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Archive for the ‘deep thought’ Category

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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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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Haymakers 1785 by George Stubbs 1724-1806

It is that time of year when summer dies. Its arrival is announced as the nights grow cooler, draw in a little longer, and the songbirds cease their singing. The katydids stridulate their hot love songs in the trees at night. And that thick grass of autumn begin shooting out their first growth. And the dipping sun casts steeper and steeper angles.  An autumnal feel seeps into all existence now and thoughts of the dying summer pervade my conscience.

A dead cat’s bones sit like macabre porcelain in a highway ditch. Perhaps just now independent of his maternal clan, this poor young tom met its demise at the wheels of a speeding car. Maybe he’d just now set out on a new world of adventure of his own, where there are no big toms to slap his face. But in that second he made contact with the car, all that potential life was wiped away, He rotted in the sun for a few days. The flies buzzed his hide. Then the maggots ate away its flesh, and now it is nothing more than the perfect skeleton, bleaching white as the summer sun begins its deep sinking.

The leaves on the hazelnut trees are turning. In a month, the red maples will have some leaves with orange tips.

The corn is ripe, and the harvest machines will be coming on soon. The raccoons will eat their late August repast. Their hides will bulge with corn-infused fat, and they will be ready for a winter full of trapping, baying hounds, and the wildness of mating season.

New times are coming. The feeling is subtle at first, but then it becomes overwhelming. The Age of Photosynthesis will soon give way to the bountiful harvest, the stark austerity of the December wood.

And each year, the cycle of the seasons is shorter and shorter. The days are the same length, but with each passing year, my perception is oddly distorted. And it is distorted in the way of speeding things up.

With each iteration of a year, I have noticed this cognitive distortion, and it is the odd reminder that life is precious but quite fleeting.

Our species lives decades, but the decades will run faster and faster, like a cheetah just launched upon a gazelle. The gazelle twists and turns, each second hoping to avoid that deadly acceleration.

I always have this morose feeling in August, which soon passes when the first truly crisp days of September come slipping in.

August is the dying time for summer. The children will soon be trundling back to the school houses. The buses will be motoring along country lanes. And when I was a child, I felt the deep sadness that my days of long sylvan excursions would be abruptly ended when the calendar announced August’s arrival.

I remember one day in late August, just before I returned for another year of undergrad. Goldie, the redoubtable working golden retriever, and Kizzy, the broad-chested beast of a demi-boxer, went for a long walk along the ridges. Goldie was then so-white faced that she took on the bearing of sage of dogs, while Kizzy was still young enough to look positively bestial.

In my own stupidity, I took a wrong turn down a game trail, and then, realizing my error, tried to work my way back to familiar ground. I found myself walking around in odd little circles. but then I realized I should look at the dogs and see what they knew. After all, they spent much of their time casting down game trails where we inferior bipeds dare not to travel.

A sensitive and intuitive dog, a Goldie sensed my loss of bearings, and she stared at my eyes. A coquettish grin passed her lips, and she bolted through a big stand of autumn olive. I followed her course as best I could, and within just a few yards of bushwhacking, I found that I was back on the main tram road out of the woods. And I wandered home with both of my woods dogs

Two winters later, Goldie began having seizures. A brain tumor was suspected, but nothing could be done, and the last month of her life, she was but a shell of herself. She was lost and staggering around on the lawn, and I remember back to that day when she found the woods trails better than I ever could.

The sun is dipping away, but it will return. But not after a season of bright leaves that ends with woodland all stark and naked and gray and then is replaced by a few months of driving snow and long warring spells between freeze and thaw.

Some day, the coursing of the years will catch up to me too. I will fall just as golden retrievers and alley cats and raccoons do. My elements will return to the cosmos which begat all this thing we call existence.

And the dying time of summer will come again and again until the sun finally ceases burning and churning away.

This time came before I was born, and it will continue after. I here but for a few decades to witness it. And feel this odd morose feeling that it’s dying and I wish that it were not.

