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Archive for the ‘deep thought’ Category

no god

I don’t believe in the supernatural.  The natural is fantastical enough without needing some anthropomorphic figure that controls all forces of nature and also justice.  The more I see of humanity and nature, the less I believe that such a figure is likely, and such a figure could not be contained in the ancient edicts of scripture and clergy. It is not that I am rebellious or angry. It’s that I can no longer be illusioned.

To not believe and live in Norway is a lot different than to be in the same theological position and happen to live in West Virginia.  I no longer do, of course, but when I did live there, I felt that I always had to keep my mouth shut.

I no longer feel so constrained. I am an atheist. I don’t believe in God or the Devil.  I came to this conclusion in my 20s, though by the time I was 16, my own version of Christianity had a deist divinity and the Christ figure was but a metaphor.

I never was “born again,” but when I was younger I pretended that I was. Maybe, it was all like make-believe in the literal sense of the two words. Maybe if I just made myself believe it would all work out.

I knew things were going to be strange when I was the only student in my tenth grade biology class who believed that humans resulted from evolution. Most of my classmates either believed in creationism, but the more enlightened ones had some belief that all other organisms evolved. Humans did not. Humans were still a special creation of God.

Christianity and I were never good fits. I remember getting in trouble for praising God for my new pet duck when the pastor asked for praises at the beginning of worship service. I was told that this was not something one praised, but when you’re in the first grade and crazy about animals, there couldn’t be anything to be happier about, right?

My parents were uncomfortable with me leaving my dinosaur figurines behind the rear glass of their car.  They were okay with evolution. We even went to a church that was okay with evolution in terms of doctrine, but lots of people who went to that church were not okay with it.  Some of them may have doubted whether dinosaurs existed at all  and would think that my parents were doing me a great disservice.

I tried really hard to be a Christian and remain curious and skeptical about the world. I found that I could not reconcile the things I found out about nature with the cosmos as described in the Bible.

Further, I came to resent Christians’ hateful obsession with homosexuality. Though I am hetero and cis, I realize that both these things are not of my own choosing. I don’t remember when I chose to be into girls or why I am okay with being stinky old man. I had an epiphany in the eight grade that whatever God I worshiped could not damn people for their sexuality. That would be like damning someone for the color of their skin.

I spent my adolescence trying to reconcile my values and knowledge with Christianity. I wound up discarding lots of Christian doctrine. And then I realized that I should discard the whole thing.

Finding values based in secular morality has not been tough for me. However, realizing that others could not see that their own morality was ultimately secular– they wouldn’t kill  or rape someone because God told them to– was one of the hardest things to deal with.

At one point in my life I was active in the Democratic Party. As an undergraduate I campaigned hard for John Kerry. I had been told that West Virginia was in play, and that I should be doing all I could to get people to vote Democrat.

It turned out that West Virginia had undergone a political sea change in the years in which I was maturing into a young activist. For most of my childhood, no one would admit to being a Republican for fear that you’d be cast in league with Herbert Hoover, the great villain of the 1930s.  But in those years in which I was becoming an adult, the state shifted hard to the right. Fundamentalist Christianity and a dying coal industry were working hard among the rural populace.

I attended college with many kids who were first generation college students. I was aghast at the Iraq War, and many of them were too.

However, when I asked them to vote Democrat, they would say something like “Bush is a Christian.”  I got that answer so often that I wondered if there would ever be any hope for humanity if people could use that religious identification as a justification for political choices.

I was growing more and more skeptical about the world.  And I realized at one point that I needed to let it go.

And I was a quiet atheist for several years, but one day, while perusing the new Youtube on my laptop, I came across Kent Hovind’s lecture “Dinosaurs and the Bible.” The man was an obvious huckster, a true flimflam man from the days patent medicine, who also sold his own patent medicine in the form of laetrile, a supposed cancer cure that is actually the cyanide in the seeds of fruit-bearing plants.

When I finished watching that monstrosity, I was certain that I could never be brought into believing again. I would have to hide my atheism, but at some point, I did become more public with it.

I am not ashamed that I don’t believe in God and that I never will again. As time marches on, my nation is becoming more and more secular, just like the other formerly majority protestant countries in Europe.  It has just taken the US a lot longer.

The fact that so much of Christianity is now tied up in the worship of Trump pretty much means the eventual downfall of the institution in the United States. His are the politics of the old and angry, stilling holding onto a world that will never exist again.

