Soul Notes #3: A Dog’s Life

Seven years ago today, we lost Holly, our second dog. She was 16 1/2, which objectively, is a good long life, but when it’s your dog, it’s never long enough. She was about two in this picture. At that time, I’d get up around 5:30, do some stretches, and spend about 20 minutes in the meditation room before getting breakfast for myself and the dogs.

One morning I found Holly sitting in my chair, gazing at the altar. She looked over her shoulder at me, with a “Yes, may I help you?” expression before turning back to her object of contemplation. I thought of the incident this year, when a Tibetan lama mentioned an old saying that many dogs will be reborn as humans, and a lot of humans will be dogs in their next life. It all has to do with having a good heart…

One other notable thing about Holly was her love of water. One time Mary and I were walking her by a stream in Yosemite, talking as she stopped for a drink. After a splash we looked down to see her paddling about with delight.

On her first visit to the ocean, she insisted on playing tag with the waves and letting them win:

Mary and Holly, Bandon, OR, ca. 2000

In honor of Holly, here is an article I posted in 2013, called Dreaming With Animals. The pictures and text are just the barest glimpse of how deeply intwined with Soul the animals are, all the more so now that most of them have been banished from our lives.

An Avian Stray

The wounded magpie

Last Friday afternoon, I came home from various errands to find a magpie with a broken wing in the back yard. Seeming dazed, it was swung its head back and forth, as if its vision was impaired, and flapped wings in unsuccessful effort to fly. Then it would run, often in circles, falling over because its balance was off. The afternoon was hot, but the bird was fast enough to scoot away when I tried to set a water bowl nearby.

In the evening, I turned on sprinklers. As the sun got low, other magpies flew into the yard to peck at seeds or insects. The injured bird joined them to eat, but when they flew away, it made it’s way alone to a section of fence behind the cover of bushes. Hours later, when I took the dogs out before bed, I shone a flashlight to look, and the bird hadn’t moved. I wondered if the magpie, left behind by its tribe, felt something akin to loneliness.

I hadn’t been sure the bird would last through the night, fearing that injuries or a cat would finish it off, but in the morning, it was dashed around with more energy and coordination than the day before. I checked on it through the day, and that afternoon, was surprised to see it approach a squirrel that climbed down a tree in the shade where the bird was resting.

Magpie and squirrel

The magpie came close to the squirrel, who at that point, charged and drove it away, but this close encounter between two species I’d never seen interact before made me wonder again if the bird was experiencing something we would call abandonment.

We’ll never know, but such speculations can no longer be dismissed as mere projection or pathetic fallacy. I’ve seen numerous examples of this recently, including an article this week in The Atlantic, about an Alaskan Orca who carried her dead calf with her for 17 days:

“It is hardly anthropomorphic to ascribe grief to animals that are so intelligent and intensely social. Tahlequah’s relatives occasionally helped her carry her dead calf, and may have helped to feed her during her mourning…

The Lummi Nation, who live in the Salish Sea and also depend on salmon, have long understood this side of the southern residents. ‘We’ve fished alongside them since time immemorial,’ says Jay Julius, the nation’s chairman. ‘They live for the same thing we live for: family.’”

Our role in the magpie’s story came to a happy ending. We managed to scoop it into a cardboard box I’d drilled with air holes, and on Sunday morning, carried it to the Sacramento Wildlife Care Association, a wonderful organization that rehabilitates injured or orphaned birds and animals.

As I’ve said before, both modern physics and ancient Buddhist teachings agree that there really isn’t “a world out there,” out there.  The physical world we experience is what our limited senses configure out of swirling masses of energy and light. The meanings we experience are those we impute on a world that is far more dream than solid “reality.”

I never named the magpie for fear it wouldn’t survive, but in my favorite version of the dream, this bird, healed and nourished until it is strong again, will rejoin its fellow magpies, stronger than it was before, as a result of its time of trial and solitude.

The White Snake – An Enigmatic Tale from the Brothers Grimm

Illustration for “The White Snake” by Walter Crane, ca. 1886, Public Domain

I once had a professor who made an extensive study of world folklore and said the greatest predictor of success for a fairytale hero is winning the help of an animal guide. Most often, the helpful animals are mammals, like Puss-in-Boots or talking horses.

