What We Can Learn from Dogs

So it’s Monday. All. Day. Long. One of those times when you can easily believe in the purported accursedness of the day; one unlucky, frustrating, impossible thing after another and not a coffee break in sight. We’ve all had ’em. Rotten, rotten Mondays, no matter what day of the week in reality, are the bane of humankind.

Dogs, however, rarely let a Monday take their essential doggy happiness away. It takes, in fact, quite a lot of horribleness to take the equanimity and enthusiastic canine capering down to a level recognizable as sad, and once cheered up again, dogs are remarkably good at forgiving and forgetting. Barring ill-treatment or illness, every day is the greatest day ever to your average dog.


Why lie around counting the time until your human will take you walking farther, when you can back-scratch your way headfirst right down the hill?

It’s not that dogs are stupid. Far from it; some dogs I’ve known would beat some people I’ve known at any IQ test, and the average dog is a pretty clever problem solver and able to perform all sorts of magnificent deeds, accomplish numerous astounding feats. It’s more that dogs, simply, seem to have a highly developed power for living in the moment, finding the good in the small and ordinary and letting unpleasantness drift past them as quickly as the turning of the world will allow. They’re not much on sulking, self-pity, or wallowing and very rarely hold grudges–and these, as far as I’ve seen, only when pressed to it by persons or events truly deserving of their scorn.

What dogs seem to hold among their many fine and useful instincts is the one that tells one to be thrilled when a maple seed helicopters out of a tree in his path, to slurp lustily at a handy puddle of water when thirsty, and to leap into the air rather than toddling through the weeds when crossing the parking strip to get to the park for a romp. The wisdom to nuzzle the hand that pets him, to lie like a shaggy, comforting blanket on the cold feet of a human companion when he’s sad and to shoot across the house like water from a fire hose when the other human gets home from her long day at the office. All of this is noble work, and keeping as busy at it as any good dog does makes him far too busy to mope and snarl and bemoan his bad fortune. Even on a typical Monday.


It’s a good day to be a dog!


To my beloved youngest sister on her birthday:

Taking life from the real to the magical and from drabness to brilliance, luminosity is the agent of glorious change. Little Sister is such an agent in many lives as well, bringing beauty and joy to us solely by existing, let alone having the sweetness and humor and wisdom that fill her with the warm inner light I so treasure. Simply, my world would be far smaller and more limited to the dull version of reality if it weren’t for the presence of her gracious illumination!

With that in mind, here is a series of illustrations of that progression of luminosity to celebrate the gifts of sisterly love.

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Hot Flash Fiction 4: Man’s Better Friend than He Ever Knew


digital artworkThe interviewer from Wagging Wonders paused. Biscuit cocked her head thoughtfully, now reminiscing about her youth. In the old days, before the invention of the Frisbee®, dogs had to be so much more clever and agile to chase and catch those passing spaceships. Pups these days! They have no idea how easy they have it. Why, if it hadn’t been for Biscuit and Sprocket, all of Montana would’ve been overrun by those little orange beings that dodged their yipping and nipping, landing covertly in Seattle instead, in ’62.

Owl be Seeing You

I’m fond of the idea of animal companions and the way that various spiritual and philosophical schools of thought have incorporated the concept of human-animal affinities as talismans, symbols, totems and the like–never mind the opportunities presented for animal appreciation in contacts with pets, farm animals, zoo denizens and the serendipity of wild meetings. I simply find animals intriguing and appealing, and the chance to be in friendly contact with any of them pleasing and attractive. When they become boisterous, and especially when they are threatened or threatening, not so much of course, but even in those states they are compelling subjects of interest.

Animals are beautiful, mysterious, sometimes cuddly and affectionate, sometimes regal and dramatic, and always rather miraculous in my view. As I’ve lived much of my life in proximity, one way or another, to interesting animals but never had pets or been a caretaker of animals directly, there’s a tinge of the exotic even in the most common and frequently seen birds, bugs and beasts, fish or fowl, tame or terrifying, that perhaps people having more direct relationships with the creatures would not see. Somehow, despite the frequency with which I may see them sitting on the road-lining fenceposts, dead trees and light standards, hawks become not only the focus of my attention but messengers and comforters and guides that reassure me and inspire me simply by appearing where they do and catching my eye. When the call of a full moon brings out more of the neighborhood creatures to enjoy its bright benefits, I am moved to feel that the presence of more animals (the wild ones from our wooded ravine and even the neighbors’ straying house pets) has some meaning and purpose and must be meant to please me as well.