And the same deep glowing angles that illuminate the gold in a sable German shepherd’s coat tell us of the death that is coming.

And of the new times that are on the way.

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miley

We all wish we could be what we truly are, and we all want to be loved.

Where I was before, the former conflicted strongly with the latter. I could never be myself, for fear that I would be an embarrassment to those who loved me was often overpowering.

I didn’t like dogs that didn’t do the things I most wanted. I was lucky to have known a real working-type golden retriever as a boy, and a dog with an edge to her. She was a half golden retriever and half really fell German boxer. The golden retriever was so driven, so brilliant that  she came across as annoying in her desire to retrieve and take direction. The half boxer was a cat and skunk-killing monster that would lift fawns on warm spring days, just as wolves might have done in another era.

These two dogs taught me much about the reality of this species. The two dogs haunt my psyche. I still have dreams about that 50-pound little red dog and that 75 pound black monster. Sometimes, they are together. Sometimes, they are running with me alone.

Two things have happened in the past year:  I fell in love with someone who appreciates real dogs. And I have come to question the reality that I have known all my life.

I fully admit now that I really don’t like the majority of the golden retriever breed. It is too watered-down, too milquetoast, too soppy for my own tastes. This is an issue with which I’ve been struggling through the life and death of Miley, and only since I’ve come to know Anka that I realize there are alternatives.

I will always love the real golden retriever, but I now realize that’s not what most people want in that breed. Whereas hard-driven and fiercely loyal Anka is exactly what people want in her breed.

And I am at a crossroads:

Do I continue to fight against the current in the breed of my youth or do I go this other direction?

My nostalgia for what once was is being teased a bit by this high performance litter that we currently have on the ground. Several of these pups may very well be like the old dogs I once knew, but I’d be an idiot to say they are what the majority of people want when they buy a golden retriever.

I think of poor Marley, the working Labrador who became the object of exasperation and later deep affection, in John Grogan’s book. Those dogs certainly have their place, but with the preference for the Labrador as a working retriever over the golden, is there still going to be a place for that kind of golden retriever in 21st century America? The people who want the drive will buy the Labrador.  The people who want the pet will go for the golden.

So I don’t what the answer is now.

I am still waiting for the whisper, but I hear the faint breaths on the air.

 

 

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My grandpa’s deck. The great feeding ground for countless songbirds.

The snow hangs around in patches where the sun doesn’t hit it directly. Beneath the bows of the white pine and the steep northern slopes of a hollow, it holds on cold and white.

The cardinals have stopped their flitting forays in somber in winter flocks. The trees rise with cardinal song, and the cockbirds are resplendent red and game for scuffles in the woodlots. The sun comes in casting stronger now, and the days are lengthening. And testosterone levels drive the redbirds into their coming days orgy.

A band of three whitetail does stands upon the dormant grass. The starving time is now, when the acorn crop has long since been exhausted and so have their fat reserves. The land has yet to bring forth the green grass and chewy twigs of spring, and so they live in hunger.

But the cardinals will soon have their nests and screaming broods to feed. The white-tail does will shed out their mousy-gray coats of winter and replace them with fine pelts of tawny. And then they’ll seek the thickets of greenbrier,  multiflora rose, and bracken and drop their spotted fawns into the May balmy.

Today, I was at my grandparents’ house. My parents have rented it out since my grandpa’s death, and now, they are between renters.  All landlords know that time between renters is a time to clean and renovate and do improvements.

I came to pick up some garbage left on the premises. I hadn’t been on this property since the November of 2011, when I was left to watch some Jack Russell pups while my parents and my aunt and uncle went off to attend to some of my grandpa’s final affairs.

It felt eerie to stand on that property today, a place where I spent countless happy childhood hours. I see my grandpa’s beloved Colorado blue spruce, a shelter for so many songbirds in winter, now standing nearly needle-less against the sky.  It too has fallen into death.

