Wednesday, January 29, 2014


                                 Be prepared.  A dog is adorable and noble. 
                                 A dog is a true and loving friend.  A dog 
                                 is also a hedonist.

Mary Oliver
from The Wicked Smile

Once again, Mary Oliver has nailed the truth to my front door, reminding me that Derry, my Zen master, is an unrepentant hedonist.  Could it be that hedonism, at least in judicious amounts, is part of being wise?  Whatever the case, the evidence is in, and it demonstrates beyond a scintilla of doubt that the Zen master has been an ardent and relentless pleasure seeker since becoming my partner and constant companion more than eight years ago.

It began as a portrait in innocence,
as it always does with young puppies.

Within twenty-four hours, however, 
some remnant of her reptilian brain
had created a passion for disemboweling
stuffed animals and other objects too numerous to mention.

After destroying most of the stuffed animals,
three pairs of prescription glasses, two remote controls for the electronics,
and various items of clothing, she suddenly became amorous,
displaying style and technique that, to be candid, was quite impressive.

Soon thereafter, she discovered that a look like this
could manipulate me into satisfying any of her hedonistic appetites.
Dog owners, including Mary Oliver, know exactly what I'm talking about . . .
so let me return to Ms. Oliver's sensitive observations for the remainder of this post
(all quotes from poems in her recent collection, Dog Songs).

                                         A puppy is a puppy is a puppy.
                                         He's probably in a basket with a bunch 
                                              of other puppies.
                                         Then he's a little older and he's nothing 
                                              but a bundle of longing.
                                         He doesn't even understand it.

from How It Begins

                            A dog comes to you and lives with you in your own house,
                                but you
                            do not therefore own her, as you do not own the rain, or the
                            trees, of the laws which pertain to them.

from Her Grave

                                       Running here running there, excited,
                                               hardly able to stop, he leaps, he spins
                                       until the white snow is written upon
                                               in large, exuberant letters,
                                       a long sentence, expressing
                                               the pleasures of the body in this world.

from The Storm (Bear)

                                    Emerson, I am trying to live,
                                    as you said we must, the examined life.
                                    But there are days I wish
                                    there was less in my head to examine, 
                                    not to speak of the busy heart.  How
                                    would it be to be Percy, I wonder, not
                                    thinking, not weighing anything, just jumping forward.

from Percy, Waiting for Ricky

                                A dog can never tell you what she knows from the 
                                smells of the world, but you know, watching her,
                                     that you know
                                almost nothing.

from Her Grave

                                      We're, as the saying goes, all over the place.
                                      Steadfastness, it seems,
                                      is more about dogs than about us.
                                      One of the reasons we love them so much.

from How It Is With Us, 
And How It Is With Them

Credit:  All quotations in this post are from Mary Oliver's new collection, Dog Songs (The Penguin Press, New York, 2013).


  1. All dog lovers suffer the same fate; hopelessly ensnared, we give in, we watch and marvel and smile.
    We throw the ball, we crouch by the sick animal, heart in mouth, grieving long before we need to grieve. We walk miles, we make room on sofa and bed, we put up with smelly coats and muddy paws. We worry when we have to leave them for an hour, a day, a week. If we can, we take them everywhere we go.

    And, in return, they love us, exclusively, whole-heartedly, and never judge us.

    1. Thanks for your insightful comment, Friko. Your description of what it means to be "hopelessly ensnared" is spot on. Having a dog always involves sacrifices and eventually ends in grief, but what we get in return far outweighs the price we pay. Crazy as it sounds, I often just sit and watch Derry sleep, my heart so full of love that I can hardly speak.

  2. George, I have 4 wet-nose reasons that prove you correct!
    Adorable photos of Derry.

    1. Thanks, Gwen. Glad you liked the photos, and I suspect all dog owners, especially someone who as four dogs, will identify with Mary Oliver's observations.