It’s not surprising, then, that animals appear in so many of my artworks, both in their expected forms as portraits of a kind or characters in my visual stories, and often in more abstract influences on the pieces. As a carnivore myself, I am not averse to eating animals as well, but my appreciation in this regard is enhanced the more when I can make complete use of the animal’s sacrifice, say, in using not only all of the meat but also cooking down the bones for delicious and healthful broths and then still having the beauty of the bones that have not been utterly disintegrated in that process as potential art materials too.mixed media mask

Some marvelous turkey bones, for example, not only supported the original bird that became the crowning glory of a roast-turkey feast (or, more accurately, two or three feasts at the least), but then became soup and sauce base in a long slow cooking and then, as the bones came out of the broth, beautiful and earthy and sculptural objects that in turn made me think not only of the turkey itself but also of all sorts of other creatures whose bones and skeletons and exoskeletons make them so remarkably lovely and strange. That is how a turkey breastbone became, in my mind, first a nose and then a beak, and finally, when the ‘beak’ was matched up with other bones having the right shamanic shapes, combined and decorated and gilt and otherwise conglomerated, the bones became the structure of a different bird altogether. In a turkey I found an owl–a Great Horned Owl, or to be even more precise, the Spirit of a great horned owl–and perhaps that reflects best of all how I see animals.mixed media mask

For I would include the human animal, naturally, in the list of perplexing and amazing and funny and marvelous creatures that capture my imagination and that, in its own way, is a species full of exotic mystery and charm. That makes my own life, presence and bones a collation of possibly only practical and ephemeral and biologically ordinary, yet even in those regards, mythic, parts that fit in their infinitesimal way quite neatly enough into the grand scheme of existence. I suppose it’s a reflection of that, after all, that I see and seek in admiring animals as I do. Perhaps it’s legitimate that I should make shamanic masks and look for meaningful appearances from the many winged and hoofed and spirited beings surrounding me daily and nightly, throughout my life.mixed media mask


Not All My Animal Companions Live Indoors

While I’m channeling the warmth and fuzziness of friendly fauna from last week’s travels, I will clarify for you that I’m attracted to all sorts of critters, not just household dogs and cats. Like you’re surprised by that. Anyway, seems like a good time to share some of the other photos I took on the trip so you can all enjoy them too. Because I know, of course, that if you’re spending time hanging around here it just proves you also have excellent taste, so you’re bound to like my little borrowed menagerie of friends too. Just remember not to feed the wildlife.photophoto








photoAnother small point to clarify: the title of today’s post was not a reference to my spouse. Though he is my favorite companion and my pet.

Raised by Dogs


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Who’s looking after whom?

Some people might say I was Raised by Wolves. Insiders say, in a cheerier tone, that I was Raised by Wolds. The strange truth is that, though I have lived my entire life thus far without having “owned” a pet since my late lamented goldfish, I have been nurtured throughout my years by various cats and dogs.

There was that one goldfish, true: Patrick Richard. What, you don’t think that’s the most obvious and logical name for a goldfish evah?? Suffice it to say that the fish was simply named after the school friend who bestowed it on me. I’m pretty sure I must have had a crush on him, the boy I mean, to have named a fish such a thing, but then I was never the most conventional of children. Perhaps the whole goldfish episode was simply precursor to my much later fish-and-pencils phase of artworks. In any event, Patrick Richard had a rather short career as my pet and might be presumed to have expired of overindulgence, since if I recall correctly he grew quite large quite quickly until the day when I came home from school and his ample orange belly was topside-up. I gave him a simple and dignified burial out behind the house that evening, the funeral if any somewhat truncated by my bare foot landing on a slug out there in the dusk, prompting a quick dash back into the house. I don’t think I went back out and erected a monument or anything.

The companion animals that played larger (and generally longer) roles in my life belonged, then, to others. It mayn’t have prevented me from forming attachments, but I suppose I don’t have the same deeply familial link with them that I would have had I taken full responsibility for the animals’ well being.

When I was still in the midst of grade school, it was the semi-rural setting where we lived that provided the most constant access to “pets” of this sort. There were always pastures within a quick walk from home, where I could linger at the fence and feed grass or fallen apples to the horses and cows that would come over for a friendly trade of nuzzling and scratching. Some pastures were particularly close: when we moved back to western Washington from Illinois and I was about twelve, we lived for a while in an old parsonage that sat between the older chapel and a modest and uneven pasture where a shaggy little pony kept company with a handful of grazing cattle. One morning when Dad was getting ready to head over to work, he came into the kitchen and there on the back stoop, gazing in the window curiously, was the enormous bull, who had escaped from next door. Apparently he thought a cup of coffee and a bowl of cereal would be preferable to puddle water and a salad of pasture greens.

All of this was good company, and very pastoral indeed.

Cats around there were primarily those accustomed to keeping down the rodent population and reminding the dogs of their place in the hierarchy of the universe. Dogs, those were decidedly the most individualistic and interactive of the beasts around my neighborhood(s) as I grew.

