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Ballad of Narayama

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A boy, his dog, and a puddle

I believe it was the writer W. G. Sebald who said: "Men and animals regard one another across a gulf of mutual incomprehension." No animal seems to comprehend us better than the dog. For that matter, I comprehend them more than any other. Like the Nicolas Cage character in Herzog's "Bad Lieutenant," I have no idea what an iguana is thinking. Does an iguana?

Growing up on the books by Albert Payson Terhune, I developed an early love for dogs. It didn't bother me that one bit me on the cheek at Mrs. Meadrow's Play School. It was my fault. I'd tried to ride her like a horse.

This dog weighs more than the boy. At this point it has more life wisdom. It's pretending to be led. The boy considers the puddle, stoops, and carefully puts down the leash. As they first approach the puddle, the dog lists slightly to starboard, suggesting the puddle be avoided. When the boy puts down the leash, the dog takes a small step forward, suggesting they continue down the lane. The boy makes his decision. The dog turns, observes, accepts, and uses body language to say, "Don't look at me. I didn't want him to do that.

It glances down at the leash and back at the puddle, guesses what will happen next, and remains in place as if the leash were fastened to the earth. It is completely accepting, and waits with content.

If a raccoon approached the boy, the dog would snap into attack mode, hairs bristing, fangs bared, saliva dripping. It would growl and bark and dash at the raccoon. I believe that the dog would be fully prepared to die for that boy. But the dog is no fool. It doesn't go wading in the puddle. The boy gets the good of the puddle. He picks up the leash again, and boy and dog resume their journey. John McPhee wrote that the early dogs, godless, observed that Man controls food, shelter and fire, and cast their lot with these hairless animals. Now they had a god. Observing that men liked to pet them, dogs encouraged them to touch. Most dogs are willingly obedient. They even bite someone on command, but if their owner commands a dog to bite a member of the family, they grow anxious and lose their poise, looking away uneasily. Something is wrong in the fundament of the universe. The god has failed.

Thanks for the video link to an old friend, Mike Jones, head of the Illinois State Lottery.

Click here for my blog entry Blackie, Come Home.

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