  3. This I really enjoyed as about a month or so ago I bought and "devoured" Dog Songs in one sitting. I have a number of her other books as well. I am under the "toenails" and "hoof" of my animals as well… :)

  4. Glad you liked this, Margaret. It's a pathetically sentimental piece, but I'm hopelessly sentimental when it comes to my dog.

  5. George, I am new to your wonderful blog. Learned of it via Pat at The Weaver of Grass. My heart sighed when I read this post. I live with a dog-like cat named Josephine. And I have one granddog and two goddogs. And I'm ordering Dog Songs from the library right now!

  6. Welcome, Maureen, and thanks for your lovely comment. Interesting to hear you mention that you have a dog-like cat, because my lab, Derry, is very cat-like. Since her puppy days, she has favored sleeping on high perches with legs dangling over whatever she is sleeping on, and she also has an affinity for rubbing here sides in furniture. Finally, she is more of a labrador receiver than a labrador retriever.

  7. I, too, have a hedonist as my canine companion. B Baggins knows all about seeking out life's pleasures:)

    1. Yes, Rowan, I'm quite sure from looking at your photos that B Baggins and Derry are kindred, hedonistic spirits.

  8. May sentimentality of this type abound! Your words and photos, and the lines of MO, really warm me up this morning, and you know how much we need warmth this winter. Derry is ... well, Derry just is, and nothing I say about him will add anything to what you've shared, and to what I already knew/felt about him through your expressions of love. So suffice it to say that I gobbled this up like a fluffy stuffed animal.

    1. Thanks, Ruth, especially for understanding the sentimentality, about which I feel a bit queasy. The fact remains, however, that I am sentimental, something that comes, I think, from being an old, unapologetic romantic. If this provided some warmth to your morning, I'm delighted, for I've been thinking about your and your family each time I hear an account of the cold in Michigan. Hunker down! It must be especially challenging this winter (as it's even been the last few days here in SC).

  9. Well, Derry certainly shines and 'sings' in this sweet post! Reading about your devoted relationship warms my heart, George.

    I can't help but wonder if Oliver, due to the way we have been conditioned to always be "doing" as humans, has confused simply "being" with hedonism.

    Derry and any other dogs I've known and loved are perfect examples of pure being: being present to each moment, being available to play, being available to work (whether they are inherently a pointer, a fetcher, a herder, a guard, etc.), being available to comfort, being available to what life brings when it brings it.

    Because our domesticated dogs are often deprived of their desire/need to contribute (work), they spend many hours waiting, resting, sleeping. That may look hedonistic to M.O. or it suits her creative need to say so ... but I cannot call Derry or any loving, loyal canine in their beautiful 'beingness' a hedonist. They are exquisite examples to us of how to simply be.

  10. Thanks for your insightful comment, Bonnie. I agree with you entirely, and I think Mary Oliver would agree as well, notwithstanding her assertion that dogs are hedonists. "Hedonism" is strictly a human concoction, and the notion of simple "being" is certainly a better description for dogs and other animals. Whatever the case, I think most loving dog owners desire at some level to be more like their dogs.

  11. This is the second doggy blog I have read in quick succession (it must be a sign) and what a beautiful dog you own. I lost my two dogs last year and am still grieving. It gets easier though and I am sure that in time I shall find another...or one will find me. I love Dog Songs too.

    1. Thanks, Cait, for the compliment on my dog. Sorry to hear about the loss of your two dogs in just one year, but I'm glad to hear you still open to have another enter your heart and inhabit it. Personally, I've found that getting another dog after the loss of one accelerates the healing.

  12. I must admit to being a cat man myself. Now I think about it, cats, too, are hedonists. However, they understand how it's possible to be one with a minimum of effort!

