Archive for the ‘deep thought’ Category

Born again pagan

The deer are gray-coated now. The season of the canopy flame will soon give way to the long season of the gray tree trunks, where the deer so appropriately colored seem to materialize as phantoms among the smudgy gray.

The repast of acorns is falling hard on the leaves.  A creation of the oak from those days of bright sunshine and long lazy days, the acorn feeds the beasts. The chipmunks store them in their dens, and the deer and the bears devour them to make their winter fat.

I step into this forgotten forest as a visitor, the same as I stepped into the taiga of Denali National Park or snorkeled among the sea turtles and bird wrasse in Kauai. I come here more often, but my basic humanity is that I am but a visitor here. I will never know this land the way the wild coyotes do, where they use the land to hide themselves from our firing guns. I will never have that wisdom, nor will I have the wisdom of the old men who ran the hills setting traps and hunting for hides.

And I am far removed from those first Siberians who came into this continent and lived of the bounty of the land and began their own nations before being cleared off by the Europeans.

It is as the visitor that I step into the woods. I am a visitor, a wannabe pilgrim, who has come looking for the divine. I search not for the divinity of my own Anglican-Methodist childhood, for I’ve moved beyond it. The questions I have cannot be answered in that tradition any longer. These questions I have about what it means to be good. To be good is the fundamental question for me.  How can I be decent toward others? What does it mean to be a good man?

And my other question is about my position in the cosmos, and notions that I am the center of the universe and that some omnipotent being loves me don’t withstand my skepticism.

The only deity I know is nature. My worship of this deity is to spend time alone or with dogs in that which has not be forged by its forces and meditate and ask questions.

I live in a world in which those questions can be adequately answered in the traditions of the Bible.  I live in a world where people are hurting and lost. The coal industry will never return, and the steel mills are running silent. The middle class created here has been gutted, and the unions are no more. An apocalypse has happened, and people want answers. Traditional religion provides those answers, and I will allow them to find some comfort there.

My church is the wild woods,  and my hymns are the the hoof-beats of deer, the falling of acorns from their oaks, and the soft panting of a golden retriever puppy as she leaps around on her first sylvan excursions.

I think of the spinner dolphins I saw cavorting on a quiet bay in Kauai last summer.  They leaped and spun in the pure joy of existing, a sort of ecstasy that I only dream of experiencing. The azure sea was their home. They weren’t visitors. They were truly at home in their native universe.

A piece of me wishes to feel that nativity, to feel that ecstasy.

Yet I know that as a human living in this century, I am already an alien. My world is digitized and pixelated.

But the real world is organic and pungent smelling. It is carbon and oxygen and nitrogen. It is the green stems and the fur and feather.

The real world is a place I can touch, but with which I can never fully be.

I am thus separated from the only deity I will even known, but deeply I will yearn for it. I will keep asking my questions. I will keep on going.

I am born again a pagan each time I step beyond the world of man. It is here that I find my solace, my closest sense of peace.

And thus I will be until I take my final breath.

Maybe my life will signify nothing, but for now, I will let my reverie be my meaning.

And I will take you along.

If you want.





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The most pernicious delusion of our species is that we are somehow above nature. Ever since we chipped away at flint to make spear points or domesticated fire to do our bidding, we’ve contriving hard against nature.

But for the past 10,000 years or so, we’ve been in the process of wall-building. Domesticating grain species is a wall built against hunger that could come from depleted game herds.

But grain grows best only in certain areas, and thus, we’ve become sedentary and possessive. We’ve become better fighters to defend our lands. We’ve built better tools of war. A gun is a finely crafted rock-chucker.  An ICBM with a hydrogen bomb is little more than a super rock-chucker that throws a very deadly rock.

When diseases have developed as a result of our great concentrations of population, we’ve created sewage systems. We’ve developed medicines to defend ourselves against disease.

We have made it so our average lifespans are at least double what they were just centuries ago. The planet now teems with us.

And we all want walls to protect us.

We’ve spent so much time designing and contriving new ways of security, new ways of comfort, that in these wealthier countries, we live almost as aliens upon our own planet.

In the United States, we live in a sort of fairy tale fortress. The nuclear triad and our advanced airforce mean that no enemies are going to get us.  Most of us live in cities, where the only predators we’ll ever know are those belonging to our species. Air conditioning and mosquito control make the South livable, and insulation and fine furnaces make the North’s winters pass in comfort.

We have power, but that power is finite.

Very simply, there is isn’t a wall we can build of any kind that can stop a hurricane. We cannot nuke our way out of this threat. We are totally at its mercy.