I will never learn to live in God. I will instead learn to live with the reality that my time is finite. In that finite existence, I must be who I want to be and nothing else. If this is offensive, then you stand to be offended. But I will not hide what I am and what I seek to be.

Someday, I will cease to exist. The same goes for the oak tree that grows tall on a distant ridge. Its acorns feed the deer, the squirrels, the turkeys, and bears. It will live through many generations of its beneficiaries then on some windy day in March, the great wooden edifice will come crashing down. It will decompose into the leaf litter, restoring its elements to the soil from whence it came.

I am no more significant in the grand scheme than an oak or the squirrels that bury its acorns. We are all biotic beings, produced through the great story of evolution.

Who could need anything else? Why invoke some supernatural thing, when the natural explanation is so wondrous and so complete?

And that’s where I fall on that great question. I wager this, because I cannot live in the unlikely wager that the Bible is correct, when it is wrong about so many fundamental things. Not just wrong about biology or cosmology but wrong about moral questions too. Slavery is not condemned in the Bible nor is genocide. Indeed, both are commanded at  various books.

So this is where I stand. A heathen but an intellectually honest one.

 

 

 

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Samaras

samara

The lawn maples drop their samaras now, when May is ratcheting up in its verdant splendor.  The fruit of the maple is a one-winged angel, and it falls in a great twirling as the wind catches it a bit as spins down to the lawn below.

Later on, the mower’s blades will chop the samaras asunder. No sapling will rise from the seeds.  The maples will cast their leaves out toward the summer sun and bask in the sweet feeding of summer photosynthesis.  Maybe a storm will cause one to fall and die, for these are old silver maples that have been growing here so stately as edifices upon the lawn.

And when they do die, they will die without issue. Thousands upon thousands of samaras they have drop into the May breezes, and not a single one has brought forth a sapling, much less a tree.

All lawns are a war against growing. The grass must be kept cropped short, especially after a week’s worth of raining. Shrubs must be pruned back.  Dandelions and crabgrass must be extirpated at all costs.

But the trees and the shrubs and the short grass grow nicely in our tolerance. We marvel at this beauty and maybe even lie to ourselves that it is natural and complete to have such things surrounding our homes.

Without humans, though, there would be no lawns. There would only be prairie and steppe and forest and desert. The plants would grow and die according the precepts of rain and sun and the munching maws of the herbivores.

We tolerate no such insolence from the flora and foliage. We cultivate it all, but we tolerate what we feel is aesthetically pleasing.

In this same way, we tolerate a grizzly bear loping lonesomely on the distant ranges of the Bitterroots or a wolf trotting with purpose across a frozen lake in Northern Minnesota.  Much of the Lower 48 is cultivated or paved or in some way civilized, but we allow these wild beings their place. Just as we let the maples grow tall upon the lawn, though, we don’t let the grizzly come sneaking back into Nebraska or want the wolf prowling outside of Cleveland.

Such is nature in the Anthropocene.  This era is the era in which man is not just the dominant species on the planet, but it is the era in which man is the driving force behind almost everything that happens here.

Yesterday, I read that the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere exceeded 415 parts per million.  That level has never been experienced so long as Homo sapiens has existed on as a species. It hasn’t been known in 3 million years.  That was during the Pliocene, when there were no wolves or brown bears.  So their species will have never experienced such a thing before either.

The excess carbon dioxide comes from humanity’s various enterprises, all of which are designed to make life possible for the 7.5 billion people who live or try to exist upon this heating, crowded orb.  In our current incarnation, we behave as extraterrestrials. We can live our whole lives without glimpsing anything wild, and we no longer know about the plants and animals that live near our homes.  We are strangers to much of it.

And yet we also live as if we are supernatural. We can clear a forest. We can dam up a river. We can irrigate the desert. We can make a species extinct if we want to, or we can save it. We play the games of an ignorant deity, not knowing or even attempting to consider the consequences of our actions.

But with all this power, we have allowed ourselves to become as sessile as barnacles. We are fixed to our homes. We are fixed to our cities and towns, to the property we own or rent.

And in our desire to export and trade, we have built great concrete habitats to ourselves, many of which lie cloistered hard up against the coast, so the ships can come and take a load or bring in some goods from a far distant shore.

But unlike barnacles marooned in low tide, we will not greet the rising saltwater as a life source. We will be inundated.  We will build up flood walls, but the warming world we’re about to encounter makes the sea levels rise too much for us to construct that many barriers against the coming floods.

