We are, none of us, cute.
August 18, 2013
He was brindle-colored as a pup; that’s where he got his name, Tigger, but he headed toward black as the years worn on. Our first meeting was memorable. I had driven down from northern Alberta in search of a guard dog. The legacy he had to follow, whoever this pup turned out to be, was a mighty one, a pack of Hungarian Komondorok, the protectors of our sheep, led by a 130 pound bitch, thirty inches at the shoulders, pack leader even over the males. Her name was Dali, and she was a legend. I asked my mate, when she died, to cremate her Viking-like, as it seemed the most appropriate burial for the awesome creature she was.
But since we no longer had sheep dominating the landscape, I decided to investigate a breed of dog that had fascinated me years back, the Bouvier de Flanders, and the morning I arrived at this Edmonton breeder, I found myself abandoned in the dog yard, when the owner ran inside to answer the phone. The yard was still settling down from the introduction of a huge young male Bouvier recently in from Europe, who was now pack leader and sire of the litter of pups I’d come to see. My first thought was, whoa, I hope they don’t see my as an intruder, as we hadn’t been introduced as yet.
I sat unobtrusively wondering about my safety when one of the 8-week-old pups began to challenge his father. The big male seemingly ignored him as the little guy sidled past in one direction with a see-me sort of attitude. Then turned and sidled back a little closer. When he turned again, a low, fierce rumble began to issue from the big dog. Even that didn’t stop him, and he turned to go right back the other way. I was waiting for the educational pounce that would put this pup soundly in his place, but the breeder returned at that moment and all settled back down. Fascinated by that little guy, I pointed to the pup I’d watched and told her I wanted that one. She said she wasn’t going to sell that one as she feared he’d prove to be too much to handle. I told her I’d raised working Komondors, and thought we’d be able to work with him too. The word Komondor convinced her we could probably handle this character, so a week later Tigger rode back north with us and became the next amazing dog in our lives.
The farm, years earlier, had introduced me to working dogs, something I’d not experienced to that point in my life. I was never again to know a dog as a pet, as a mere companion, or a creature to fulfill some need in me. Rather I came to know them for what they were—creatures who knew themselves by the very blood that flowed through their veins. They had a purpose. They had knowledge and wisdom. They had a place in the order of things no greater nor lesser than mine, yet they awed me, and I wondered why. Still, it took several arrogant starts on my part at attempting to assist our great Komondor or direct our border collies, before they finally educated me to the fact that they did not need me to do their jobs. They knew who they were, what they were to do and how to do it, beyond all doubt. The equivalent of such awareness in human beings is something we as a species still need to understand.
Mary Oliver cautions us as to our view of all the creatures we share this planet with. She says:
Thus we manage to put ourselves in the masterly way—if nature is full of a hundred thousand things adorable and charming, diminutive and powerless, then who is in the position of power? We are! We are the partners and the governors. The notion facilitates a view of the world as playground and laboratory, which is a meager view surely. And it is disingenuous, for it seems so harmless, so responsible. But it is neither.
My dogs taught me a new view. It never occurred to them to approach me as if I were to be honored or fawned over, only respected as long as I was respectable. They knew my job was pack leader, but that was a job not a rank. And it was a job from which I’d be fired if I could not do it. They knew their jobs and would not permit my interference with them. Tigger became quite a presence. Jolly, happy-go-lucky when the pressure was off, he could transform instantly into a force that on one night sent 5 Rottweilers under their house just by his silently standing there. He put the run on a black bear saving my then mate from attack and accompanied me for three months when I roamed the National Forest system down here in the States, saving my life in the strangest way one night. His job was his life for mine, if need be. My job seemed meager by comparison, because I hardly knew it. But I did have a job and still do, that being to see the world from a view that accurately represents the truth of it—we are one and all of equal value on this earth.
Our role as humans on this planet does not make us better, or smarter, or more valuable, it merely makes us different. But we have yet to function with any regularity or consistency in our role, something that still eludes us as a species. So I concur with Mary Oliver’s words and sentiment when she says:
Life is Niagara, or nothing. I would not be the overlord of a single blade of grass, that I might be its sister. I put my face close to the lily, where it stands just above the grass, and give it a good greeting from the stem of my heart. We live, I am sure of this, in the same country, in the same household, and our burning comes from the same lamp. We are all wild, valorous, amazing. We are, none of us, cute.
Note: Title is taken from the last line of Mary Oliver’s “A Few Words” from Blue Pastures as well as the quotes.