Harvey, which dumped all that rain on Texas and Louisiana, ruined the best-laid plans of cotton farmers and urban planners.

The boiling seas off Africa are now sending us another.  This one is a vortex of water vapor and wind that no more cares that it is going to hit West Palm Beach than it would Winnipeg. It is mindless force of nature, and it is about to humble the sunny lands. It will cost billions of dollars.

And no presidential act, no bluster or official act, can stop what is coming. True, the warming planet makes these superstorms more likely, but the contribution our carbon-addicted economy did to create this storm was already cast into the atmosphere. Whether we elected the denialist or the one who didn’t deny it,  we were going to warm and warm anyway, and the storms will still come.

We are laid out vulnerable now. The millions of years of evolution and the thousands of years of civilization are but a veneer.  Before this coming storm, we are the Taung child, and the great eagle is stooping from the sky, talons poised.

We’ve spent much of our political energy over the past year or so engaged picayune squabbles. We’ve become obsessed with immigration, especially of how it relates to our so-called “national character.” We’ve elected a man who will keep us safe from the scary Mexicans and Muslims, as if those were the greatest threat we had to face.

We lost our minds about who gets to refuse service at the bakery and who gets to use what bathroom. We fought those wars of culture so long that they are so well-worn and threadbare that we no longer have a body politic. We have our factions now. That is the United States. States that are united in law but no longer in national purpose or understanding.

But while we were worrying about all these things, the planet warmed a bit more. We landed, then, one year on a bad roll of the dice, and the big storms are coming.

We could have spent this time working on building up a post-carbon economy, improving infrastructure, and developing innovative ways of flood control and evacuation procedures.

That’s what a rational people would have done with these past few years. The debate of the last presidential campaign would have largely been based upon those issues and not the worst sort of nationalist fear-mongering.

But we build the walls. We imprison more people in the world than any other, and yet we do not feel safe. We are armed to the teeth with more guns per capita than anywhere else, and yet we don’t sleep easy at night.

Income inequality and job insecurity eat away at our sound minds. We might have spent the last election fighting over those issues.  We chose differently.

Now the poor  are exposed to the drowning waters and the howling winds. It won’t be as bad as Katrina, we hope.

But no wall can stop what is coming.  It is coming. People will die.

No matter how advanced we are, the fortress cannot protect us.

We are vulnerable, exposed. And this is truly frightening for such a walled-off species.



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“Deer Among Cattle” by James Dickey


This is one of the great illustrations of the difference between wild and tame, between cultivated and domesticated and organic and free.

Here and there in the searing beam
Of my hand going through the night meadow
They are all grazing

With pins of human light in their eyes.
A wild one is also eating
The human grass,

Slender, graceful, domesticated
By darkness among the bred-
For slaughter,

Having bounded their paralyzed fence
And inclined his branched forehead onto
Their green frosted table,

The only live thing in this flashlight
Who can leave whenever he wishes,
Turn grass into forest,

Foreclose inhuman brightness from his eyes
But stands here still, unperturbed,
In their wide-open country,

The sparks from my hand in his pupils
Unmatched anywhere among cattle,

Grazing with them the night of the hammer
As one of their own who shall rise.



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Wendell Berry had it right

The world may be going to hell fast, but Wendell Berry knew where to find some salvation:

The “wood drake” is my sign that spring is not far off. I’m a long way from seeing wood ducks now.

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mystery of the dog

We live in an age that revels in the concept of the expert.  We awaken every morning into a world that appears so complex and daunting that we are able to feel some security that somewhere out there an expert of some kind is working to manage some portion of the problem.

And to a certain extent, that is quite comforting, and for the most part, it is how modern civilization works.

But at the same time we are forced to put our faith in experts, we are unwittingly opening up ourselves to a certain number of con artists. Even the most discerning fall victim to them once in a while.

It is one thing fall victim to a useless extended warranty on a dishwasher. It is quite another to fall victim to a sleazy televangelist. With the former, the victim learns not to buy extended warranties on appliances. With the latter, the victim will deny ever having been conned in the first place.

When it comes to the world of dogs, there are plenty of people claiming to be experts who tell you many things that must be done to keep a dog healthy and well-behaved.  Almost all of it is garbage.

The trouble is trying to figure out what is true and what isn’t. The hope is that when you do fall victim, as you surely will, that it is something like the extended warranty con. The danger is falling into the equivalent of the dog televangelists.

