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Walking Brooklyn: A Caretaker’s Notebook

26 Feb



Full disclosure: The title is a ruse. One does not walk Brooklyn; one accompanies Brooklyn outside while he smells things and pees. For about five minutes that is, ten at the most. Then — after five minutes, ten at the most — Brooklyn still does not walk, but Brooklyn does then run, or gallop really: a big, white German Shepherd and your almost-arthritic knees crack-crack-cracking along after him as the snow-colored beast darts back to his den. Brooklyn’s den is actually a lovely house in the lovely city of Pasadena — a house that I have been caretaker of for a week because its normal occupants were called away on a secret government mission (or to a family reunion in Florida, whichever you prefer).

Biophilia — let’s start there — Edmund O. Wilson’s term for the “distinctive bond between humans and other living systems,” (to quote Prof. WikiPedia). In other words, the living are drawn to the living. Wilson studied, most famously, ants. (Scientists who study ants are sometimes called ant-thropologists.) I remember a Nova episode that detailed Wilson’s career. The most memorable bit for me was when the great man bent down to scoop up a handful of dirt and then proceeded to explain how a staggering abundance of life could be found in this seemingly lifeless palmful of soil. Moving, isn’t it? Well, I thought it was. I still do.

There’s a kind of flip side to biophilia though. It’s the biophilia of the city-dweller. We know nature’s out there. We’ve seen pictures after all. Some of us have even experienced, once or twice (or was it only a dream?), the utopia of a concrete-free expansion of earth. These experiences and pictures take root in our bio souls and, as we drive to work and microwave our dinners and reshingle our leaky roofs, a yearning builds up inside of us. In desperation, we go online and visit the REI store and make a vague plan to go camping in the summer. We must go camping! We must climb a mountain! Maybe we’ll go with our partner, our children, but maybe we’ll just go it alone — just our one unique bio soul, solitaire-style, in the big, unknown bio wilderness.

And if you’re allergic to most animals — as I am (only the kinds with fur though! reptiles are fine!) — then there is an added layer of unfulfilled biophilia. Those fortunate people who have the ability to care for fur-covered creatures: what lucky sons-of-bitches. I hate them and their puppy dogs and their kittens and their Nigerian dwarf goats. I hate them all, every last one of them, those lucky SOBs. For what did I have as a pet when I was a child, dear reader? Yes, that’s right: if you guessed Olaf, the red newt, then you, madame, have won a completely unresponsive and marginally-brained prize. (Which is not to say that Olaf was not mourned to an embarrassing extent when he died after five years of life in his smelly, semiaquatic glass prison.)

At any rate: Brooklyn. He’s sleeping behind me at this very moment, all four limbs stretched out to the side, his right front paw pushing slightly against the small rise that separates dining area from children’s play room.

When Brooklyn is sleeping, or almost sleeping, or when you rub both his ears in a very particular way, he makes an incredibly comforting low, growling sound. I wish I could make such a sound to signify a similarly deep feeling of peace or relaxation. We humans go on and on about language, our unique one-up on the animal kingdom, and yet even a short visit with a tiny fraction of all-creatures-great-and-small reveals sounds that no human can satisfyingly mimic.

Next up: the corkscrew. Brooklyn suffers from a relatively common inbred Shepherd malady: hip dysplasia. He can get around just fine, but the malformation (ugly word — sorry, Brook, you malformed loveable monster!) asserts itself when Brooklyn wants to lie down. Thus will commence the corkscrew maneuver (patent pending). The pain is coming; Brooklyn knows it. But sleep and rest can also not be denied. Brooklyn finds a suitable place — preferably on carpet or grass — and he turns completely around two or three times. The movement is slow and careful. I’ve never actually measured the circumferences, but the first twist seems minutely wider than the second, the second slightly larger than the third. Imagine a tapered wine opener with only a trio of revolutions and you will have described the corkscrew of Brooklyn’s nap preparations. And thus he layeth himself down, spinning slowly into the earth from whence he came, from whence he shall return.

Finally, for now at least: The Way of The Eating, according to Brooklyn, the Shepherd dog.

Step 1: Lie on your belly, your front paws around your dish.

Step 2: Do nothing, just sit there and perhaps think about the immense and particular quandaries inherent in dogginess.

Step 3: More nothing, more thinking. If a human is looking at you, look back at him or her, your eyes expressing an acute and mysterious sense of anxiety.

Why does God allow suffering?

Step 4: Begin licking. Always lick your dry dog food first. Always. Did I mention you should always lick your dry dog food before eating it? Well, you should. Don’t be an idiot, lick your dog food before you eat it. Sure, some of the nuggets will spill on the surrounding carpet, but that’s to be expected. They will eventually be placed, magically, back in your dish anyways so why not lick to your heart’s content? To eat without licking is to experience joy without wagging one’s tail. Which is to say that the pleasures of life must be appreciated and anticipation (often finding a corporeal form in “the lick”) is a form of appreciation.

Step 5: Eat. Food goes into mouth. Mouth is raised. Chewing commences. Repeat. Variations are allowed. Sometimes chew while jaw remains lowered, several inches over food; sometimes turn head and chew.

The Eating

Step 6: There is no step 6. The first rule of the eating is to eat. (Though only after the licking.) When you have finished the eating (after the licking), then the eating is finished. When you have finished the writing about the eating, then the writing is finished.