I have bonded with several dogs in my life, not my own. There is an instinct between human and canine that can be immediate and profound. This can occur from a brief encounter, owning a pet long term, a friend’s dog one might see on occasion, or through intermittent caretaking. For years I used to do a lot of pet sitting, dogs in particular. While I loved them all in their own way, there were a few that seemed like kin to me, possessing an unspoken language and comfort, wordless yet filled with understanding.
Dogs Never Lie About Love
While I no longer dog sit, some I continue to have a truck load of affection for, generating a smile spontaneous and immediate when I think of them: Gemma, Sophie, Lexie and Parker most notable—you know who you are, small dogs all! Gemma, a purebred basenji, crackling with energy and mischief blasting out; Sofie, if not pure in breeding, certainly pure in regal ness, a wisdom as if reincarnated from Yoda himself.
But Parker and Lexie were something else! A confusion of breeds, both, but loaded with personality and, I swear, each wore their hearts on their sleeves (well, paws!) in their own style of giving— a penetrating and unconditional love that was bottomless and relentless. It came through their pores, through eyes that held nothing back, their love immediate and constant.
But this morning, this morning was special. While walking in the park, loping along with my hiking poles, I came across a three legged dog. There I met Babu, a midsized, mixed black and white splotchy patterned dog, with her left front leg missing. I began chatting with her human pet parents, warm and friendly, who had adopted her from an animal sanctuary near Willets, where she had lived for eight years prior, before being moved to a conventional shelter when the fires threatened the sanctuary and She became available for adoption.
As I scratched Babu’s head, I asked mom and dad how she lost her leg. She’d had a cancerous bone tumor they told me so the entire leg had to be removed in order to prevent spreading. “Could they fit her with a prosthetic leg?” I inquired. “Not possible,” I was told since there was no available stem to attach it to. So she walk-hopped around on all 3’s, seemingly oblivious, instead accommodating her exuberance with the life that remained at her disposal, as she rolled around naturally in the grass like any dog would. She had clear eyes that spoke of delight, gratitude, pleasure, availability.
I marveled at Babu, with her absence of self-consciousness and felt two compelling emotions. The first was a kind of kinship, different species to be sure, yet this creature was doing what she could to keep going, to move however awkwardly, to feel alive and express her nature with aplomb. The second was an immense awe and humility at what looked to be a kind of dignity and gratitude with what remained to her, a simple pleasure feeling her backside scratched by the grass as she rolled in the sweet fragrance of it. A smile slathered her dog face, believing this was all she really needed in life, at least at that moment.
And so it was that a creature in the body of a 3-legged dog and I shared a timeless moment, her teaching me more about valuing what remains to the living of an altered life, as well as the great gift of connection between species that can sometimes be the greatest teachers of all, without language, instead transmitted through a presence, a beingness that transcends, a knowing that is universal, loving and immediate. And of course, her transmission took hold of my heart and I was instantly smitten. Not just by her, but by the lesson she selflessly shared with me.
The fragrance of nature, particularly water and trees, has always brought something powerful to the surface of my mind, a kind of happy joy that is spontaneous and immediate. Nature conceals a deeper meaning, drawing me to its depths without knowing entirely why. Since I was a little girl I have always loved it. The natural world is an essential ingredient of what I am, just as much as the gristle and bone I walk around in. Sometimes I think it’s about identification. But that’s not it exactly. I am aware of being an animal, a mammal specifically. And yet it is the essence of spirit that I really identify with, coming from some ‘other’ that created all of this, that I am a part of.
Life For It’s Own Sake
On a recent family vacation in Lake Tahoe I was reminded ever more powerfully of this fact. Because it is a fact for me. A reality. I could be a tree. I could be a body of water. But it makes no matter because I have been blessedly created as a human, and how lucky is that? Even if one believes in no higher power or God, let’s say it’s fate or a roll of the dice that I was created thusly, I still value it immensely. While I happen to believe in God, I recognize not everyone does. Are these individuals no less grateful to be alive?
