. They feared for their children, their carefully manicured lawns, and delicately cultivated flower gardens.  But the Old Man made his dog obey, and he never left him outside to bark booming warnings at traffic or passersby.

He knew that he had a real dog on his hands, and that he had better make that beast listen.  And so he did.

He made civilizing Brutus is full-time avocation, and for a man who was used to working long hours, this project was the perfect thing to keep his life occupied. Twice a day, he marched the big mastiff down the quiet suburban lanes, popping leash corrections if the big boy stopped to sniff the grass or even hazarded an attempt to growl at barking dogs that cursed the pair as they passed by their fenced yards.

And Brutus responded with all that work by becoming intensely loyal. Indeed, the two began to develop a relationship of such intensity, that the big mastiff came to respond to clicks of his master’s tongue and the casting of his eyes. They were bonded man and dog, and no one could separate them.

So tightly were they bond, that the Old Man decided against taking that big European vacation that he’d always dreamed of. He couldn’t find anyone who could care for the big dog anyway, and what’s more, he couldn’t bare leaving his best friend.

So the Old Man lived out the first years of his retirement as a full-time dog keeper, and he felt better than he had in all those years of selling insurance policies, setting up new insurance offices, and generally being a successful businessman but a failure as a human being.

He smiled more. He laughed a lot.  He lost weight and gained muscle.  Brutus’s had given him so much more than he ever could have dreamed.

But now that Brutus was turning six, the reality of owning a dog such as this began to set in. Brutus began to limp with a bit of stiffness on cool October mornings. The vet put him on an anti-inflammatory medicine for arthritis.

The next month saw the Old Man get surgery for his cataracts.  Then a colonoscopy revealed a few nasty polyps that had to be excised.  The Old Man wasn’t that ill, but he wasn’t getting any younger. That realization was hitting him harder than before.

And then Brutus started becoming more tired on his walks, and the Old Man cut them shorter. And big dog gained weight. Within two months, Brutus tipped the scales at the vet’s office at 163 pounds.

And it was at that point that the vet intervened and told the Old Man to cut back on the daily ration of scrambled eggs and sausage.

But the first day he cut back, Brutus glared back at his master with sad but rheumy eyes, and the Old Man knew he couldn’t do it. He gave him his usual ration.

He knew intellectually that he shouldn’t do it, but he couldn’t refuse the old dog. He knew the dog’s life wouldn’t be too much longer, and life was too short to be rationing away all the goodness.

It is this sort of rationalization that leads to so many fat old dogs, but it is one that is hard to argue against, even with all the facts and reasoning on one’s side.

So Brutus grew slower and fatter all through the winter. The Old Man did much the same. His belly hung back out over his pants, just as it had done when he worked ten hours a day at the office.

Very little snow fell that whole season, so all Brutus and the Old Man woke up to was the decaying grayness of winter all around them. The sallow rays of the winter sun cast ugliness upon the skeleton trees. It frosted hard enough that one would worry about the plants, but the temperature would soon rise in the daylight to make the land nothing but ugly mud.

In late March, when the trees finally showed signs of budding, Brutus collapsed on the kitchen floor. The Old Man let the dog out for his morning urination and defecation run, and when the dog sallied back into the house for his daily rationing of sausage and eggs, he dropped to the floor.

And he would not rise.

The Old Man called the vet’s office, and the receptionist told him to bring Brutus in right away. The Old Man wanted to, but Brutus could not get up.

What is a man to do when his dog is too big for him to lift on his own?  The first thing most would do is call out to the neighbors, but he didn’t know any of the neighbors.  And he didn’t want to trouble them.

But in his panicked state, he realized that he’d have to swallow his introversion and ask for help.  Within a half hour, he’d assembled a crew of neighbors, including one particularly macho man whose main hobby was body-building and used to work for the local high school as a strength and conditional coach for the football team. They lifted the big dog onto a thick sheet of plywood and then hoisted the beast on this makeshift litter into the back of the Old Man’s SUV.

And off he sped to the vet clinic.

For two hours, the Old Man waited in complete silence in the reception area. He watched the various people passing back and forth with their golden retrievers and Labradors and pit bulls. He could not make a smile grace his face as he sat there staring into the foreboding, for he knew that nothing good was going to come of today’s events.

A receptionist called his name, but he did not hear it. She called it ten times, but the sound did not register upon the Old Man’s ears.