The first dog of importance in my little life was undoubtedly my cousin’s funny little cockapoo Raskal. He was among the first in what would become a designer-dog race, very possibly because his sire and dam had no clue about pedigrees and just did what comes naturally to any self-respecting dog. But since Raskal arrived before anyone had ever heard of the phrase “puppy mill” or worried much about the genetic time-bombs in designer breeds, I think he was designed by Mother Nature strictly to be a truly fun play companion and to think of life as one big exciting adventure after another. When he wasn’t too busy being passed around from one admirer to another for his extreme cuteness and friendliness, he was very willing to work hard at attempting to “dig out” any kid that happened to be trapped in the impenetrable prison of a closed sleeping bag, or to romp off on all sorts of mini-adventures, his body trembling with happiness and his curly blond coat rippling like he was on fire. His was a short tenure on earth: driven by his (aptly named) rambunctious energy, one day he dashed up over a blind hill and right under a car when we kids were once again all on an outing being led with aimless and artless abandon by his lightning-bolt zipping. But in that too-short life he still managed to imprint himself and his boundless good cheer and infinite thirst for play on all of us. He was surely a better teacher and good influence than a whole lot of sober grownups can be!

Another in my pantheon of Great Dogs was the next-door neighbors’ Dutchess (their spelling, not mine–is there a theme of distinctive spellings among my dog friends?). She did indeed have a certain regal aloofness. As a half-coyote mix (again with the pioneering hybrids), she expressed her royalty with either disdainful avoidance or, more likely, with a couple of sharp barks and a good growl or two, when anyone approached the property. I was traditionally rather over-cautious around dogs myself, having been knocked over and winded when small by a not-so-small farm dog that seemed to be considering whether I would be tasty or not when my parents retrieved me. So when I met Dutchess, and for some time thereafter, I took my time about getting very close. But I think she appreciated my deference, because after I babysat at her house (for her young human charges) a time or two she seemed to decide that I was acceptable and even became rather kindly toward me and a little bit protective of me if I happened to come by with anybody else in sight. It wouldn’t by any measure be considered a close and cuddly and playful relationship, but the fact that this rather fierce and solitary little creature treated me as accepted and respected company and even let me stroke her thick coyote fur collar meant a great deal to the person I was at that age, another somewhat solitary soul.

On the other side of our house were the neighbors whose dog Tar was the polar opposite of Dutchess, the local extrovert, the neighborhood captain of entertainment. He was still clearly not a pampered and sheltered purebred, either in looks or personality. I would guess at this great remove of years that he probably had a bit of long-haired German Shepherd in his multifarious lineage. He was really a very beautiful dog, a bit smaller than a typical shepherd and slightly more compact, less lanky. But just the right size for hugging, and covered with a long, thick, gorgeous tar-black coat.

Tar was easy to anthropomorphize. He seemed to have just as much the mischievous and play-hungry attitudes as all of the neighborhood kids had, and an egalitarian willingness to embark on any expedition with any of us, whether with him in the lead or being allowed to trail alongside. He couldn’t resist hunting, and was mostly welcome to do so around there, where at the time the street was only half built-up, still checkered with weedy, tall-grassy empty lots, and dead-ended by a beautiful little woodland of Douglas firs and salal and ferns. Tar didn’t know the difference, of course, between a mole and a small kitten, but he could hardly be faulted for that; so as long as the folk around kept the kitties indoors, we were at the same time kept mercifully molehill-free. Being as inquisitive as any dog, Tar did have a few run-ins, not least of all with the toad he caught that left him running around foaming like a punctured beer can for a short while.

His worst run-in, though, could be said to be with his otherwise kind owners and the annual summer haircut to which they subjected him (known to us as the “lawnmower” haircut) that left him looking like a black sheep clipped by a woefully inebriated shearer. We felt deeply sorry for him; he was painfully aware of being stripped of his accustomed handsomeness and would immediately set to work to deliberately do some forbidden thing right in front of anyone so that they would scold and banish him and he could go hide and nurse his shame in private for a little while. After a short period of growing out the offending haircut, however, he would return to his sanguine equanimity and rejoin the forces of the street’s youthful denizens at play.

Tar was an able guard dog when we were fort-building in the woods, keeping unwanted squirrels and crows at bay. He was a great exercise coach, leading us on loping, leaping bounces through the waist-high grasses in the vacant lots–and also our watcher lest any of us come unexpectedly upon one of those Timmy’s-in-the-well-sized holes dug in them to test water table levels before a build. Pity any of the kids that came along too late in the neighborhood development process to watch Tar pronking his way across a vacant lot with exuberant abandon. He was truly the very picture of living fully in the moment.

I still enjoy the company of a well-behaved and friendly dog so much that if my life weren’t so overfilled with other enjoyable company and activity I would undoubtedly succumb to canine charm and adopt such a companion after all. I am grateful to have a number of friends with sufficiently delightful beastly members of the household–dog, cat and otherwise–to keep me from mourning the vacuum (or more likely, the need to vacuum much more frequently) occasioned by lack of a dog or cat or small wildebeest keeping us company in our house. After all, it’s through others that I’ve always had the pleasure of meeting and being befriended by great animal companions.

Makes me wag my tail with happiness.

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One should have as many Best Friends as possible in life . . .