“The White Snake,” a story from the Brothers Grimm, alters this pattern in startling ways. The helpful creatures are far more primitive, and the hero actually kills his horse – yet things come out right. The story has stayed with me since I first encountered it, as a wisdom tale centered on the theme of knowing the right thing to do at the right time, even when it violates norms and expectations.

Commentary on myth and folktales is a recent tradition that arose after the old ways of absorbing these stories, around hearth and campfire, disappeared. We can imagine earlier listeners holding the stories in imagination, letting the magic sink in over time, as we do with favorite novels and movies. This is a great way to experience a story, and we’re fortunate to have a good eight minute recording of The White Snake, accompanied by the text from the Brothers Grimm.

I suggest you read and listen to the story if you don’t know it, for the rest of this post will simply be my reflections on a few of the key questions The White Snake raises. Continue reading

The Goat Speaks

A wise goat indeed!  Such great news in a season where that has grown rare.

witchlike

white-goat-pd

Oh, you silly, silly humans. Why all the nail biting, my dears? Clearly, at the beginning of this World Series, I promised you I would lift the curse.  I signed the agreement with my hoof print, did I not?

Now, a goat such as myself may possess a good deal of deceptive qualities. But one thing I guarantee is my sincerity!  A promise is a promise and I, Murphy the Billy Goat, namesake of the Billy Goat Tavern and former pet of Mr. William Sianis, am as good as my word.

The question of the Cubs winning was never in doubt.

What’s that you say? The rain? Yes, of course I sent the rain! And with it I brought a seventeen minute game delay.

rainout

There was a method to this madness, for it allowed the players to contemplate their fate. They regained their bearings and therefore could more fully…

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A kinder, gentler, Jurassic World

psittacosaurus, at the Prehistoric Gardens, Port Orford, Oregon

psittacosaurus, at the Prehistoric Gardens, Port Orford, Oregon

Dinosaurs continue to fascinate. My first ambition in life, after a trip to the New York Museum of Natural History, was to become a paleontologist. Eventually, my life goals changed, and the T-Rex envy faded.

calvin-hobbes-dinosaur-005

Yet decades before Jurassic Park was a gleam in some screenwriter’s eye, Ernie Nelson, of Eugene, Oregon, did not outgrow his fascination with dinosaurs. He made them his life’s work in a most unusual way.

In 1953, Nelson gathered his family and left Eugene, where he worked as a CPA and owned a Mill supply company, to relocate to a valley near Port Orford, where rainfall averaged seven feet per year – he needed a rain forest.

In 1955, he opened the Prehistoric Gardens, and over 30 years, built 23 full size and anatomically correct dinosaurs. This unique roadside attraction is still in the family. Ernie’s granddaughter welcomed Mary and me in August, after we’d driven down from Bandon to see the dinos.

Not what you expect to see when you round the bend on the coast highway, but then, to paraphrase Monty Python, no one EVER expects a Tyrannosaurus!

Not what you expect to see when you round the bend on the coast highway, but then, to paraphrase Monty Python, no one EVER expects a Tyrannosaurus!

Nelson’s process was painstaking. His research was constant and thorough, and included a  trip back east to visit the Smithsonian. Each dinosaur began with a steel frame, which was then covered with a metal lath. A layer of concrete followed, and then another layer to define the visual features.  The Brachiosaurus, 86′ long snd 46′ high, took four years to complete and was his pride and joy.

Ernie working on the peterandon

Ernie working on the peterandon

The Prehistoric Garden’s website says the 23 sculptures were painted according to available scientific research. We normally don’t think of dinosaurs as colorful, though plenty of lizards, chameleons, and snakes in our world are.

I’m willing to trust Ernie on his color choices, but what I liked best was the aspect where I think imagination overrode research. Some of these critters are just so darn cute in, a wide-eyed sort of way.  I don’t want make Ernie turn over in his grave by calling his critters “cute,” but there’s just no other word for this triceratops, which has the same expression as one of my dogs!

triceratops small_edited-1

Some of us can remember the days of wacky roadside attractions on Route 66 or Hwy. 99 – giant oranges, strange animals, and gas stations designed to look like flying saucers.  There were animal parks, fairytale towns, and north pole villages in the days when Ernie Nelson moved his family to southern Oregon to shape his dream in concrete and steel.