But then he heard his name, and it pierced him like a knife.  And he rose and entered the examination room. He waited there for twenty minutes, when a young veterinarian with closely cropped black hair and slender build slid into the room. His face was stubbly and grim, and his eyes had that look of sorrow mixed with professional dead seriousness of a medical professional.

Cancer of the spinal chord, probably quite malignant. Brutus would never walk again, and now was the time to have that serious talk about mortality.

The Old Man wept as he had never wept before. The tears rushed down the sides of his face and the skin of his cheeks flushed deep red. For twenty minutes he cried and cried and tried to catch himself.

And when he finally reached that level of composure to talk, his only words were.

“It is time.”

He then asked to see Brutus off on his final journey, and he was led to another room, where the great gray mastiff lay prone and still.

He stroked the old dog’s wrinkled head and sobbed out some goodbyes and a sweet little musing of “good dog.”

And then came the euthanasia, and Brutus’s hours of not being able to rise were ended.

The Old Man wept deeply, kissing the dead dog’s brow as he held the beast’s head in his lap.

And so the Old Man’s six year tenure as a mastiff keeper were ended.

A month passed, and the Old Man made arrangements to travel to Europe. It would be a six month vacation, traveling all over Europe.  He did make a special point to see the Coliseum in Rome, where he stood still and wondered if Brutus’s many, many greats grandfather had grappled with a lion there. All through Italy and especially the countryside around Naples seemed to sing the song of that old mastiff.

He couldn’t quite let go of the majesty and love that he had once known, and feeling such sadness when he finally left Italy for tour of the French Riviera, he didn’t know much what to do with himself. Sure, the sunny seashore should have raised his spirits.

But it didn’t.  At a simple French cafe, he met an English woman, a lecturer of literature who had a simple country home in the Devon Countryside.

A bit reluctant to talk to her, he suddenly felt at ease, and spoke to her about his life, about his hopes and dreams.

They met every evening for a week, and then she invited him to come and visit her in Devon. He spent a month there, and in his odd way, he fell in love with her. She fell in love with him.

And he fell for the lush countryside and for this wonderful woman, who somehow assuaged all his sorrow and made him feel complete as a man for the first time in his life.

And he knew the next step would be to move. He returned to the US, sold all his property there, and moved to that Devonshire cottage to be with his love. She was in her 40s, and he would be 70 next year. But it didn’t matter.

He was in love, and he knew it.

Every day, he walked along the country lanes of Devon, eyes open for the spying the hares and pheasants that popped out along the hedgerows. He walked every day, and some times he thought of Brutus and his old life. He missed that old dog so much. He wondered what he would think of walking freely in the beautiful countryside.  He figured the dog would have loved it so much.

One rainy April day, about a year after he had moved to England, the old man came trundling down one of his favorite country lanes, when a dog suddenly came bursting out of a hedgerow.

It was lurcher, blue merle and short-coated, and so gaunt even for being a lurcher that it was obvious that he wasn’t being fed well.

The dog approached him cautiously. It sniffed his hand and wagged its tail. Its eyes possessed that silly sighthound seriousness, which was bit offset because one was flecked with blue.

It was a female dog, and the Old Man didn’t know what to do.  He could take her to the animal shelter in town, but that would mean a long hike back to his car.

So he continued his walk, half hoping the dog wouldn’t follow and half hoping that she would. She followed. Indeed, she followed so closely that it almost appeared as if she had always belonged to him.

And when he turned to go back to the car, she followed him just as closely, and almost without thinking, he let her in the backseat, and drove back home.

At first he thought he would take her to the animal shelter in town, but as he drove, he felt strangely good to have a dog back there.

And by the time his wife arrived home from the university that evening, the lurcher was sprawled out on a blanket by the fireplace. There was no real discussion about what needed to be done.

The lurcher was to stay, and his love pretty much had to accept it.

And so the lurcher was named Bracken, and every day, she and the old man walked the countryside of Devon. She might have been a poacher’s dog, but she was now the pet of a transplanted country squire.

In her smooth flowing paw steps into the grass, the Old Man could sometimes hear the whisper of Brutus passing by. No, she wasn’t a Neapolitan mastiff.  She wasn’t broad-headed beast that needed to be made to obey.

Bracken was easy and light and soft, the perfect dog for an aging man who missed exquisite existence of being a dog keeper.

And so the two marched along those sweet country lanes. Man and dog together as one team.

Just as it once was, it was to be again.










