A Chewy Subject

“My dear fellow, I may be dead from the neck up, but rack my brains as I may I can’t see why a chap should need 30 pages to describe how he turns over in bed before going to sleep.”

So said a French literary editor to Marcel Proust, on rejecting volume 1 of In Search of Lost Time. It was a century ago and the subject was consciousness, not events or people. One can imagine such a book to be a challenge for the Marketing Department, especially when the writer’s style has all the pop and sizzle of a damp wool carpet.

I’ve not read much Proust. I used to have a 1921 edition of Remembrance of Things Past and I found it oh so dull. As advertised, it was good reading when trying to fall asleep. But my little dog thought the leather cover was tasty, so there went that.

It begs the question, though: if the subject is consciousness, as I think it can be, where can you go with that? Consciousness is the matter with which we are all most intimately familiar, yet we no almost nothing about it. So by means, we writers should explore the inner life.

Two years ago, I posted a flash fiction piece called Shining Leaves. Here it is, complete with audio reading. The second section imagines the consciousness of a dog, its life still touched by subtle joy yet aware of aging and loneliness.

Leave the Wolves in Peace

Sometimes I get emails from environmental groups, asking for petition action. I usually like to add a little something to their boilerplate text, just to personalize it. Here’s one that came through today, with my addition in bold.

As a supporter of Defenders of Wildlife and someone who cares about wildlife, I strongly urge you to practice sensible, science-based management of the wolves in your state.

European settlers and their descendants have been obsessively slaughtering the wildlife on this continent for 400 years. It can’t possibly be that much fun anymore. If those of you in authority can’t support the animals and their environment, at least do something to see that they’re left in peace. 

The benefits of wolves are well documented. They bring tourist dollars (millions near Yellowstone) and improve ecosystems by preventing overgrazing by elk, deer and caribou.

I know, right? 🙂

Hunting isn’t a sport, it’s just murder. Just one guy’s humble opinion.

Holy Mole!

Now here’s something you don’t see every day. It’s a mole, about 6 inches long, sitting in a pink plastic tub, crunchy-munchin’ on a leaf.


He’s been very diligently circumscribing a path of destruction around Mom & Dad’s front yard the past few days. Today, Dad spotted where he was digging, dug open his tunnel from above, and pulled him out.

We relocated him in the orchards, outside of town. He’ll find better eating out there, anyway.

Pretty cute, but you don’t want him making a salad bar out of your lawn.

hunting: a quote

When we have exposed the specious reasoning of the hunters’ apologists and stripped their sport of its counterfeit legitimacy, the naked brutality of hunting defines itself: killing for the fun of it.

– Steve Ruggeri, former hunter and activist (1949-1998)

Love Dogs

An inquiry into ontology or just a letter to my dog on the anniversary of her passing.

“A peace above all earthly dignities,
a still and quiet conscience”

To Tasha
(August 1990 – August 12, 2005)
at the Rainbow Bridge

Dear Tash,

I miss you, old friend. It’s one of those summer nights, like those last few nights of your short and beautiful life. Do you remember the way it would get warmer in the late evening, before bedtime, after the breeze from the ocean died down? You’d expect the evening to cool, but it doesn’t seem to. It’s the kind of night that makes a little dog itchy. You had some itchy summers in this dank valley with its blanket of sour sea air, didn’t you? I’m sorry for that. The pills weren’t really so much help.

Happy is happy with us here, but you know that ’cause she’s not there. She’s doing fine. You loved her very much, so you’d want to know. She takes a lot of medicine, but she’s OK. The Santa Barbara itch is bad this year. We’ve kept her free of fleas, but there is that something in the air again, that bothers all the dogs. She’s getting lots of baths, since she can’t take the pills.

I was talking to a friend of mine the other day, about the meaning of life. I told him I didn’t think the question “What is the meaning of life?” makes sense. Because meaning and life are two different kinds of things. Like the sound of blue. Life just is – it’s an abstraction with a different answer for every life that’s ever lived, and there’s no way to know what it meant until you get to the end and look back.

A better question is to ask “What does a life mean?” And even then, the answer has to be, “it depends.” Which life? And what do you mean by mean? I guess in this context – meaning life – we’re asking to know its importance, it’s value.

So life doesn’t mean anything until it’s lived, just as music doesn’t mean anything until it’s played, like a toy under the sofa isn’t the same as playing with it. And a leash on the peg in the hall by the door isn’t the same as a walk in the sun. Living is as living does, am I right?

Since this is a letter to you — meant to be mailed by some far fetched intentions of love through the veil into Heaven — maybe you’re expecting me to try to assess the value of your life. No, little friend. I can only tell you that my heart has not been unbroken since the moment when I touched your face as the doctor took your life. I have not turned my mind from that time and place, not for three years. And I guess I never will. Maybe I’m getting used to it, but I gave up hope of getting over it. You understand. At the same time, I have so many happy memories. I thank God for the brief, amazing gift of you.

No, if I have a life to sum the meanings of, it’s mine. I admit I’m one of those guys who keeps assuming the need before the necessary end. Then I can only hope that as you lie with the others in the shade of the trees across the creek, you see me walking through this other world of turning time and think my living has improved. Maybe you wish I had been like this — a little more well in my body, in the world where bodies matter — back then, when you were here to walk with me. I know you understand.

I miss you, little friend. I wish we could start over. And if there’s any consolation, maybe it’s that time is always speeding up. The world is spinning in greased grooves, faster and faster, and every precious dizzy turn brings us closer to the day. Which is maybe tonight or maybe forty years, which is the same difference.

Now it’s midnight, and starting to cool off again. I should go to bed and say my prayers and get a good night’s sleep, because tomorrow is another day. Or not, because nobody has promised tomorrow to me. But if it comes, and if the pale indifferent sun glows scattered through the morning’s vapor on the sea, thank God. I can go visit Happy and take her for a bath and a walk, and try to be a better friend to her than I was to you, and a better man walking on the good earth, trying not to stoop from his petty and fleeting concerns. And that, my fuzzy little well-remembered pal, is the meaning of a life.


for Rascal

My song begins at sundown
when the twilight wind comes up.
A cold wind, brushing
my hair and my tail.

Butterfly light is shining.
Butterflies lift me at nightfall,
and nothing hurts me now.
Look, the light is brighter than …

See the little dogs come running!
See the bigger dogs come running!
See the kitties and dogs come together,
and all the animals singing.

by Tasha
January 2004
based on a Pima Indian song

* * *

There are love dogs
no one knows the names of.

Give your life
to be one of them.

— Rumi