In any case, my nephew took this picture off the end of a boat touring around the lake and sent it to me. I was not onboard, instead stationed back at the resort like a sentry, resting inside but catching the faint whiff of pines and water regardless of my physical location. The picture is compelling, as compelling as the state of being. This was puzzling to me in the beginning, at least until I started to view it differently. The opaque quality in a milky, cataract kind of way disturbed me at first. I wanted to bring it into focus, to clarify the view. And then I thought, isn’t that what we are always trying to do? To fix, to adjust what we think we see into one meaning that suits our purpose?
And the foreground of waterwheel, intrusive and initially dominating, became something to be managed, fixed, so that one could better get to the the dusting of pine-topped mountains beyond. When I ignore this fuzzy, filmy veneer, the restless idea of it, I can focus instead on the essence of sharing space with nature, conjoined, being an intimate and authentic part of it, even as it’s steward and, as such, as essential as the earth itself and sky above.
A Larger Lens
I am transported to a primordial soup from which we all come regardless of belief system. It is quite simply a knowing, with nothing arguable about it. It is rooted in depths of certitude, ineffable though it may be, a oneness that defies explanation even though I struggle to explain it in the here and now.
And so I leave it here, the unanswered and unanswerable mystery of being born not just a human but being born here, now, in this place and part of a whole that is an inexplicable existence. The mysterious gift of life, the nature of it all, a dust mote traversing the universe through space and time, me who has been afforded incredible Grace and peace as evocative as the whiff of the pines and water themselves.
Have you ever seen anything as lovely as a tree? I grew up in Michigan where trees thrived in abundance, both down state and up. The state in the shape of a mitten with a rabbit suspended above it, Michigan’s peninsulas had large swaths of state and national forests. Once heavily logged, most of that has died down now. But I digress. Read more →
Yes, yes, I’ve moved again. The last place didn’t work out even though it was incredibly beautiful. The tribe that lived there was, well, not my cup of tea (to the say the least.) Well-meaning, maybe but from another universe I think. Anyway, I’ve relocated and am living with two, and sometimes more, of the cutest dogs, both personality-wise and physically, the little fur balls. They have far more character than some people I know, with a premium on honesty as well. There’s chickens out back too but their story is for another time. Read more →
I’ve been reading “Gift From The Sea” by Anne Morrow Lindbergh recently, feeling even more affected by it than the first reading years ago. The beauty of it, her poignant insight, strikes a profound cord someplace deep. Take, for example, the following passage: Read more →
After having written about the unique beauty of the place I moved into a few months ago, I thought an update was in order. It seems the place comes with people.
I knew they’d be here. Now, I may be one of the rare individuals who would rather live with others as opposed to living alone. Having said that, living with other people is not without its challenges and discomforts, sometimes small and other times GIMONGOUS. While there are seasons when its best for me to hunker down alone, living in cloistered fashion, more often than not, I’m happier and, quite frankly, better living in some form of what can best be described as ‘community.’ Read more →
Crikey!! Having made my recent move complete with Uncle Lester’s bench (see previous post,) I am happily ensconced in my new digs. While my bedroom room is small, the house is spacious with an overlarge living and dining area. Miraculously, most of my things fit into the compact space that is mine although the closets are still quite scary. With only a week’s tenure, I congratulate myself for such brisk personal space organization although there’s more work to be done. Still, it feels good to be in a hospitable if not completely ship-shape room complete with a lovely sunny view out the front. Read more →
I live next door to a gaggle of goats, four to be exact. Now, I know they come in herds but I like alliteration so gaggle it is. Anyway, my next door neighbor, LizzyGal, has these four goats that live in a penned area out back, just before the land slopes down to the creek below. In the ample pen, there are three little outbuildings, one serving as the goat’s sleeping quarters, another as her stained glass window studio, and a third structure that used to be a chicken coup.
When I first moved here a few years ago Liz had about a dozen chickens but they kept getting picked off by coyotes until there was only one remaining. She finally had to surrender to the inevitability of nature’s food chain and gave up having a fresh egg source.
But the goats! With two larger ones, Max and Minnie, and two smaller ones named Ruby and Olive, she has quite a family, though not by breeding. Each one has its own unique personality and I must say, they have afforded me an unusual insight as to their lovely characters. Yet unexpectedly, they have also revealed something unattractive about me, for I quickly discovered I have a kind of tepid cowardice towards these four-legged Caprines.