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A tremendous amount of insecurity exists among dog people. Certain reasons for this insecurity exist, but the main reason is that dogs give us some kind of ideological framework and community organization that humans instinctively crave.  Most Western societies are quite isolating, and in the United States, this problem is quite epidemic, as Robert Putnam noted.  We are a species that longs to belong and to know what to believe, so we are lost without this organization and society.

Dogs can give us everything like that. It doesn’t matter which angle one takes into the world of dogs, there will be a community of people and a set of ersatz gurus that will point us down the path that appears to be correct. These gurus may be the most insecure people on the planet, but they are fed by the simple knowledge that they know something, that they have power over someone, and don’t want anyone questioning anything that might lead to the guru seeming foolish or losing power.

I fully confess that I have these tendencies as well. I am a profoundly insecure person. But I also recognize how unhealthy it is, and I will do my best to fight my insecurity. But I don’t think I’ll ever have it fully beaten back.  It is just something I will recognize that I must struggle with.

The other problem that causes great insecurity in the world of dogs is that we ultimately expect too much from the animals. The fact that so many of them meet and even excel at being superior companion animals is a testament to how supremely adapted to life with us.

But the truth of the matter is countless dog trainers and dog people are so insecure in their abilities to get a dog to do something.  A constant fear of judgment or being discovered as wanting looms deeply in their psyche. These people might be superior dog trainers, but their insecurity holds them back.

And part of this problem is that we have elevated certain people to high levels of status in these communities that we feel as failures next to the Apollonian dog heroes. Our popular culture around dog trainers see them as infallible, coolly rational experts, who ask just a few questions and do a few little dramatic training moves. And the dog is suddenly cured. That’s how these experts are portrayed on television. Almost all of it is nothing more twaddle and good editing.

But those bits of artifice that slip through the ether onto our television and computer screens also slip into our psyches and make us truly doubt ourselves.

You can rationally tell yourself that something is fake on television, but you will still believe it. That’s why commercials on television work so well. You will tell yourself that those advertisements have no effect on you, but you will buy those products when you’re at the grocery store.  That’s why companies spend so much money television advertisements. You will tell yourself you’re not being sold something, but in reality, you actually are.

Dog people are very often living with an outward shield. We appear cool and collected on the surface, but deep down, we’re lost and lonely and insecure.

And we don’t want the world to know. I think that this tendency to make sure the world doesn’t know explains some of the horrible behavior that we can sometimes see from dog people, especially online, where one never has to mouth nasty words and feel that bile charge up your neck and leave a foul taste on the tongue.

Maybe the most important thing is to keep an open mind and love your dog, and do the best you can with what you have and what you know. And try to understand that we’re all ultimately in the same boat. We’re struggling to find meaning and community and to feel smart and successful, but we’re adrift in a world that is constantly changing, constantly bickering, and never fully satisfied.

And let’s go easy on the dogs a bit.

And if we can do it with each other, maybe that would be a good thing, too.








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Into the Anthropocene Abyss



Some experts aren’t big fans of us using the term “Anthropocene” to describe our current epoch. We’re still in the Holocene. Maybe the Holocene has gone into a truly anthropocentric era, but they remain unconvinced that humanity has reached a tipping point in which nature truly is bent to the ways of humanity.

I would argue that we are. A mass extinction followed the switch from the Pleistocene to the Holocene.  Large numbers of megafaunal species fell to the wayside. Extinctions and extirpations occurred through those thousands of years in which began the switch from a hunter-gatherer ape to an agricultural demigod of a species.

In the past few centuries, though, we’ve gone into overdrive. We’ve conquered disease after disease.  The human population is growing more and more every year, and the need for constant growth to accommodate so many hungry people is taking a real toll upon the world’s ecosystems.

Species are dying out, and yes, species are being created as we continue on with our mass tinkering. But who can say that we’re creating anything as magnificent as an Amur tiger, an African bush elephant, or blue whale. We are creating a world that favors the generalist and the small and unobtrusive. We are not creating world that favors the magnificent and predatory and fell and bestial.

It sings the song of the lowly Virginia opossum and the yappy red fox. It goes hard against the thylacine and the massive megafaunal wolf.

Humanity, now becoming more and more cloistered in urban settings, knows very little of the world that isn’t forged in steel or encased in concrete. The digital information revolution has not empowered the logical and reasonable. Instead, it has empowered the lynch mob and the demagogue that hits the mob’s sensitive buttons. Whole technologically advanced societies are now divided upon which of the various digitally connected lynch mobs one belongs to.

