Dog (walk) days

A few days ago, I took my dog for a walk. While traveling, walks are a several times a day thing, but here at home, the dog spends most of her time outside running around on her own, and walks are more of a luxury than a necessity. So I took my dog on a walk, and she was having a great time running ahead of me, coming back, sniffing things, and staring mysteriously into the trees along the roadside. We walked a half mile or so in peace, but then we passed the first neighboring house that had dogs and they, seeing that there was a human who was walking a dog, decided to join in.

There are no leash laws in our area, at least none that anybody pays attention to. Most people keep a couple of dogs for security purposes. These are mostly junkyard type dogs; mongrels that often look like they have some pit-bull in them. They are mostly not the clean cut, happy looking dogs that people enjoy seeing. They are not exactly neglected, more…unkempt. They look dangerous, and if you were actually trying to make trouble for the owner, they probably would be dangerous. For the most part, though, they are just boring old dogs who like to wander around and occasionally get into somebody’s garbage.

One of the neighbor dogs was a little too pushy for my dog’s taste, and after it came sniffing too close to me a few times she dutifully drove it away. The other dog was a puppy, kind of shy; it wasn’t bothering me, and my dog had more important business to take care of (perimeter checks and such) so she just ignored it. She’s like that.

We kept on walking, my dog running ahead, and the neighbor dog trailing way behind, but slowly making up ground. The poor mongrel looked as though it was trying to decide if I was going to throw something at it. I never did, so it started walking a little closer. Meanwhile, my dog was still running ahead, but she was coming back less and less. We got into a slightly more interesting area (that is, an area with cows and deer prints and the carcass of some road kill creature) and she got so excited that she stopped coming back altogether. I watched her vanish into a clump of bushes by the road and the little mongrel dog sat down just behind me to watch us both. I called my dog, and after a few minutes she suddenly remembered that she is kind of sort of supposed to listen to me and came back. She bounded ahead after a few milliseconds, this time mostly keeping to the road. The little mongrel and I followed her.

Right about that time my dog decided that she really, really had to chase a squirrel up a tree, because that is one of her most important responsibilities in life. I glanced down at the mongrel dog and noticed that it was walking exactly level with my left foot. Exactly level. If I walked faster, the mongrel walked faster. If I slowed down, the mongrel slowed down. To all extents and purposes, the little mongrel was heeling. While my usually well trained, beloved, petted dog ran around as though we hadn’t been going on well mannered walks together for the past ten years, this little untrained, half neglected, future junkyard dog was walking in exactly the manner that I spent the past ten years trying to convince my own dog is the best way to walk.

Lately most of my reading time has been given to school assignments, which currently cover the writings of the early American explorers, Conquistadors, colonists, and especially the Puritans who settled in New England. These folks made up an interesting bunch in a fascinating time in history. They were all so steadfast in their beliefs, even when that meant climbing aboard a ship that was just as likely to end up at the bottom of the ocean as safely at its destination. They also all seem to share an obsession with food.

At times the descriptions of the food that the explorers, pilgrims, and colonists came across are a bit extreme. When they are starving, desperate for something beside biscuits and preserved meat, the newcomers are willing to deal with the Indians. A few times, the Indians (and especially their FOOD) are referred to as being sent by God. A few decades later, when the colonists had taken food and farming lessons, and were able to look after themselves, authors like Mary Rowlandson, who was taken captive by Indians, appear. The Indians are no longer the people who serve God by helping the newcomers to find food; they are the brethren of Satan, and a scourge on the Puritans.

This course of events reflects the usual order of things throughout the whole length of human history. When everything is going swimmingly, it is much harder to think about being obedient to God, because it is much easier to take the credit for success than to take the blame for failure. In The Everlasting Man G. K. Chesterton wrote, “[Man] cannot sleep in his own skin; he cannot trust his own instincts.” Human instinct is to acknowledge the divine, to fear its awesomeness and work to be in line with divinely inspired laws, just as the instinct for a young dog that has had a few run-ins with grouchy neighbors to be cautious and a bit submissive. When people bury that instinct, they create a false world for themselves—a society where the achievements of human beings eliminate the need for a God—they lose sight of the idea of something better and more important. Then the only thing left to do is run around chasing squirrels into trees (which is thoroughly useless, pointless, and in all other ways nonsensical) while imagining that chasing the squirrel is a vastly important undertaking. Reality is lost, and can only be brought back through some sort of downfall.

For my dog, the downfall happens whenever I walk away from her. She sees her mistake and comes running to catch up. For the Puritan authors like Mary Rowladnson, the downfall came when their towns were pillaged and burned (although, even then their recovery wasn’t so great, since they did start from a rather flawed ideal). Now it seems to be gearing up for our turn.

Since the world did not come to an end on the 21st of December, and life as we know it seems to be continuing on, we cannot get away with ignoring the state of the world. Here we are, sitting upon a dragon hoard of technological achievements and scientific discoveries that allow man to play God in an alternate reality of human devising. Looking at the alternate reality that is society’s idea of truth (or non-truth) there isn’t very much promise that things are going to get any better. Which, means, of course, that it is the perfect time to go back and dig up the buried instincts that help us remember that we are humans, and that our attempts to be in control of life is not all that much different than chasing squirrels into trees.