The ichthyosaurus is suffering from the drought this year just like we are.

The ichthyosaurus is suffering from the drought this year just like we are.

Nowadays the most frequent sights, as we blow past towns on the interstate, are fast food joints and the same old big-box stores. Santa’s Village has long been shuttered, and the kids have video games and DVD’s to mitigate the boring view out the windows.

Like the dinosaurs, the Prehistoric Gardens speaks of a different era, one in which peace had come, America was unrivaled, and more people than ever before had jobs, cars, money, cheap gas, kids, health care, and paid vacations.

All those attributes can ebb and flow, but there is one precious thing we can always borrow from Ernie Nelson – the example of what an individual can do when he rolls up his sleeves, opens his mind and heart, and lets his creativity flow.

Strays

When the year turns, I tend to watch for events, private or public, that set a tone for the days ahead. I witnessed something on January 6 that I can’t forget, that seems important, like something I need to remember and pass on.

We took our dogs to the local park for a walk in the late afternoon, a beautiful clear winter’s day. Soon after we started, two bedraggled and pitiful looking stray dogs began to follow us. They were small, of no breed I can name, but clearly siblings, and clearly they had been dumped in the park.  No tags, and they were shaggy, dirty, smelly, and seemingly desperate for the company of our dogs.

We kept ours moving – not wanting this pair to come too near – fleas and/or disease came to mind. We circled the park and dropped our own dogs back in the car. One of the strays fell behind, but the other kept up the pace, though it must have been painful, for its nails were overgrown, and walking was difficult. I planned to go to the Arby’s at the edge of the park to get a couple of sandwiches for the dogs, but this little bedraggled one shied away from humans and wouldn’t even come near enough to pick up our doggie treats. It turned back toward it’s companion somewhere behind on the trail.

Words can’t convey how forlorn these two little dogs appeared. How their abandonment evoked the thought of all abandoned, discarded, and unloved beings. How their plight aroused such a strong desire to do something, to relieve their suffering, but what?

Call animal control? They’d be warm and well fed, at least for a while. But who could predict their odds of being adopted or being put down?

In the end, we left them in the park. Once before, I encountered a similar stray, who followed our dogs back to the car and even managed to jump in. Later I learned he’d been adopted by a friend who works in the Parks and Recreation Department. I can only hope someone who wants a dog will find them before cold and hunger or coyotes do them in.

The feeling of compassion never guarantees the wisdom to do the right thing. In the end, all we can do is take our best guess and do our best. As I think of these dogs, as well as the human strays I see from time to time in the park, I think of these U2 lyrics:

Every sailor knows that the sea
Is a friend made enemy
And every shipwrecked soul, knows what it is
To live without intimacy.

The dogs, at least for a while, had each other, but plenty of others do not. Haven’t we all been there at times? And it’s not always people who visibly live at the margins, for margins are not always visible. To watch for a chance to reach out with kind words or a helping hand – is there anything more important to consider at the start of the year?

The 10,000 Idiots

Hafiz. Public Domain

Hafiz. Public Domain

Hafiz or Hafez was a great 14th century Persian poet and mystic whose dates are given as approximately 1325-1389. During his life, he is said to have composed 5,000 poems of the seeker’s longing for union with the divine. Unfortunately, many of these were never written down.

His poems retain an amazing resonance to those who practice any kind of spiritual discipline.  This is one of my favorites – not one of his most sublime, but always relevant…

The 10,000 Idiots

It is always a danger
to aspirants on the Path
When they begin to believe and act
As if the ten thousand idiots
Who so long ruled and lived inside
Have all packed their bags
And skipped town
Or
Died

Words cannot express… A very… I don’t know what image of an Easter in Hollywood. Large rabbit with Jean Parker and Mary Carlisle

Just in case you’ve had too much of cutesy bunnies this season, Ms Vickie Lester, who blogs at Beguiling Hollywood, can fix that. Stop by to learn why Monty Python didn’t really know the first thing about scary rabbits. When I was a kid, I was terrified of lambs. My parents thought it was weird, but Vickie shows that there’s more going on than we think with these seemingly “harmless” creatures.

BEGUILING HOLLYWOOD

jean-parker-mary-carlisle-easter

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