Wet things smell stronger, and I suppose his main regret is that he can sniff just one at a time. In a frenzy of delight he runs way up the sandy road— scored by freshets after five days of rain. Every pebble gleams, every leaf.
When I whistle he halts abruptly and steps in a circle, swings his extravagant tail. Then he rolls and rubs his muzzle in a particular place, while the drizzle falls without cease, and Queen Anne’s lace and Goldenrod bend low.
The top of the logging road stands open and light. Another day, before hunting starts, we’ll see how far it goes, leaving word first at home. The footing is ambiguous.
Soaked and muddy, the dog drops, panting, and looks up with what amounts to a grin. It’s so good to be uphill with him, nicely winded, and looking down on the pond.
A sound commences in my left ear like the sound of the sea in a shell; a downward, vertiginous drag comes with it. Time to head home. I wait until we’re nearly out to the main road to put him back on the leash, and he —the designated optimist— imagines to the end that he is free. ~Jane Kenyon “After an Illness, Walking the Dog”
A dog can never tell you what she knows from the smells of the world, but you know, watching her, that you know almost nothing. ~Mary Oliver, Dog Songs
As I’ve written elsewhere, I spend over an hour a day dealing with the excrement of my farm critters. This is therapeutic time for me as I have deep respect for the necessity to clean up and compost what is smelly/stinky/yucky and biblically objectionable. (Deuteronomy 23:12-14) None of us, including God, want to take a walk having to pick our way around poop.
As I’m busy picking up manure, I watch our dogs seek out the smelliest, most vile things they can find in the barn or field (preferably dead) and roll themselves around in it one after another until they are just as stinky as the stuff they found. They are clearly joyous about it, especially when they do it together. It is curious throw-back behavior that I’ve assumed, wearing my animal behaviorist hat, was about a wild predator covering up their scent in order to stalk and capture prey more effectively without being detected – except they are really truly so smelly that any prey could sense them coming from a mile away and would learn quickly that a moving creature that smells like poop or a dead carcass is bad news and to be avoided.
This is the main reason our farm dogs live full time outdoors. We prefer to avoid stinky dirty creatures too. So I’ve tried to understand this behavior for what adaptive purpose it may have.
What makes the most sense to me is the “pack mentality” that suggests that once one dog/wolf rolls in something objectionable, that the rest of the pack does too. This is a unifying theme for anxious individuals – they aren’t really on their own if they smell and blend in with the rest of the pack. So they spread the “wealth”, so to speak. Stink up one, stink up all. Like team spirit, it seems to improve morale – until it doesn’t anymore.
I’ve been feeling covered with stink myself. There are so many divisive opinions right now about a variety of current issues; vile nonsense has been flying right and left on social media as well as face to face. The theory is if all of us stink the same from rolling in piles of misinformation, we are then no longer alone.
Yet our destiny does not have to include believing, sharing and “flinging” the stuff that stinks to see who it will stick to.
Time for a bath. Time for soap and cleansing and some serious self-examination. Time to stop joyously rolling around in it. Time to bury the excrement so we’re not picking our way around the piles and can actually hold our heads up to see where we’re heading.
That’s true freedom.
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The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was, is lost For none now live who remember it. ~J.R.R. Tolkien Galadriel’s prologue to The Fellowship of the Rings
There trudges one to a merry-making With a sturdy swing, On whom the rain comes down.
To fetch the saving medicament Is another bent, On whom the rain comes down.
One slowly drives his herd to the stall Ere ill befall, On whom the rain comes down.
This bears his missives of life and death With quickening breath, On whom the rain comes down.
One watches for signals of wreck or war From the hill afar, On whom the rain comes down.
No care if he gain a shelter or none, Unhired moves on, On whom the rain comes down.
And another knows nought of its chilling fall Upon him at all, On whom the rain comes down. ~Thomas Hardy “An Autumn Rain-scene”(1904)
The rain has returned, now six months into a changed world. The rain blows, raging against the windows and puddling in the low spots, sparing nothing and no one.
It drenches all and everyone – none of us immune from the cleansing: whether missing the joy of sweet fellowship, whether bearing urgent messages or administering badly needed medication, whether trudging through the day’s chores, whether unemployed and praying for work, whether bearing witness to ongoing divisive conflict and tragedy, or whether the rain falls chill upon those newly lying still and silent beneath the soil.
In our universal soaking, may we look at one another with a renewed compassion. Each one of us deserves a warm and comforting toweling off, being buffed and fluffed so we’re ready to face what comes next.
