Walt Whitman

Beautiful, Curious, Breathing, Laughing

Every time I take pictures of the dogs, I end up with a few silly, unflattering, and outright strange expressions on the dogs’ faces as gravity, momentum, and panting all work their strange magic on a dog’s loose skin. I set out to make an entry of these so I could make fun of them a little, and I remembered this Whitman poem:

I have perceiv'd that to be with those I like is enough,
To stop in company with the rest at evening is enough,
To be surrounded by beautiful, curious, breathing, laughing flesh is enough,
To pass among them or touch any one, or rest my arm ever so lightly round his or her neck for a
     moment, what is this then?
I do not ask any more delight, I swim in it as in a sea.

              -Walt Whitman
              “I Sing the Body Electric”

And then, suddenly, my enterprise of having a little fun with the dog’s silliness suddenly changed. Comet’s snowfoam lipstick seemed so packed with delight that he no longer looked quite so ridiculous. It was as if he came into focus, not as a goofball, but as beautiful, curious, breathing, laughing flesh.

Once again, Whitman and the dogs make serious business of finding delight in everything.

Jax, finishing a shake, cleaning his nose, and gathering like a spring to explode off, stage right, is no exception. This is the kind multitasking I should do more of.

These pictures all come from another West Thompson walk I took with Jill. Andy had work, but she and I and our combined pack of six dogs had a great time.

Tango, who was visiting a friend when we last went for a walk, was in full force today. She looked quite lovely when she was in motion, galloping along with her stick, but I thought this particular frozen moment just caught how much fun you can have when you don’t care who’s watching.

Copley, only a few weeks older, is growing noticeably. I didn’t get enough pictures of him to catch anything truly silly, since he’s still being carried quite a bit, but I did get this cute, focused moment when I whistled for him, and he barreled towards the camera.

Copley also started pouncing in the snow. I have no idea what he was going after, but he pounced a few times and really shoved his nose in there. I’m not sure if he was just pouncing on the little rolling balls of snow he was making himself or if there was some rodent his nose led him too, but he was really focused on it.

Now, Golden Retriever puppies are always photogenic, and Copley’s a particularly good example of this principle, with his snowy nose and serious face.

But I like this shot even more because you can see in his fluffy puppyhood the shadows of the show dog he’ll one day become.

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There’s something about late afternoon light that makes a red Golden light up like he’s on fire, and as the days grow colder I still feel a warmth tingle through my limbs when I see those streaks of flame light up the woods.
My limbs, and the quivering fire that ever plays through them, for reasons, most wondrous;
Existing, I peer and penetrate still,
Content with the present—content with the past,
By my side, or back of me, Eve following,
Or in front, and I following her just the same.
              -Walt Whitman
                “Leaves of Grass (17)”
A few days after that late afternoon picture, we visited my folks in New Jersey and took a quick walk around their local lake. My dad obligingly threw sticks for them so I could try to get some classic action shots. The beach drops away slowly, so the dogs get several leaps in each time before finally swimming.

This is the same trip we took a little less than a year ago with a younger Comet and a healthy Gus. I was struck, as I always am, by the idea of cycles and circles, of losing and gaining, of how our endeavors are sometimes as silly and as satisfying as chasing a stick.

Comet showed excellent reach and great athleticism in getting through the water. He’s developed into quite the muscular young athlete.

In fact, Comet’s vet spent a couple of minutes admiring his musculature at a checkup the other day. I was oddly proud.

Jax, for his part, really learned how to maximize that last contact with the sand in order to fly back out of the water.

Comet’s not too shabby either. I love that you can see the divot from his last leap even as he’s well into the next.

Swimming season for humans is well over, but the dogs will swim until the water is completely frozen over.

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Air, Water, Mud

In 1877, Eadweard Muybridge proved that all four of a horse’s hooves leave the ground for an instant at a certain point in a gallop. Dogs, too, are creatures of the air for the briefest intervals of time when they run.

It’s not surprising, considering Comet’s joie de vivre, that he would prove to be particularly buoyant as he runs. And it’s not surprising, given how many pictures I take of the dogs when we’re out and about, that I would catch him at the point that his paws no longer touch his shadow.

Jax, too, is similarly free to challenge the laws of gravity. There’s something poetic about having just two toes in contact with concrete before you abandon yourself to weightlessness for a moment.

Air, soil, water, fire—those are words,
I myself am a word with them—my
     qualities interpenetrate with theirs
     —my name is nothing to them,
Though it were told in the three
     thousand languages, what would
     air, soil, water, fire, know of my

          -Walt Whitman
          “A Song of the Rolling Earth”

The air dogs are also water dogs. Here in the salt marsh, there’s opportunities to run, spray water, and splash around in the mud. We go places like this, and I think to myself, “this is dog heaven.” I realize, though, how often I say it, and it came to me today that a dog can find heaven just about anywhere.

After a swim, it’s time for a chase through the grass and mud, fiery blurs in green grass, muddy legs, wet coats, and that moment when neither dog is touching the ground at all.

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Keep Encouraged

“I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow
     from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me
     under your boot-soles.

(Photo credit: Donna Tippy)

“You will hardly know who I am
     or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you
And filter and fibre your blood.

(Photo credit: Donna Tippy)

“Failing to fetch me at first keep
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.”

          -Walt Whitman
          “Song of Myself (52)”

I’m not sure what it was about a muddy dog exploring the side of a remote lake high up in the Green Mountains that made me think of Whitman’s poem. There’s a sense to it that long after we die, we may be found, in this important, real, fundamental way, in the earth we have returned to.

And something about this beautiful, silly dog, plunging his face into the rich mud, made me think that mingling ourselves with these open spaces isn’t all that different from the mingling that will take place when we die. After all, aren’t we dying all the time, even when we’re most alive, flinging mud and rot and life around us in a circle?

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Uttering Joyous Leaves

My good friend Jill recently matched up some great field photos of her dogs with some Whitman poetry, and ever since I saw that, Whitman lines have come flying out of my memory and have stuck to my impressions of the dogs when they’re outside.

Andy and I recently found a new trail loop at a favorite old park, incidentally one Jill herself showed me years ago, and the dogs had great fun running through the leaves of grass in a field off the trail.

As Andy romped with them in the tall grass, I was reminded of Whitman’s live-oak and its joyous leaves, the contrast he draws between a solitary tree’s joy and a human’s need for love and companionship.

I Saw in Louisiana a Live-Oak Growing
by Walt Whitman

I saw in Louisiana a live-oak growing,
All alone stood it, and the moss hung down from the
Without any companion it grew there, uttering joyous
     leaves of dark green,
And its look, rude, unbending, lusty, made me think
     of myself;
But I wonder'd how it could utter joyous leaves,
     standing alone there, without its friend, its lover
     near—for I knew I could not;
And I broke off a twig with a certain number of
     leaves upon it, and twined around it a little moss,
And brought it away—and I have placed it in sight
     in my room;
It is not needed to remind me as of my own dear
(For I believe lately I think of little else than of them;)
Yet it remains to me a curious token—it makes me
     think of manly love;
—For all that, and though the live-oak glistens there
     in Louisiana, solitary, in a wide flat space,
Uttering joyous leaves all its life, without a friend,
     a lover, near, I know very well I could not.

As of yesterday, Andy and I decided that Jax is starting to look like a grownup dog. He’s got a serious game face, and his ears are no longer wildly disproportionate to the rest of his head. We suddenly see the adult dog for more than brief glimpses.

Puppyhood is so, so brief, and it’s briefer still when you miss the extra eight weeks we missed this time around. Still, it’s fun to see the full-grown friend emerging from the youthful pup.

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