“Okay, Goddess, have a great walk.”
I’m at the Farm Zen Peacemakers used to own, ready to go uphill and into the woods with Aussie and Henry, when the Farm’s current caretaker, after a brief chat, says goodbye with those words.
“Nobody ever called me Goddess before,” I tell Aussie.
But Aussie is busy. She has burrowed under the barn and come up with a bone from something that probably died underneath. Henry rushes to investigate and is almost executed for his insolence. Now Aussie is carrying the bone in her mouth with great aplomb, tail held up and wagging like a flag: This is mine, not yours, don’t even think of taking it away from me or we’ll start a killer war and not even bother to call it a limited military action.
But, as any spiritual practitioner can tell you, the trouble with having something is that you need to maintain and protect it. Aussie carries the bone in her mouth—she’s a dog so she can’t put it in a handbag, a shopping cart, or even a paper bag—and soon realizes she’s facing a quandary: If she keeps the bone in her mouth as we go into the woods, how will she chase deer, sniff out smaller varmints, scratch the tree bark as she goes up on her hind legs looking up at raccoon dens, and all the other things she loves to do? How will she run?
My pit bull Bubale encountered such challenges, but she was tough and adamantly held big bones in her strong jaws for hours, putting them down on the ground and licking them for a couple of minutes before picking them up again and carrying those suckers for a long time.
Aussie’s a different animal. What’s she going to do?
A part of me wants to help her out, relieve her of the bone, put it in the treats bag, bring it home, and give it to her then. She’ll be pissed for a couple of minutes, then forget about it, and be happy to find it in the back yard.
But a part of me wants to see what she does. She’s a dog, I’m not sure if she wrestles with the conflict or not, but she must have some awareness of both how much she loves the bone and also what it prevents her from doing. She can only do one thing; what will that be?
Part of life is working things out, making decisions. I sometimes fall into thinking that those are the things that stand in the way of life, that life starts only after I face the choices and make the decisions: Once I work things out, life will start again and I could go about my business. But the very process of working things out, making choices, and seeing what works and what doesn’t—that’s life, too.
The naturalist John Burroughs wrote: “[O]ur good fortune is that we have our part and lot in the total scheme of things, that we share in the slow optimistic tendency of the universe, that we have life and health and wholeness on the same terms as the trees, the flowers, the grass, the animals have, and pay the same price for our well-being, in struggle and effort, that they pay.”
Life is in those basic interactions, the instinct to do this vs. that, the exchanges, the back-and-forth, the process of two steps forward and one back, the indecisions, the choices. Accepting basic constraints such as that I can’t be at two different places at the same time, can’t do two different things at the same time, can’t pay attention to more than one thing at one time. Physical constraints, financial constraints, dog-imposed constraints. Realizing that right now it’s just this and therefore can’t be anything else.
Burroughs also wrote: “[I]n the conflict of forces, the influences that favored life and forwarded it have in the end triumphed.”
When we’re on top of the hill I look back and see her disappearing into the shrubbery. I step back quietly and watch as she buries the bone. Henry does his second stupid thing in the last 10 minutes and approaches to see the hiding place, only to get his head kicked for his trouble. She digs up the soil and the leaves, deposits the bone very neatly in the depression in the ground, and then nudges back the soil and leaves with her nose. When she emerges, she grins broadly, convinced no one saw or knows anything, unaware that the tip of her nose, colored earth-brown, gives everything away.
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