Hot humid summer days are barely tolerable for a temperate climate sissy pants like me. I am melting even as I get up in the morning, and at times our house is two degrees warmer (~90 degrees) than the out of doors. So distractions from the heat are more than welcome.
For me today it started as I drove the ten miles of country roads to get to work in town, running a bit late to an important meeting. I was listening to the news on the car radio when I puzzled over why the radio station would be playing cat meows over the news of the Trump and Putin meeting. I turned off the radio, and realized the meows didn’t go away.
As soon as I was able, I pulled into a parking lot and surveyed my car from back to front, looking under seats, opened the back, scratched my head. Then the meowing started again—under the hood. I struggled with the latch, lifted up the hood and a distressed bundle of kitten fur hurtled out at me, clinging all four little greasy paws to my shirt. Unscathed except for greasy feet, this little two month old kitten had survived a 50 mile per hour ride for 20 minutes, including several turns and stops. He immediately crawled up to my shoulder, settled in by my ear, and began to purr. I contemplated showing up at a meeting with a kitten and grease marks all over me, vs. heading back home with my newly portable neck warmer. I opted to call in with the excuse “my cat hitchhiked to work with me this morning and is thumbing for a ride back home” and headed back down the road to take him back to the barn where he belongs, now with the new name “Harley” because he clearly desires the open road.
At that point, my meeting in town was already completed without me so I went out to check fence line as the hot wire seemed to be shorting out somewhere in the pasture. The mares had decided that the wire interfered with their hearts’ desire and had broken through, so it clearly was not hot enough to discourage them. It has been a very hot few days with persistent drying breezes so as I approached the fence line, I heard numerous snaps and pops that I interpreted as hot wire shorting out in the dry grass and weeds, creating a fire hazard and certainly potentially dangerous with the winds whipping up.
I walked closer, puzzled to hear snaps all up and down the fence, but no sparks. I approached and heard a little “snap” and a tiny seed pod burst open in front of my eyes, dropping its contents very effectively. It was dried common vetch seed pods that were snapping and popping, not hot wire shorting out. They were literally exploding all up and down the fence line in a reproductive symphony of seed release.
I put the broken wire back to together, plugged it in and all was well, at least until the next Haflinger decides the adjacent pasture looks better.
Returning to the barn, I saw one of our Haflingers pawing furiously at his round black rubber water tub in his paddock, splashing water everywhere and creating quite a spectacle. I went up to him to refill the tub with the hose and he continued to paw and splash in the tub and actually went down on his knees in the tub and then tried to lower one shoulder into it and his neck and face. By this time he had created quite a mud puddle of the thick dust around the tub and his splashing and thrashing was causing mud to fly everywhere, including all over me, my hair, covering his mane and tail and belly and legs. I took the hose and sprayed the cold water over him and he leaned closer to me, begging me to spray him everywhere, turning around so I could do his other side, facing me so I could spray his face. I drenched him completely, and he was one happy horsie and I was laughing my head off at what he had done to me. Both drenched, muddy, dirty, but happy and much much cooler. What a sight we were. This is the Haflinger that slows down at water hazards on the cross country courses because he wants to splash and play in it.
So even on a hot day on the farm, there was plenty else to occupy my mind. It is never dull here and there are always lessons to be learned:
Remember to bang on your car hood before you get in~
keep the hotwire hot~
and share a mud bath with your Haflinger.
But especially, listen to the vetch and don’t let it fool you that catastrophe is about to happen. The vetch is simply exploding in noisy reproductive ecstasy. It can’t get much better than that.
If you notice anything it leads you to notice more and more.
I was so full of energy.
I was always running around, looking
at this and that.
If I stopped
If I stopped and thought, maybe
the world can’t be saved,
~Mary Oliver from “The Moths” from Dream Work
No amount of falls will really undo us if we keep on picking ourselves up each time. We shall of course be very muddy and tattered children by the time we reach home. But the bathrooms are all ready, the towels put out, and the clean clothes are in the airing cupboard.
The only fatal thing is to lose one’s temper and give it up. It is when we notice the dirt that God is most present in us; it is the very sign of His presence.
~C.S. Lewis (from Letters)
I see in a new way now as I wander about,
my eyes scanning for the plain and mundane,
searching for what needs noticing and safe-keeping.
Saving even a little part of our world
involves getting tired and muddy,
falling down again and again
and being willing to get back up.
If I stop getting dirty,
if I by-pass the every day,
if I give up the work of salvage,
I abandon the promises of God.
He’s there, ready and waiting
for the mop up of our messy ordinary.
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