    1. Oh yes, Dom, I think cats are even greater hedonists than dogs, and, as you say, with minimal effort. Very funny!

  13. While dogs may, indeed, be hedonists—or at least appear hedonistic—I think it's more a case of masterfully seizing and employing each and every moment in the most positive and, yes, pleasurable, way possible. I've never know a dog to make less of what life and the day and situation at hand served up; just the opposite. Dogs extract the best from whatever they're given. And if dogs taught us nothing else, this characteristic alone would make them invaluable guides and companions.

    But they also teach us to take whatever hardship befalls in stride, and to persevere. Just watch a dog try to jump onto a bed that's right at the extreme of his capabilities…he'll jump, and jump, and jump, not allowing failure to discourage the next attempt. When he gets too tired, he'll temporarily give up and rest, then try again later. And finally, when age, arthritis, or that two-inch higher new mattress compels him to quit forever, a dog accepts, moves on, and finds himself a snoozing spot he can easily reach. There's a real life lesson in there.

    Finally, dogs teach us all we'll ever need to know about pure friendship, unconditional love, and the willingness to express ourselves. It doesn't matter to a dog how we dress or look, whether we're rich or poor, young or old, or graduated summa cum laude from the most prestigious Ivy League school. A dog sees and reacts to what's in our hearts—the genuine us behind the veneer. And dogs know how to be joyful, never allowing to be restrained or ignored. They live and play with gusto. If only we were half so free and open.

    Dogs are much, much more, of course. In so many ways, better examples of what we could be and might become if only we paid attention and lived honestly. Dogs just might be God's greatest blessing.

  14. Thanks so much, Grizz, for your insightful and generous comment. I couldn't agree more. Through the ups and downs of daily life, dogs always enhance the moments of pleasure and offer consolation for the moments of sadness, and, yes, they constantly remind of what we might become ourselves. As my Derry moves through the last third of her life, she is teaching me how to deal with my own passage through this stage.

  15. George, my beloved old dog Moon is heading toward 16…and those advanced years really show in many ways. It almost breaks my heart to watch her, sometimes. But she takes it in all stride—and, like Derry, is teaching me by example how to make my way down this final, arduous passage.

    By the way, I meant to say earlier how much I enjoyed your excellent photos of Derry.

  16. Thanks for the follow-up, Grizz. As to the photos, you can see that Derry has the run of the house, naps on the furniture, sleeps in our bed. I wouldn't have it any other way.

  17. This makes me wish I had a house again so I could have a dog again. We can have small dogs where I live but a studio in a city just does seem to be what a dog's life should be about. I can see why you love Derry from your pictures here.

  18. I think you're wise, Rubye, not to have a large dog living in an apartment in the city. Too many people keep large dogs confined all day. You might consider, however, a smaller dog that does not require the roaming terrain of a larger species. Needless to say, love comes in all sizes. It's ultimately a personal decision based upon each individual's circumstances.

  19. I missed this somehow, George. I certainly need to comment on a post about Derry! I love that you "allow" her on your white sofa - is "allow" the right word? My Breezy Girl will soon be dead 9 years - I miss her and sometimes feel her presence as I walk through the woods. I have only been owned by 3 dogs in my life - they all had something to teach me. Derry is quite beautiful.

    1. Thanks so much, Barb. The question in our house is not what we will allow, but what will Derry allow, and that's the way we like it. Derry sleeps wherever she wants to, including in our bed at night, and we wouldn't have it any other way.

      I'm sure you miss your Breezy Girl, but, as you note, they always are with us in some form. Margaret and I are always talking about our previous lab, laughing at things she did, talking about how she was different in so many ways from Derry, etc . . . On my final day in life, as I assess what has been the most memorable experiences of my life, I suspect that taking walks with my dogs will rank near the top.

  20. This is a beautiful way to pay homage to your furry companion. I cannot imagine life without my Buddy ... you have a real sweetie there ...

    1. Thanks, Teresa. Just found your comment in a spam folder. Hopefully, I can find a way to fix this. Having Buddy, you surely know what I mean about my relationship with Derry. Cannot imaging not having her with me daily.