AT that point, we will know we’ve messed with nature too much, and its tolerance for our picayune existence will be at an end.  We will be the samaras ground up in the mower blades.  We will be the maples standing tall upon the lawn, eventually crashing to the ground without any issue.

The hope is that we listen to those who know, who have studied, who have learned and deciphered and shun those who wish to deny what is coming.  In this era, which I have sometimes called “the electronic dark age,” denial and misinformation can float its way across the world before facts can even stand a chance at being known.

This is the era in which people cannot tell truth from fiction, and truth very often sounds like what you want to hear or makes you feel good.

I watch the samaras twirl down from the lawn maples, knowing fully well what their fate is. They lack brains to know what is coming. They fall upon the lawn in innocence and grace.

But humans can know. It’s just that too many of us don’t want to know, and too many wealthy interests want us not to know.

But the tides are rising as surely as the mower blades crop the grass and render away the maples’ fruit.

 

 

 

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One thing I have noticed

poet at lake milton

Photo by Jenna Coleman.

One thing I’ve noticed as I have worked with a large variety of dogs over the past year is that I’ve lost my desire or need to fight with people on the internet about them.

I’ve worked with everything from Yorkshire terriers to Pit bulls, and I can tell you that I’ve learned a lot.  And I feel more confident than ever working with dogs of various types.

Am I the Dog Master? LOL. Of course not.

But I have come to the conclusion that most people who want to fight about dogs on the internet are suffering from profound insecurities. The internet is a great place to spray around your demons like hot deer urine in a Windex bottle.

I know, because I did that very thing. You probably came to read me because I was artful at my virtue signaling neuroses that I really knew it all.

I didn’t. I knew a lot. But I don’t know as much as I do now, and I still don’t know enough.

So when you see someone trying to make a career out of writing toxic pieces about dogs or people who do something with dogs, keep in mined that you’re often looking at a very insecure person, one who feels a great need to tear others down to make themselves look good.

I’m really not interested in that game anymore. I just want to do my thing, learn more, and enjoy the animals. And help others, too.

I feel an inner peace now that I would have given my right hand to have experienced a decade ago, and I wish those who still feel that need could somehow find it.

But because that sort of blogging and internet writing is what gets the attention, my guess is that many of these people will never find it. It simply pays too well to be an asshole.

Sad but true.

 

 

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majestic quest

Photo by Jenna Coleman.

If you had told me two years ago that my main interest in dogs would someday be German shepherds, specifically those from conformation lines, I would tell you that you were on something.

When I started writing about dogs, I was writing with several ghosts haunting me. Among them was mourning an unusually handler loyal and obedient golden retriever that I had come to love through my salad days. Over the years, I’ve found every golden retriever either too laid back or too friendly with everyone for me. I never realized that I didn’t like super socially open dogs, which is what everyone wants in a golden retriever.

I’ve never been among the most extroverted person, and golden retrievers have a tendency to draw attention. The dogs just exude “pet me” and “talk to my owner,” and I personally find the attention one receives when walking one on a public way to be a great annoyance.

And so I am no longer “retrieverman.” I go by that name only as a legacy to the work I’ve done on this space, but the truth of the matter is that I don’t think I will ever go back to the breed.

When I was writing inflammatory twaddle, I built up a community of sorts, but as I’ve moved on to this breed, I’ve lost quite a few friends.

These dogs are reviled in some sectors. The working ones are all denounced as tools of oppression, while the show ones are all deemed deformed and defective from the get-go.

But I’ve had enough experience with these dogs over the past year to know that I really like them. I get along with these dogs, and they get along with me. We have rescued hard-core working line dogs, casually-bred pet dogs, and dogs of mixed German shepherd ancestry.

And I have to say that the average German shepherd is just a better dog for me than the average golden retriever. I don’t hate golden retrievers. I just feel a better rapport with German shepherds.

Over the next year, we will be getting deeper into the German shepherd breed. Quest will likely finish his championship in a few months. He will then get his health testing, and he will maybe get working on his herding title or start working towards one in obedience.  If all goes to plan, he will help us get started producing quality puppies, but the details of that plan are still being worked out.

But I’ll keep you posted.

I am saddened that so many have walked away from me. You came here to read the angry voice, to watch me gin up a lynch mob, and for these sins, I do feel quite a bit of guilt.

The best I can do is to do better.  I am no longer writing what you can find at dozens of other places. That may mean that I get fewer pageviews and less revenue.