I then passed by the grove of spruce where my grandpa sat every evening and every morning. He would sit in his wooden chair and stare out of over the old pasture. His blue eyes glanced on countless numbers of deer that came there to graze. They even fell upon an errant emu, which he initially mistook for a bear.

To left of the spruce grove is a black cherry tree that stands at the edge of another old pasture, and a carefully placed birdhouse was the nesting box for a great many generations of bluebird.

But when I passed the spruce grove today, I saw that his wooden chair had a broken leg, and it stood sideways and unstable as if it were crumbling away into the earth.

The cherry limb that held the bluebird box had fallen to the ground, and the birdhouse was bashed to pieces. Only one of the sides and the board with the opening remained intact.

The former renters put up a cheap above ground swimming pool. It lies beside the outbuilding where I kept my hamster puppy mill. I could still smell the motor oil and sawdust and hamster piss, but that damned pool just took away from it all.

Below the pool is the dog cemetery, where several generations of good dogs now lie.  I think there is something almost sacrilegious about putting an above ground pool so close to a dog cemetery. It is on those grounds that Miley was laid to rest last summer, and just yards from her lies Dixie, my grandpa’s last dog. A beagle cross of some sort, she live out most of her 18 years on this land, spending her mornings and evenings resting beneath my grandpa’s wooden chair and glowering out at any dogs that bother to approach her place near the throne.

The pool will gone soon enough.  New renters will move in. They will bring in new things. I won’t set foot on that property so long as they live there.

They will not know the summer evenings when I’d beg my grandpa to take me fishing at his bluegill pond that lay just across the gravel road. They will not know of my grandmother’s big hugs and special pancakes.

They will not know that the first story I ever wrote and illustrated was in that house. I did the illustration, and the writing was all by dictation. It was a story about the beagle named Willie, the one that used to watch my playpen while my parents worked on their home just down the road.  I gave the words to my grandmother, and she obliged my puny childhood prose.

They won’t know about my early forays into wildlife photography, when I set up the cushions to the deck furniture up against the sliding glass door so that I could have my own photography blind. I was mimicking Dieter Plage, who set up his own blinds to photograph birds in the jungles. My grandpa fed the wild birds on his deck, and you could watch them all day through the sliding glass door. But I thought I had to do it, so I could see the birds.

My photos were all crappy.  They were out of focus, and I often got better photos of the deck furniture than the birds. But it was all in good fun.

The new renters will come with their own lives, their own histories. They will make their memories there.

And I will hold onto to mine. I will keep them buried until something rises them from my psyche. If I stand on that property, they will be evoked again. I will feel sorrow and sadness.

I will miss those beautiful days of youth and my two loving grandparents.

But I must let them live within me.

There may be no permanence to this world.  But they live on in my memories.

My grandpa once told me that grandchildren were the most important generation, for they are the last ones who will remember what their grandparents were like as people and not as characters in stories told to the younger ones.

I think that this is true. In fact, it is beyond true. It is profound.

As long as my memory works, they will live as real as they were, and I must make sure that I create memories for my younger relatives. That way, I can live on in their minds, as my grandparents do with me.

This is the afterlife I know really exists, and though one will not know it in one’s passing, it will be some solace to know that one’s life touched someone else enough that they remember you.

Our existence is a fleeting deer. Blink once and the tawny form will bound away from the sunshine and into the deepest thicket, where your eyes will be able to make out its form again.

So the eyes must be open to sear that deer’s essence on the psyche before it goes out of sight.

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reccent westminster winner

There was time when this blog was part of an official network of bloggers. We would amplify each other’s posts.

The most important thing was to be anti-kennel club and anti-dog show. If one could be rude as possible about it, then do so.

Such an environment is not exactly designed for close collaboration, for eventually we all turned on each other.

I became a pariah from that group, and things sort of died down. I still blogged about dogs. I still got pageviews.

