Archive for the ‘deep thought’ Category

“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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In mid-May, the leaves burst from the branches. They fill the canopy and shade the forest floor. The fresh, young leaves catch the May sun and cast the most sublime verdant hue.

Thus begins the green time, the age of chlorophyll.

But it will not be long before the ferns and multiflora rose will shade the dappled fawns. Their white spots will mix with the shadows and light, making them all but invisible as they hold their bodies tight to the leaf litter.

I come the forest in May to make my pilgrimage.  The months of the austerity are gone. The stark, naked trees of November and the subzero days of January and May are but distant memories. They are washed away in this time when the forests become cathedrals of green. These months are as fleeting as the cold ones, but they appear to be timeless.

Timeless yet ephemeral.

When I was a child, this was the time of poison ivy rashes and first sunburns of the year, but it was also a time to look forward to the nearly limitless freedom of the coming summer vacation.

In the May night, the forest comes alive with the croaks of the Cope’s gray tree frogs. The barred owls call into the darkness, and the first fireflies of the year flash away in the bushes and treetops.

It is a time when I don’t want to hear the jarring of a human voice, especially the loud shouting talk of an American whose talk of the inane and the vacuous seems as starkly out of place as a hyena laughing in the arctic.

My kind knew of these May days. This was the time to sew the seeds and mend the fences and prepare to cut the hay that would feed the stock through those dun-gray days of November and snow-driven days of whiteness that pop up on January and February.

I’ve always belonged to this time and this place.

Yet I’ve always been a stranger to the people around me. Their world is the quad driving through the quagmires of mud, the rebel flag, and the Skoal can in the back pocket.

And though I belong to the time and place, I don’t know that I have a people anymore.

But I do have the May forest and the sun filtering through the leaves.

And with those things I can manage.




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I grew up in a forest. It was not “the Forest Primeval” of legend, but it was forest that grew up in the old ridge-top pastures that once comprised the bulk of West Virginia’s agrarian economy. I was born into the post-agrarian world, where the forest and thicket loomed over me and shielded me like protective cocoon.

My companions in the woods were the dogs belonging to my parents and grandparents. They were hardy ridge-running dogs, elkhounds, collies,  and beagles.  They were barely formally trained at all.  Life running the woods had provided their education, and they knew were the coolest mudholes were on those sweltering days in July and where they could best cut off a running rabbit before it hit the briers.  They were as sagacious as any dog, but they wouldn’t last an hour in the civilized world. One of my grandfather’s elkhounds had to be taken in the back door at the vet’s because he would lose all composure as soon as he smelled a cat. Such an animal would now be listed a vicious in the modern world and would soon bring about a canceled homeowner’s policy or worse.

These were truly lucky dogs.  They were cared for by people, yet they had so much freedom to be dogs.

And similarly, I was a lucky child to have been given the chance to grow up with so much of the natural world around me. I could see nature as it was. My curiosity was piqued by robin nests full of blue eggs, which were soon replaced by naked chicks with gaping yellow maws. Many times I nearly stepped upon newborn white-tailed deer that were hidden in the thickets while their mothers grazed or chewed cud some distance away. I watched the black American toad tadpoles emerge from ropy egg strands laid shallow roadside ditches and then observed them as they lost their tails and grew legs and then turned into tiny little toads that hopped away.

I also saw what happens to tadpoles when the rain doesn’t come often enough to keep the ditch beds full of water. The sun dries up the water, and the tadpoles scurry into increasingly more sparse little puddles until the water finally goes, and then all we are left with are the rotting black dots of tadpole carcasses.

I have watched maggots devour a dead opossum, including the little joeys in her pouch that never once saw light or climbed a persimmon tree for a midnight feast.

I knew that nature was about savagery, and it was also about luck.  A deer spends its entire life as if it is about to be shot at any moment and from any direction. Its entire existence is about scouting and recon and constant vigilance. Even when they bed down in the late afternoon to chew their cud, they are never fully relaxed. The ears are always twisting, and the nose is always smelling.

I never once lived with that sort of fear, but all around me were the high drama of existence. When creatures live without man to care for them, their lives are about struggle and chaos and mayhem, but because they have lived for so many generations in this fashion, they give us the semblance of being pristine and beautiful.

In a weird way, it became my refuge. I was an oddball kid, and growing up in rural West Virginia, where conformity was enforced rather strictly in the schoolyard hierarchy, I often found that I turned to the woods and the dogs to escape whatever pain I felt that day.

When I feel sad now, I go to the woods in search of refuge, and I often find it. However, it is not the same security I once felt. It is as if those childhood days are fading into the undergrowth, yet I can still see them and hear them. They move as shadows just beyond my gaze. I reach for them, but I cannot grasp them. They remain just beyond my finger tips, tantalizing me.

Maybe they will disappear entirely. I certainly hope not.

I just know that so few children will ever get to grow up the way I did.  The natural world for millions of people living in the West is what is on TV.

But for me it is something else.

It is the world that is not consumed by our megalomaniac species and its various dramas. It is the world that exists without us, but it is the world that spawned us. It is also the world we now deny. We wall ourselves away from it. We live in the concrete and steel world and never give this world more than a passing thought.

At some point, we will become aliens on our planet, and we might not be far from that now.

But in those lost days of dogs and children, I knew what it was like to be an earthling in its fullest essence.

A big part of who am was made in those times, and I don’t think it is easy for me to explain this someone who didn’t experience something similar.

People keep dogs now in fenced yards, where they spend most the day barking at cars and passersby. Maybe someone will walk the dog, but that’s not very likely.  Most of these dogs will never know what it’s like to run unleashed in a woodland full of wild turkey, grouse, rabbit, and deer scent.  Most will never know the joy of lying down hard in a deep mudhole during good hot summer walk. Most won’t know the absolute euphoria of a dog running full blast for miles and miles over a heavy snowfall.

Like tigers that pace in the zoo cage, they let loose their wild barks in hopes that this will break the monotony of existence, just as I will plug away on this keyboard in hopes that it might bring back to the woods and the ridge-running dogs and the green forest and the summer sun.

Earthlings won’t have an easy time in the decades and centuries to come, but I wish that I could cast my lot with them.

But the alien world calls and keeps pulling me further and further away.

But it hasn’t broken me yet.








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