But the future is going to be different from past. The future is going to be about these dogs and the opportunities they have opened up for me.

And as hard as it is, I must admit that I know I am doing the right thing, even when long-time readers now denounce me on social media. I am sorry that you cannot accept that I have changed my mind.

We all change our minds as we mature through the years. We should allow each other this liberty, or we are all ultimately doomed never to progress and become better people.

Stasis is antithetical to becoming one’s self.  We should not expect anyone to become so stagnated in views that they become rusty and old and bitter.

The dogs moved me on. I take their lead.

 

 

 

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coyotes

Humans and the various canids belonging to gray wolf species complex possess the most complex relationship of any two beings currently living on this earth.  At one point, they are our cherished companions, often closer to us than we ever could be with other people, and on another point, they are the reviled predators that might take a child in the night.

We have clearly defined relationships with other predators. Leopards and cougars, well, we might hunt them for sport or photograph them in the wild. But we never become closely aligned with them, except for those eccentrics who dare to keep such dangerous predators as pets.

People living in the Eurasian Pleistocene brought some wolves into their societies.  Wolves and humans should have been competitors. We should have had the same relationship with each other as spotted hyenas and lions do in Africa now.  But at some point, humans allowed wolves in.

Raymond Pierotti and Brandy Fogg demonstrate that many humans throughout the world have had some kind of relationship with wolves. In some cases, it is or was a hunting symbiosis. In others, they were totemic animals.

In their work, Pierotti and Fogg contend that the relationship between humans and wolves broke down with the rise of Christianity in the West. I don’t think that’s when it broke down. It started to become complex when humans began to herd sheep and goats.

In Kazakhstan, wolves are hunted and revered at the same time. The Kazakh people herd  livestock, so they must always worry about wolf predation. Stephen Bodio documents this complex understanding of wolves in his The Hounds of Heaven.

“They hunt them, kill them, chase them with hounds and even eagles, take puppies and rear them live, identify with them, make war on them, and claim descent from them,” writes Bodio. This description sort of fits modern humanity’s entire relationship with this gray wolf complex. We pretty much have done and continue do almost all of these things.

Wolves, coyotes, and dingoes have killed people. So have domestic dogs. In the French countryside, wolf hunts were considered a necessity to protect human life, largely because has the longest and best documented history of wolves hunting people. The dispossession of rural peasants and the depletion of game in the forests created conditions where wolves would consider humans easy prey.  Lots of European countries have similar stories. And when Europeans came to North America, they knew about the dangerous nature of wolves, even if they had never even seen one themselves.

Humans have declared war on wolves in Eurasia and in North America. The wolf is extirpated from much of its former range in Europe. They live only over a limited range in the lower 48 of the United States.

Man fought the coyote with the same venom and lead he threw at the wolf. The coyote’s flexible biology and social behavior meant that all that effort would come for naught.  The coyotes got slaughtered, but they rebounded. And then some. And the excess coyote pups found new habitat opened up with big ol’ wolves gone, and they have conquered a continent, while we continue our flinging of lead and setting of traps.

In Victorian times, Western man elevated the domestic dog to levels not seen for a domestic animals. They became sentient servants, beloved friends, animals that deserve humanity’s best treatment.

And in the modern era, where fewer and fewer Westerners are having children, the dog has come to replace the child in the household. Billions of dollars are spent on dog accessories and food in the West.  Large sectors of our agriculture are ultimately being used to feed our sacred creatures.

A vast cultural divide has come to the fore as humans realize that wolves and coyotes are the dog’s wild kin. Wolves have become avatars for wilderness and conservation, and coyotes have become the wolves you might see out your front window.

Millions of Americans want to see the wolf and the coyote protected in some way. Dogs of nature, that’s the way they see them.

The rancher and the big game hunter see both as robbers taking away a bit of their livelihood. Humans are lions. The canids are the spotted hyenas. And their only natural state is at enmity.

Mankind’s relationship to these beings is so strangely complex. It greatly mirrors our relationship towards each other. We can be loving and generous with members of our own species. We can also be racist and bigoted and hateful. We can make death camps as easily as we can make functioning welfare states.

And these animals relationships with each other are just as complex. Wolves usually kill dogs and coyotes they find roaming their territories. But sometimes, they don’t. Sometimes, they become friends, even mates.  Hounds can be trained to run down a coyote, but sometimes, the coyote and the dog become lovers in the forest.