But over time, I’ve slowly given it up.

For the sake of my own art and my own sanity, I’ve consciously moved away from dog writing. I do write about dogs on occasion, but so much about dogs has already been said.

The problems of closed studbooks and breeding exaggeration in conformation are still there. They have been highlighted much more in the past decade, but I’m reaching the point in my life that I’ve written enough about them.

I am not writing one of those “Westminster rewards breeding freaks” posts, because the usual suspects likely already have the draft written and just need to cut and paste the problems associated with the winner next Tuesday.

People are moving on in the world of dogs. I’m okay with it. And I’m certainly okay with finding comfort in my own skin as a mostly wildlife and natural history blogger.

I’m not writing about Westminster on Tuesday or Wednesday next week. I don’t know what I’ll write about, but my guess is I’ll try my hand at producing something like Rick Bass or Aldo Leopold or Annie Dillard (and fail because those are masters) and post it here.

And no one will get into a big argument with me, and I will feel better for having tried do something artful with this here English language and what it is I think I know about nature.

I’ll trundle on. I’ll try to write. I’ll hope you read it and don’t hate it. I’ll get better over time.

And so it goes.

It’s the silly work I do online.

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Nature Just Is

IMG_4430

Today, I was reading in one of the West Virginia local papers about a wildlife photographer who has captured some amazing images of creatures in the East.  He talked about his travels and about how he could sometimes become so immersed in his hobby that he would come in until well after dark.

I felt a certain amount of kindred spirits with the fellow, but at the end of the article, he mentioned that his work photographing wildlife brought him some knowledge of God.

And there, my connection was severed. The same wildlife he photographs includes species like black bears in which the boars often kill and consume cubs.  The beautiful red fox he photographed is not immune to bouts of surplus killing, and the same animal often dies horrifically when the sarcoptic mange overwhelms its pelt.

I find in none of these animals an intelligence that forged them. Instead, I see “the other nations” that are “other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.” The processes of nature produced these beings just as I was produced from them.  The only thing about me that is special is that I am part of an unusually large-brained species that has created such complex social systems and has created all sorts of moral philosophies and codes by which to live in these societies.

I confess my doubt openly and honestly. I no longer believe in the Christian deity. Indeed, I don’t think I ever did. When I became baptized and confirmed in the United Methodist Church, I was something like 13 or 14 years old. I never denied evolution. I never truly believed in miracles.

But I was culturally Christian, but the deity I recognized was very wishy-washy.  By age 16, I was a deist.

And now, I believe in nature and nothing else. If there is something else, it will be fully demonstrated to me through tangible evidence and not tired bromides,constantly moving goalposts, or idle speculation.

And the more time I spend in nature and the more time I spend reading about it, the less I am convinced of any deity’s existence.

I reject the term atheist, but only because the behavior some vocal atheists has given me pause. I don’t think that the public can be won to our way of thinking by railing against people’s stupidity or delusions, because it is not reason that causes people to believe.

And in some areas of the world, it takes courage to let it go. I’m not just talking about countries that are run as theocracies. Even in the United States, it can be so difficult to admit that one no longer has supernatural beliefs.

It took me years to realize that I had no supernatural beliefs at all. The beliefs themselves are lost or lost then rearranged in the cognitive space to make some sense of it all.

In the end, I lost my ability to rearrange these problems in my brain, and I honestly just dropped them all. It was the only way I could make sense of existence.

I had to accept that we don’t know it all, and the only way to know anything is to study the evidence. The best way to study the evidence is through the scientific method, and science makes this whole question unworthy.

Science knocks man off his throne at the pinnacle of creation.  Science makes us smaller and more insignificant. It is far more profoundly humbling to enter into these questions with a doubt that you know will never be answered fully than to enter into them with a predetermined conclusion.

I no longer ask questions about God. Instead, I accept that there is Nature. And Nature just is. Nothing more and nothing less.

 

 

 

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