Ponder this:

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Sunny fall afternoon: free association

I am trying to sit outdoors to enjoy the bright blue sky and sunshine; the breeze is just strong enough to keep an edge in the air. Still, I sit for a long time at the picnic table, the last page of my book read and flapping in the wind, a glass of ice water near my elbow, my eyes closed. I am dazed by this head cold that wants to become bronchitis, dazzled by the sun on the fluttering birch leaves as yellow as the sunshine itself. The leaves on the volunteer poplar behind me applaud each draft. Molly is lying on the lawn twenty feet to my right, Peep is lounging with me on the picnic table, occasionally stretching, rolling and twisting just because she can, gazing at me from flirty golden eye slits.

The grass of the lawn and the hay field beyond is so green, vigorously green, a sturdier green than it was in June. Everywhere, dots of brown and gold leaves. The sun on my face feels so good. Through my closed lids, the sun makes all those little blood vessels into the image of a holly bush.

When I was little, we had a book of bedtime stories. One of the stories was a tale of how holly leaves got to be prickly. I remember the simple line drawing of holly berries sliding down the snowy hill on the nice smooth leaf sleds. The leaves got battered and curled at the edges, and the holly was forever after cursed with rough, prickery leaves. I have a former friend who has a holly bush at her house. 

She's a former friend because she disapproves of my dog's lifestyle. Molly is free to come and go as she pleases. Usually she prefers to stay near us, on the lawn or indoors. We have no neighbors, only empty hay fields, stone walls, woods.  In the mornings while Husband and I get ready for work, my girl has her route to travel to check out the morning news. I'm not sure of its exact course, but I know it includes checking the old orchard for bunny trails, and winding in and out of the evergreens along the upper driveway to see who passed by overnight. She's usually back from her rounds in time for us to get her indoors before we have to leave. One morning last fall, she was still out and about, not in sight. I waited, and waited, and called and walked around the field and she didn't turn up. I wasn't happy about it, but I had to go to work, so I left. 
And worried all day. 
When I got home, she sprang out of the arborvitaes in front of the house and greeted me joyfully, none the worse for wear. She was tired that evening, but she was unharmed. I related the story to my friend by email and did not hear from her for a long time. After I had prodded her a few times, she sent me a Dear John letter, saying that the story of Molly having been outdoors all day had so upset her . . . and I must have known it would upset her . . . and we just don't understand each other and so that's that. Her dog has a nice cozy life in the suburbs with two twenty minute walks per day on paved streets, and a nine hundred square foot fenced back yard to explore.

I'm happy for my friend and her dog. They have their routines and they are just as wild about each other and their lives as we and Molly are about ours. I have a great deal of respect for Molly's knowledge of what's going on out there and I'm sure that, at any given time, she knows more than I about what wild things might be around . . . and who to tangle with and who not to. I'm not afraid of the wild things. I'm not afraid of the big empty spaces. My friend used to bring her dog out here to the fields for long country walks. She was always careful to carry a big walking stick in case she met up with a rabid raccoon. When she told me that, I just looked at her, all blank in the face. Yeah, well, I guess there could be a rabid raccoon around someplace here, but I've never seen one, and I've never worried about having to fight one. Hell, I'm the one who stood underneath a fisher and took pictures of it while it growled at me and switched its long furry tail. I wouldn't do it again, probably, but at the time I didn't know how vicious the things were. When I was little, my parents told me over and over that wild animals wanted to stay away from me more than I wanted to stay away from them, and I believed it and it's been borne out by experience. The exception to the rule is the odd coyote who'll sit in a field and stare and stare at us. It only happens every few years, and I don't get a feeling of menace. I think that when they do that, they're just curious, scoping out the competition for rodents. If we walk toward them, at about a hundred feet, they turn around and slowly trot away. 

I have other coyote stories, and other wild animal stories, but this story is just about how people and their dogs live different lives. Just like every marriage is different, every dog/person partnership is different. I know Molly is absolutely in touch with all of her dogness, and she's living the best of a wild life and a pampered life. I don't think my friend's dog is unhappy, but I'm pretty sure Molly wouldn't trade places with her. 

Even if she has to hunker down in the arborvitaes on the occasional day when she stays out playing too long. 
It isn't an issue too much anymore. See Approaching the Autumnal Equinox, second paragraph.


Olga said...

This is so beautifully written. It is sad that you lost a friend over a dog doing what dogs do in the country, but your attitude of acceptance makes you the better person.

Barb said...

I'm reading an interesting book about the brain, how intuition is at play most of the time and how it (sometimes erroneously) guides our judgements. Intuition takes many forms - your friend's intuition seems to be grounded in fear. The projection of that fear onto Molly's safety is what grabs me. Individuals are so interesting. As I get older, I'm less inclined to deal with people who seem too guarded or negative. There is so little time. You spend your time very productively sitting with your animal friends in the late fall sunshine. Hope the cold doesn't develop further. Maybe more Vit C?

June said...

Thanks, Olga. I have tried to feel sad over the loss of that friendship, but my truest feeling is astonishment that we stayed friendly so long.

Barb! What's the book? I'm swilling Airborne on a tight schedule.

Hilary said...

Wow.. that's a grand exit on the simple grounds of "to each his/her own." I have a relative who would get along great with your friend.

I'm sorry for your loss but at the same time, I see your response to Olga. So I'm glad you're not hurting over it.

Beautifully written, June. Give those critters a scratch behind the ears for me, please. :)

DJan said...

You have the gift of putting your soul into the written word, and it comes through here loud and clear. I am so glad to have run across your blog, because I learn so much every time you post. I second Hilary's request to give your wonderful critters a scratch, and I would add a virtual hug to you, just for being you. :-)

Rubye Jack said...