And so we have climate change deniers forcing environmental policy, and we have animal rights fanatics trying to ban anything in which humans have a true relationship with an animal that goes beyond the cutesy caricature of a silly cartoon.

Wisdom, reason, and true civil society will be the only ways to deal with the challenges of the Anthropocene, but if you look at the wealthy nations right now, especially my own, none of these forces operates well in the body politic. We have a first class baboon in the White House, who seems to think that all he needs to do is engage in demagoguery and that will save his bacon from whatever scandals surface. And we have an opposition party that doesn’t seem to understand anything, except that half the party hates the other half, and all those with actual power in the system seem to be much more concerned with courting donor money than trying to mobilize to fight against the Anthropocene’s looming darkness.

I’m sure that many other countries in the West are in the same boat, and in each case, warring lynch mobs are so ballistic across the great digital connections that allow us to have these things called social media that it’s becoming harder and harder to walk everything back, even just a little.

We loom a little closer each day to true ecological demise. We have cast our lot into the Anthropocene’s abyss.

Will we someday rise to the occasion?

Or are we really nothing more that aggression-prone tribal apes that somehow got lucky when it came to the evolution of our brains?

We will need more than that luck to save ourselves.  We will need to use those brains. We will need to set aside the aggression.

And I just don’t know if our species, as brilliant as it is, can really do these things. I have to hope that we can.

Vain hope is better than true doom and gloom melancholia. At the very least, it makes waking up in the morning a little easier and going to bed at night a little less of an effort.





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I’m not 25 anymore

merle french bulldog

Over a decade ago, I started this blog. I am not 25 years old anymore.  I have lived a decade. I have seen a decade’s worth of learning, and I have tried my very best to keep my mind open.

Having an open mind is a dangerous thing, for we live in a world in which cliques and support are often unified with a bit of dogma. So when I change my mind about something, I am always a little afraid. Indeed, I think we all are when we hit this point in our growth as humans.

You may notice that have long since stopped the posts that rail against the American Kennel Club. The reason is pretty simple:  The AKC registers only a tiny fragment of dogdom in this country. Those number apparently are not on the increase either. The vast majority of dogs born in this country could be bred exactly outside the confines of various closed registry breeds, and in truth, that’s the whole deal with the designer dog thing.

I came to the point very recently that I am fully aware of all the problems associated with lower genetic diversity in purebred dogs, but I also began to realize that the people who were in purebred dogs were people who actually loved their animals. I would like “purebred” to mean something different than it does now, but I don’t discount the concept of breed.

I would like to have better brachcephalic dogs rather than ban all brachycephalic dogs. Brachycephalic breeds exist, I think, because it is easier for primates like ourselves to see some comradeship in an animal that has almost simian visage than one with the wolf’s muzzle. The extant form of dogs all belong to the subfamily called Caninae, which is characterized by cursorial hunting. I have called these dogs “post canine” because their selection is against the main feature of all Caninae. They are now Caninae by lineage in the same way that whales are Artiodactyls.  They are off that lineage but no longer share those traits that defined their ancestors.

I offer only a criticism of these dogs, not an advocacy for any legislation. My criticism is there because I am oddly attracted to brachycephaly. I am pulled by my primate brain to feel that comradeship, and I know that the owners of these dogs feel those emotions even more strongly than I do.

I think my initial edgelord tone on this issue didn’t do any good.  It might have given me some hits on the blog and plaudits from other bloggers. I may have helped the Retromops project a bit, but I don’t think it helped any pugs or French bulldogs.

French bulldogs haven’t gone down in popularity either. They are now the number 1 breed in the UK, supplanting the old staple of the Labrador retriever.

I miss the golden retriever of my youth very much. Her ghost haunts nearly ever post on this site, and I’ve spent so much time looking for a dog with that amount of intellect, sensitivity, drive, and yes, loyalty, and I have found so many dogs that come close but never match them all.

Anka does. Anka is not a golden retriever, but she is like that old dog, a package that mixes all those things and places them in a different package.

And that means I must say I was generally wrong about German shepherds. I had never lived with one until now, and I never dreamed that I would hit it off with one of these dogs.

But I have.

And if I’m wrong about her, then I surely have been wrong about many things, many things about which I have written to you in a voice that sounds awfully authoritative.