That’s right, cowardice. While in the very face of an unfettered attraction to them, when they ‘rush me’, I am instantly intimidated, fearing they will butt me, which Minni has done on a several occasions. She does not do this to be mean or anything; she’s just being a goat! Goats butt things: to get attention, to establish dominance, and/or to just play. Goats butt, I cower, and Liz, bless her, looks on with sympathy. My character defect is so exposed!!
The goats seem to take wild liberties with violating my personal space too. If Liz and I are sitting out back just outside the penned area, they will come up and get in my face, looking for affection from a good head-scratching. Liz patiently tells me that’s what they’re after and, while I timidly scratch the scull near where their horns used to be, the encounter is a brief encounter at best. Why? For some unknown reason I have a vague suspicion if I continue, they’ll climb onto my lap, taking liberties with the hard-won attention I have given, however reluctantly.
In contrast, Liz is amazing with her goats, and they with her, for it is obvious they are not only bonded as mammals one to another, but also, in love, the kind of love that originates from nature’s wellspring. It is so delicious and sweet to be in their company. When they are out loose, they munch on grasses and weeds but if they wander very far from her, they look around and catch up quickly, bounding away from a food source in lieu of what really sustains them: Liz’s care, respect and affection.
For while goats can be physically intimidating, only occasionally aggressive, by nature they are incredibly docile, displaying remarkably tender hearts. My cowardice puts me to shame. Is it their bulk that scares me. Or is it their love? Yet, at least I’m willing to hang out with the brood periodically, along with my protector, Liz, their functional mom! For I see she has a gutsy life force far different than mine. She does not seem afraid of physical pain, other people’s opinions, or to have an unlikely closeness with creatures that are at once demanding yet so astonishingly generous with their affections.
Besides the house in town, Liz and her husband have a little ranch near the Mataguay Scout Ranch, not far from Santa Ysabel. She takes the goats (and her dogs) out with her from time to time, to romp and play in the unfettered wildness of the desert plateau. In October there is a Mountain Man festival and she has invited me for a visit. I hope to overcome some of my cowardice whilethere, to open up and gain some confidence. Maybe I’ll even meet a mountain man at the festival, one who will challenge me to buck up and get over my shyness with my four-legged next door neighbors. If only.
I feel the pull to write but am minus a subject. It feels equivalent to taking a walk with no particular destination in mind, aimless to be sure yet compelled to put one leg in front of the other just the same. This endless tugging reminds me of singers singing scales or humming some little ditty just to keep the throat and windpipe limber, not to mention for the sheer pleasure of it. So I’m writing for no particular reason other than writing has showed itself to be my nature. For this reason I pound on keys, flexing some invisible muscle that serves as play, satisfied I have a small but sturdy impulse on which to creatively act.
A number of years ago I had the great good fortune to co-produce a program for Iowa Public Television called Dames from Ames. It profiled four women writers: Pulitzer Prize winner, Jane Smiley, current Iowa Poet Laureate, Mary Swander, and fiction writers, Sharon Warner, and Fern Kupfer. One of the questions they discussed was “can you imagine ever not writing?” All of them seem flummoxed, conceding it essentially felt unimaginable, with the exception of Smiley. Yet, even Smiley’s concession seemed qualified with “I suppose I could lose my appetite for it,” or something to that effect.
In a previous work life, I arranged, marketed and hosted author events for the now defunct, Borders Books & Music. In that capacity, I met an amazing number of writers from a wide variety of genres, some just starting out, others’ seasoned and quite famous. I recall marveling at their efforts and, in some cases, phenomenal talents. I was also curious about their inner lives. What energy compelled them to act so fervently, some of them prolifically, on that writing impulse which, for me, was monstrously repressed and still latent at the time?
I have since come to know that the urge to write about even nothing in particular randomly erupts of its own accord, now claiming my mind, fingers, and voice, operating from the key creation was composed in. It’s not even personal although the exercise is acted out from an individual subjective perspective. I liken the writing environment to what the physicists and social scientists call M Fields or EM Fields, an energy system that generates electrical and magnetic activity, a coalescing of functions comprised of like characteristics and qualities. It’s akin to a flock of birds in flight that form a collective, working toward a parallel destination or purpose. In short, they are drawn together and operate within an Attractor Field.