The thing with communication is most of it is not in words, but since we have to use words to make things happen who knows what was really going on. If that makes any sense.
I don't anyone who lives in the country that keeps their dog inside all day.

Tom said...

When we lived in the country we had a dog who roamed free all over the yard and into the woods. Now we live in the suburbs where there's a leash law, with a different dog who gets a walk on a leash every morning and evening. She's very well behaved. But I think our country dog had a happier life.

Vicki Lane said...

Lovely writing. Our dogs are allowed their freedom on our hundred acres -- sometimes they are gone long enough to make us worry -- but then they return, full of thorns, muddy to the elbows, and happily exhausted. Totally in touch with their dogness.

SmitoniusAndSonata said...

Your friend can't compare her dog's suburban life to Molly's .
You're surrounded by miles of peaceful countryside and Molly is so well trained with a safe harbour to retreat to that she's unlikely to have any problems .
Meanwhile , I hope you're feeling a bit better ...

Barb said...

Hi Again, The book is Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. It's a book with lots of meat that has to be chewed slowly (at least if I intend to understand it). I'm only 1/4 through but have already learned some amazing things about how we think. Hope the Airborne is working.

June said...

Thanks, Barb.
I Googled the book. I think I'm not mentally energetic enough to read that. I'll happily accept your summaries.

C-ingspots said...

To me, it sounds like your Molly enjoys a perfect life. She is after all a dog, well-equipped with a brain and survival instincts. But as you said, there are personal preferences that abound, and to each their own. I'll bet you're right - Molly wouldn't trade places for all the bones in the world! Hope you beat your cold soon...

VioletSky said...

You Molly must be the happiest dog to have so much freedom and know that at the end of the day she had a warm home to come back to. I had a similar (but not quite) issue with a neighbour/friend in my apartment building. She couldn't understand how I could let my cat out on the balcony. I never saw her two cats. Ever. Never allowed outside, and always hiding somewhere on the odd occasion I was in her place. It never occurred to me to get upset with her though about the way she looked after them.

Friko said...

Molly is a very lucky dog, having fields and woods and open spaces to explore. Dogs love that, it’s what they’re made for. My Millie goes off on her own - at least she did until she came home with then unexplained open sores on her face - and she soon enough rattles the back door when she wants to come back in.

Perhaps your friend’s fear of the countryside is due to ignorance; a townie feels uncomfortable without bricks and mortar and lamp posts.

I am sorry you lost her but she doesn’t sound as if she’s at all willing to explore your world with you.

Hope your cold gets better soon.

Carolynn Anctil said...

It sounds like you - and your dog - lead an idyllic life. There are days when I can't get my dog to go outside for love nor money. And, then there are days when she won't come in. I, mostly, let her decide those things. I do know that she loves her little plot of land here and takes her job of keeping it clear of trespassers (birds included) very seriously. The only wild animals I'm wary of here are the badger we've seen only once and the skunk - for obvious reasons. All the others seem to maintain a healthy distance all on their own.

I hope you rid yourself of your nasty cold soon. Snuggle up and enjoy a good cup of something hot.


Rose ~ from Oz said...

Thanks for calling by June, and you're welcome for all the pictures!
What a wonderful narrative of the natural world around you. I almost felt like I was there.
I too have had the odd friendship where its longevity has astonished me prior to its demise!
Oh, what a time of it we would have if I had joint-custody of the Team. Molly and they could romp and explore the natural world and be......heaven forbid.....DOGS! Oh dear, we'd have to watch for those beastly rabid raccoons ;)
It's wonderful to see you posting and out and about around blogland, but having said that I fully understand when one must go to ground.

rachel said...

Flossie says Molly's life is just perfect in its freedom, and how she wishes she could go off wandering when it suits her. No raccoons here, rabid or otherwise, but she thinks it would be wonderful to be allowed to chase a badger now and then....

Note by Human: badgers bite. Labradors aren't as tough as they like to make out. And anyway, she couldn't risk being late for dinner.

Dr. Kathy McCoy said...

You're giving your dear Molly such a gift, June! When you have the acreage to let an animal explore, that's wonderful!

Our first cat Freddie divided his time between indoors and outdoors and had more friends in the neighborhood than we did. Even when he was 16 years old and dying of cancer and kidney failure, we let him out for awhile each day to make his rounds. Not to do so would have been cruel. Since his death from skin cancer -- he was a pink-nosed cat especially susceptible to that cancer though we didn't know that at the time -- we have kept all of our cats inside. They have had good lives. But Freddie's was the most fun and adventurous.

In a recent review of my book Purr Therapy, a cat-loving reviewer -- who reminds me a bit of your former friend -- criticized the book because of what seemed to her to be the obvious abuse of letting a dying cat go outside for a time each day. But I know, because I knew Freddie, that letting him live his life as normally as possible to the end was the loving and compassionate choice.

In the same way, you know what's best for your Molly... no matter what anyone else says or thinks!

JoyD said...

Lucky Dog, Molly. Your "friend" doesn't meet my definition of the word. True friends can disagree. My friends and I are not cookie cutter copies of one another! You had a "friendly" relationship with someone who didn't want to make any effort to be your true, respectful friend - and no loss to you!
Our own suburban dog, well, GrandDog, is an athletic boy who is lucky enough to have a master who takes him to dog parks for exercise and socializing every day. (He's a musician and works in the evenings) That's as good as it can get for this dog, due to circumstances such as not owning a lot of land? But there can't be a dog more closely bonded with his Man.
I like your writing, I like your outspokenness, and smiled at the office bitchiness, and I'm with you politically. Somehow I came across your page, and I have bookmarked it. Glad to meet you!

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