I try to get the facts. I’d rather be right than wrong, and I would like to pare back my prejudices as much as possible.

I’m glad that I am reaching this point in my life, and I only wish that I had reached it sooner, when I could have been less cruel and less maddeningly stupid.

So I am not in my 20s anymore, and I now wish to move onto a better exploration of myself, what I actually think, and what I actually am.

I hope you can stay with me, but I am different now.




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The Crystal Island

black skimmer.jpg

When I was a boy, my family used to vacation on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. These islands are masses of shifting sands, and their exact topography can vary from season to season, year to year.

When you’re a child growing up somewhere deep in the interior of the country, the salt sea and the sand and all the attendant creatures associated with these environs are exotic. For me to come out of the mountains and the forests of oak, hickory, and maple was to step into a new universe,

I came to revel in the foliage in scenery changes as we crossed the Alleghenies and the Blue Ridge, then rambled along the Piedmont for what seemed an eternity, and the came to the flat land of the pines, Along the roadside, the subtropical pine forest seemed to stretch on for an eternity, but suddenly, you’d a long patch of cotton fields and corn. And when I was a really young boy, the tobacco fields would also stretch out on both sides of the highway.  Acres and acres of cancer and emphysema, bright leaves shining in the summer sun, white flowers spreading like a fine ornamental.

But then, we’d cross a causeway or two and drive over the some sound, where the saltwater laid heavy and black and where there would always someone fishing along the bank, and we’d get all excited because we’d seen saltwater again.

When I was a young child, I accepted the usual beach decorum of lying around on a towel in the sand and charging out into the waves for a bit of fun. The real joy would come when we’d go to the hotel pool and swim for seven or eight hours.

But as the summers passed, I got the wandering spirit. I think I initially got this idea to avoid potential family conflict, but I would go in the early morning on the beach and walk where the sand was still pounded down from the receding tide.

I would walk past all the places where people were sprawled out catching rays, past the places where lifeguards sat on high towers to watch for mischief, and within just few hundred yards, I’d step onto the wide beach that rested just beyond an old Civil War fort.

And there, I would walk into a sort of wilderness. Where the terns festoons the sand, and the black skimmers would descend along the foamy waves and let their long lower bills  dip into the water in hopes of snagging a wayward baitfish.  The little shorebirds, too difficult for my adolescent mind to identify, would scamper in and away as the waves crashed into the beach sand.

The only people about where those either letting their dogs off-leash to run into the surf or the true seashell aficionados, who were scouring the tidal zone for perfect scallop and oyster shells. And then there would be a few old me standing shirtless and sunburned as they cast their long fishing rods into the sea.

I would walk into the subtropical heat, and the sweat would pour from my skin. The sunscreen would run into my eyes, and I’d wipe my forehead with a paper towel I remembered to bring with me.

And I would enter into this Zen-like state, one that I can only attempt to describe with some difficulty, but that I would feel at one with the heat and the salty wind and the crashing waves.

And my eyes would cast about and watch the brown pelicans dive down into water beyond the waves, and occasionally, bottlenose dolphins would make an appearance in the surf.

And I would become transfixed with them.  I would wonder about what it would be like to be a dolphin living in the sea, frolicking the whole day with my pod as I chased the the little fish up into shoreline.

I would sometimes follow a pod along the coast  and then totally forget where I was on the beach,  but beaches being linear things, I knew that all I had to do was remember whether I had been heading out or heading back to correct my course.

I would cross back over the boardwalk that carried me over the dunes, and the green anoles would flit about and show their dewlaps. And I would be reminded of what an exotic place this truly was, and I would then return to the hotel or the condo for a nice shower and then preparation for the evening meal at some restaurant.

On dark winter nights, I often will have dreams about the Crystal Island, and into my mind will filter the crashing waves, the cavorting dolphins,  stench of the ocean, and that Zen-like state of walking in the subtropical heat.

And I will remember it for my encounters with a wildness I rarely got to see. I was in a place that was just far enough off the beaten path as not to have been turned into a corporate hellhole, where I could still see a bit of the wild Atlantic with my feet still in the sand.

I know that someday I will return to this island, and I will feel a bit of sorrow. I bet the dolphins don’t come in close to shore there anymore. Climate change and the sea level rise will have altered this spit of sand, too, and I know it will never be the same place I knew as a child.

But it still resides.  It is deep within my psyche, and my occasional flits of nostalgia will bring it back for a little while.

And maybe that’s the best I can do.


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