“Life is really simple, we insist on making it complicated.” – Confucius
“Beware the barrenness of busy life.” – Socrates
“Live simply that others might simply live.” – Elizabeth Ann Seton
It has been my opinion, for a long time, that humans make things unnecessarily complicated. We seem to have a propensity, perhaps a genetic trait, to look beyond what sits right in front of us and while doing so we fail to see the obvious. Some would say that it is this vision, the ability to see beyond the present to what things may be rather than what they are, that makes us, well, human. I’m not going to debate this idea, but I do think that it may be a trait that has fatal trappings.
Today I was walking along a quiet and snowy country road, two bloodhounds towing me along like I was a sled. I was actually thinking about my next piece of writing. The two dogs were moving along, their noses to the ground, savoring every scent that this little travelled fairway has to offer. At one point they stopped. Adia, our female bloodhound, started digging at the snow bank and Cooper, our big old floppy faced male, joined in. Snow flew in all directions as their plate sized paws and long nails excavated the icy surface without abandon. At about a depth of about eighteen inches Adia threw her black nose into the snow, rooted about and snorted several times. This was too much for Cooper so he buried his head into the snow too. They whined, yelped, and soon started crooning. I pulled back on the leashes (not an easy feat with two hundred and fifty pounds of dogs pulling in the other direction) and pushed them aside to see what all the fuss was about.
There in the white excavation was a single spot of urine; the proverbial yellow snow. The dogs overwhelming interest in this jewel put both of them right back on task and as they tried crawling over each other to gain superior position. I realized that we were all involved in quite a mess. The two leashes entangled legs, tails, necks, and noses. These were all attached to my hands. I let go of the leash grips and began toiling with the dangling end of each loose end pulling them over a tail, under a leg, through a collar, and every which way so that I could find some sort of sense of organization between the dogs and me. It was a bit like untangling a moving pile of spaghetti. There seemed to be more ends than beginnings. I couldn’t fathom how such a mess had occurred in only a few seconds. Out of sheer desperation I let go to reassess the situation and Cooper lunged forward flipping Adia straight up in the air and head over heals. The entire tangle came instantly undone and I was free to grab the two leashes and pretend to have some sort of command over these two dogs that pay little attention to my needs and wishes.
Cooper had jumped over the top of the snow bank and was digging away at layers of snow. Adia, not to be left out of this great fun, joined right in. Snow flew sideways like it was being cast off by a snow blower. They dug for about thirty seconds to a depth of about two feet. At his juncture the heavy digging stopped and the serious smelling started. Both dogs plunged their heads, one more time, into the snow. Again I pulled them aside. To no ones surprise there was more yellow snow. Cooper and Adia were a little calmer this time. They were content to take in long breaths and whisper little snorts as the investigated the scene with their large black noses. As they continued their olfactory investigation I remembered that we had seen fox tracks crossing in this area a couple of weeks ago. I wondered if this was the territorial markings of a fox that was guarding its territory; frozen temporarily in time by cold weather. Of course, the dogs knew the answer to that. There noses had already deciphered this. I was the one left wondering.
Beyond the love and companionship one of the main reasons I pal around with my hounds is that they notice and find interesting evidence that would otherwise go overlooked by me. Their unique ability to smell thousands and thousands of times better than me gives them a set of information that I would never encounter. The fact that bloodhounds are happy and able to share the information they discover is what makes them so special. We are part of a team. The hounds have their job and I have mine. Of course their job requires more skill. My job is to record and interpret information. Cooper and Adia are not really interested in my interpretation. They seem to think they already know what’s going on. And I’m sure that they do.
Dogs are an interesting bridge between the human and natural world. Being direct descendants of wolves they have most of the required DNA to effectively understand their role in the natural world. What makes them unique is that they have chosen to have a relationship with human beings for over 8,000 years. In that long time period they have learned to depend on us(and we on them). They understand human behavior within the context of the natural world; something that we haven’t even figured out yet.
Life is simple for wild dogs. Everything is oriented to survival. They are keenly aware of where to find food and water, and how to attain both. They are, in the right season, focused on picking a mate and breeding. They are family oriented, both male and female contributing to the raising of their pups. They are territorial so that they can maintain a habitat that they can rely on. Almost all dogs, whether the wild or domestic variety, are social animals. They live in family groups and sometimes larger packs. They cooperate with each other for success, and yes, they appear to enjoy life. Happiness is part of the equation in the Canine world. Like humans, they seem to live large, love without abandon, and laugh at the follies in life. These similar behaviors between the world of canines and humans is what brought us together; two completely different species that share similar behaviors and habits.
And yet we are so different. The other day I happened to be in a nearby town to run some errands and do some food shopping. There is a natural foods coop in this town of 18,000 residents, the largest town in the area and the county seat. It was a gorgeous day; the first day of 30 degrees in about a month and a half. The sky was deep blue, white blustering clouds rode a southwestern breeze covering the bright sun for a few moments at a time. For the first time in quite a while there were numerous pedestrians walking along the side walks. But something seemed amiss. I stopped and really looked at the people around me. Yes, people were outside, seemingly experiencing the warmer temperatures, but nobody, and I mean nobody, was looking around at the brilliant blue sky, the warming sun to the south, the billowing clouds that surfed the skies on upper atmospheric winds, or even at the blue majestic hills to the west where white fields and green forests shadowed this valley in all their glory. Instead I saw people with cell phones held up to their ears, or two thumbs texting messages or surfing the net on an iphone or blackberry, or, a few, with ear buds placed in their ears listening to their MP3 players. And what really was noticeable was that almost no one was smiling.
From my perspective, and I will admit that I am strongly biased, people were missing the message of life. The world of electronics seems to have replaced human contact with their world and environment. It even seems to have replaced contact with other people in their immediate surroundings. Only a few people on the street that day were enjoying or talking to another human being. Almost everyone seemed so lonely. Their complete attention was given to the virtual world. The natural world around them was neglected as if it were not there. An overwhelming sense of sadness came over me as if I could smell the death of our planet. I could see the beginning of the end at least the end of how it has always been.
All of this is not to say that everyone can or should be cast into this large group of electronic zombies. But far too many have drank the electronic Kool-Aid and become addicted to it. They seem to live in a world that no longer seeks salvation in the wisdom of nature. And the question occurs to me, why would they choose to preserve that wisdom if they do not understand it?
My dogs pull at their leashes and bring me back to my present surroundings. The branches of tall trees cast shadows over the landscape. A wild brook carries fast, clean water in a narrow channel towards snowy valleys below. A strong breeze blows in fresh air from the west. The dogs and I take deep breaths. The wild enters our lungs and feeds our heart and brain. We are free.
But I can’t help wondering for how long.
Written for www.wildramblings.com in February 2011.