And the dog televangelists have created small empires for themselves. And because it is hard to find someone who hasn’t fallen for some line and some personality cult, it should soon be obvious why dog people spend so much time fighting each other.  The televangelists in the world of dogs obviously don’t speak from the same party line or talking points, and when two people under the spell of two divergent views come together, there will be raucous conflict. Usually no one’s mind is changed, and both sides wind up either rage-quitting or triumphantly squawking about how badly they beat their opponent.

It is the conflict between fiefdoms of fiery arrogance and willful ignorance, and one that is sure to frustrate the lay person.

How is one to know what is truly expertise when it comes to dogs?

I don’t have an answer for that question.

I have a method that might help you figure out as much as you can.

The first step is skepticism. Seriously. Claims should be backed up with evidence. Appeals to authority are not evidence. That sort of thing plays to the con artists further up the food chain.

The other important thing is much harder. I call it simply humbling yourself before the Mystery of the Dog.  The truth is that dogs are hard to generalize. Just about everything about them requires nuance and an acceptance that we really don’t know it all.  Because dogs live so intimately with us, we think we know them, but that’s a comforting delusion. We just don’t know that much.

In that same vein, look to others who humble themselves before the Mystery. They are the only ones who can teach you anything.

Having been burned a few times by people claiming to be experts, I’ve found that the these two things help me keep away from the users and abusers.

I look for people who can be nervous and less confident about what they claim to know.

The truth is that I once wrote things here with a lot of confidence, but I didn’t know what I didn’t know. It is the hardest damned thing to realize this simple fact. I’ve written about things I thought I knew well, but the truth is I didn’t understand them at all.

Some have said I’ve been hard of myself lately.  Guilty as charged.

I think it’s the only way I can make amends for failing myself and my readers.

I quit the dog online world because I am wrong, and I do not wish to lead you astray anymore.

I accept the Mystery and my inadequacies before it.

Maybe I’ll find the confidence to write about dogs again, but right now, I’ve got to work on that.

If it means ceding what I know to be true to the pontificating rabble, then it’s a price I’m going to pay.


A part of me wants to tell me to drop out of dogs altogether.  I’d be a Dog Lover Going His Own Way. Someone who loves dogs too much to want to own another one and be dragged into the world of screaming fiends and obvious charlatans.

And yet that part doesn’t sound right.

The Mystery is as beguiling as it is humbling.



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dog fight frans snyders

What follows applies to me as well, and yes, there is an apology coming.

If you spend more than an hour visiting the various forums and online media devoted to dogs, you’ll notice something very quickly.

Lots of people are unnecessarily mean to each other. You see people fighting over stuff that no one even thought to fight over ten years ago, and for some reason, the dog world is where it’s perfectly acceptable to be an asshole.

When you add to the dog world the appearance of  anonymity of the online experience,  you get to see what happens when the dog world meets the online disinhibition effect. What happens is that when people go online, people choose user names, and it becomes somewhat easier to feel that no one knows who you are. If no one knows who you are, then it is okay to let your hair down and fight as dirty as you like.

When you add all the controversies that exist in the dog world to this effect, you have a very toxic milieu in which one can discuss anything.

I admit it. I went down this path for a time, but to be honest with you, I came of age on this site when the whole damned dog blogosphere was nothing but poo-flinging apes writing screeds about how stupid “the others” were. I thought it was perfectly okay for me to be stroppy, and I wasn’t just stroppy:  I was cruel.

I apologize with deepest sincerity for that time.

I don’t think it helped anyone, and when you’re in your 20s, every man goes through an angry young man stage.  I’m finished with being so angry. I’d rather use this space to educate and discuss things I love, not things I hate.

Unfortunately, others will have never outgrown their angry young man stage. Finding men who write about dogs is kind of a tough challenge. Most people who write about dogs are women, and I think the reason is pretty simple. Men are way too into hierarchy with each other, and if two men disagree in the world of dogs (which is guaranteed to happen), there will be war.

Deep down, I am a beta male. I don’t like using the terms from the worst of the misogyny movement, but I’m not a chest-thumping silverback of any kind. I am not happy when I’m tearing someone down. It actually makes me miserable. And my guess is that it works the same way for those in the dog blogosphere who still think the best way to operate is to by bullying and Trumpizing everything.

And I’ve also hit the place where I know enough about dogs to admit to you that I don’t know enough.

And that should be good enough.

I’m done writing about stuff that can never be solved.

I’ve gone through a period of being disillusioned with lots of things, and now I am feeling that I’ve been able to clear away some of the thorny bushes and I can see more clearly into the forest.

What I see is better than what existed before, but it might not be to your liking.

That’s okay.

I’m fine with that.










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Brother dog

brother dog

Translation: Who wants to have a good dog, shall look at it as if it were a brother.

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