Field Theory requires me to write even if no one reads these words. Since unleashing me from the straightjacket of conventional work, my impulse to write, write, and write, even if it’s about nothing in particular, must be acted on. It’s a requirement of the field I find myself in these days. My brother is a photographer and suffers from or enjoys a similar compulsion. It’s part of his nature to take pictures. He simply cannot help himself. The nature of a writer is really no different; only the unique expression it takes is. This is true for all the arts. What’s more, I have learned the hard way that to suppress the creative urge is literally destructive, deleterious to life itself. It is likely one of the principle reasons I have been so painfully frustrated during much of adulthood, not allowing myself to fully become immersed in the flock I was born to inhabit.
And so, my eye is fixed on some vague notion that I occasionally may have something worthwhile to say in what I write. If not, I’ll write anyway, willy nilly, hoping at minimum, to stumble on something useful for others to enjoy. Some small niggling comment or curiosity will penetrate another’s skull, prompting an investigation into how Field Theory affects their own lives. For to ignore my urge to create with words feels downright irresponsible at this stage, even sacrilegious, a sacrilege I can no longer afford, even if I write about nothing at all!
Not long ago while attending a book discussion group, a lovely bird and I sang a duet together, he with his song and I with my words. It was quite remarkable really. Our little group takes turns reading and I was up. No sooner had I started and the bird in question arrived in the chimney flu, launching into a loud melody of his own making. I mean he was loud! Not only that, he was delightfully melodic, communicating in his language and me in mine. It seemed the more I read, the more insistent he became and I quickly felt immersed in his rapture as he sang his heart out! It seemed our little duet transcended both of us, becoming a third thing born of sharing. Not only was I aware of this in the moment, the third thing obliterated any comprehension of the words I was reading, rendering instead a greater understanding found in being. I became both lost and found in the larger experience, feeling astonishingly uplifted, expanded somehow. I felt not only a smile on my face but one planted firmly in the heart, beating in syncopation with his.
To contend we are all in this life at Earth School together is a heady concept made headier by a knowing participation when subjectively experienced. I often feel this when out in nature, witnessing and involved with birds, trees, flowers, even pedestrian things like mud or decomposing leaves. The muskiness of a tree, the overwhelming fragrance of a Eucalyptus, even when a tiny gnat flies into my face as I walk, all evokes this sharing, this all-one-thingness that is transcendent, lifting me out of what I perceive as me. When I am blessed to reside in this space I feel fortunate indeed, enlivened by a force greater than any definition as writer, mother, friend; whatever.
I see this in other people and creatures as well, though they may not experience it in quite the same way. My old friend Bennet feeds peanuts to squirrels, throwing them in their shell on the ground outside his back door each morning. I’ve watched his face when he does this. I see his joining with each squirrel in some invisible force field as they scamper toward each nut, also entering a third thing, a space they intimately share for a moment before the spell is broken.
My hummingbirds also display this quality. Most of the time they function according to hummingbird rules, which is to say territorial, chasing each other away from the feeder in an attempt to be top bird. Yet there are times when they share. It is a joy to watch. Lately I have seen as many as three, four, sometimes five hummingbirds perched or hovering around my 3-hole feeder, waiting their turn to drink. It is just as if they silently agree to suspend their individual nature, relying instead on a collective One. On occasion, when the feeder has been drained dry a bird will even peer in my window as if to say “fill it up, creature!”
This hushed communication remains a mystery to me for how is it that form or the physical world can be so overcome with a force not of bird or animal making. Yet the songbird and my duet incline me to know it not only can be but is when desiring to do so, whether consciously or unconsciously. For the bird in the chimney kept up his warbling until I finished my paragraph, and even briefly thereafter, only ending his song when it was someone else’s turn to read. While others in the group noticed and even commented on the bird, I took such pleasure in having him accompany me and I him, not only witnessing but immersed in the One life we all share.