Social, opportunistic predators that exist at this level of success are going to be a series of contradictions. Dogs, wolves, and coyotes certainly are. And so are we.

It is what we both do. And always will.

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three boys on the run

A decade of experience in the “dog blogosphere” has taught me much. If you’re going to get a dog blog started, I thought the best thing to do was to be controversial. All the other successful dog blogs did this sort of thing.

If they weren’t trashing breeds they’d never own, they were going on and on with dog abuse porn.  I chose the  former route. I made a name for myself.

But I grew up. I had things happen to me that changed my perspective on certain issues, and I struggled with these issues over and over.

I’ve finally come to the point in my life where I can say that I am happy with where I am in dogs. It’s not the same place I started.

And in this, I have to accept that I am now a heretic. I don’t have to wallow in anger or post videos of poorly-bred and poorly-exhibited show dogs to stoke the fires of misery.

Too much misery already exists in the world. Dogs should not be an add-on to misery.  That is certainly not their purpose in the modern world.

I do like dog shows. Are they the most important thing in the world of dogs? Not by a long shot. But having lived with several show-bred dogs, I can tell you they have indeed undergone a selection for dead-solid, stable temperaments. Are all show dogs like this? No, but a lot of them are.

Are there problems with closed registries? Yes. Are there some welfare issues with conformation in some breed? Yes, but, most of these dogs are well-cared for, and their breeders are prepared for the issues that might arise.

I suppose at some point I lost my ability to be sanctimonious and full of shit. And that only happens when you are forced to be humble or when you get your ass kicked.

The dogs have humbled me more than any person ever could. And when you’re humbled, you have to check your ego and take stock. Otherwise, you’re never going to be happy. Or I’d be in my 50s and still writing pretentious twaddle about “real working dogs.”

And yes, I am now a sinner. But my sin is choosing to be happy.  I let the rest wallow in misery. And if you want to read that stuff, you know where to go.

And I’ll go on sinning, thank you.

 

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The Grounding

streamer on the run

I readily admit that I am an odd human being. A lot of times, my mind is lost in thought and contemplation, and more than a few times, I become transfixed by animals.  I am a hard person to know, because my mind is drawn deeper into those forces than is typical for a member of my species.

I suppose these are the traits of someone who wishes to write about animals, but they are also the traits of an oddball. And I’ve always been an oddball.

I grew up in rural West Virginia, where things were meant to be a certain way, and I never fit the mold very well. I tried to be Christian through my youth and early adulthood, but slowly, I began to realize that I couldn’t be a Christian and be honest with myself.

I came to worship nature, the rocks, the trees, and the animals, and I realized I didn’t need a faith imported Palestine by way of the Roman Empire and the Anglo-Germanic Reformation to understand the world.

Add that problem with the simple fact that my worldview has drifted to the left as I’ve matured, and I now know that I am fully estranged from the land in which I was born. Fundamentalist religion, xenophobia, and fossil fuel worship have generally pushed the people of this forgotten Eastern Outback towards the right.

In so many ways,  I am unmoored, adrift.

But dogs are always going to ground me, though. Their magic is that they exist somewhere between the untouchable animal world and our very contrived civilization.  They are the conduit through which I can be connected to that which is organically evolved and that which is domesticated.

I live with more than a few of them now, a motley crew of German shepherds and sighthounds.

Not one of them is a golden retriever, as odd as that now seems. I have come to the conclusion that my love for that breed comes from my relationship with one individual that was totally atypical for the breed, and she was certainly atypical for what people want to produce in the breed.  People want them to be easier to keep, lower drive creatures with lots of bone.

That golden flame has burned out in my desires. It will still haunt my psyche, but I have finally let it go.

My writings on other wildlife stem from my dog connection. I go to their to closest wild kin, the gray wolf complex and then out to the whole dog family. Then the whole order Carnivora reaches my conscience, and it is but short step before I begin to consider the rest of the Animal Kingdom.

And in short while, I am considering my own station as an insignificant being, a fluttering avatar of carbon in a banal part of the universe. This insignificant being, one with just enough gray matter to question existence, is brought into the deepest humility.

I suppose I do have a religion now.  It is mystical materialism, and my ethics are some form of progressive secular humanism.

And the dogs brought me here. This oddball person who never could fit in a land where conformity is the greatest desideratum now questions in his unmoored existence. But in my unmooring, I am strangely grounded in my own insignificance, as is revealed in the nature of dogs and the rest of nonhumanity.

 

 

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