Dog Daze; What My Canine Teaches Me
That title is not a typo. I didn’t mean “Dog Days” which come in the hottest days of August when the Dog Constellation Canis Major, appears in the night sky. That seems a long way away because as I type this it is -33 C and falling; the sun set at 4:38 PM in Edmonton today, and it is nine months before Roxy the Heart of Darkness Labrador retrievrer, can chase ducks and pheasants with intent. Out of desperation, she got very excited trailing a snowshoe hare recently. I could stoop to ice fish out of desperation but as author Jim Harrison reminds us “Ice fishing is for morons”. I suppose I am qualified but I just don’t relate to it very well.
Dog Daze don’t occur in the coldest month of year which, statistically, is January; nor is it the darkest time of year, again, December and January. Dog Daze drape themselves over us with the moldy damp blanket that is March. The same snowstorm we would welcome as “duck weather” in October or tracking snow in November, gets cursed in March as gutter bending, tire-spinning, sidewalk clogging slop. Christopher Ingraham is a data analyst reporter for the Washington Post. Ingraham analyzed the frequency of the public’s Google searches for five words: depression, anxiety, pain, stress and fatigue and then plotted them across the year. Top month for these awful word searches? March. It is a miserable danged month!
Anticipation of warm sunny weather is thwarted again and again by spring blizzards and the alternating mud and ice, low sun angles and a dwindling supply of winter firewood. Wildlife populations hover around their gauntest and lowest number for the year. Wild creatures are either vacationing out of province, hustling for calories or holed up out of sight. We are still digging out financially from holiday spending and overeating; taxes are due and just then some %@&*! kill joy in Victoria reports their early Crocus’ are already blooming. Whoa, those Crocus’ would not be safe around my winter-angry pac boots. We are starved for warmth and sunshine. Did you hear what the Albertan said to the Pillsbury Doughboy in March? . . . wait for it . . . . “Nice tan!”. March clearly hosts the Dog Daze.
What to do? The usual advice is to avoid depression by being active, exercising, take vitamin D, sit in front of bright mood lights, get involved, and get outside. The psychologists will probably coax you gently into their $140/hour offices for counseling. I can’t say any of that is bad advice, yet, in the depths of my miserable-assed doldrums I look to my dog for inspiration instead.
My Labrador house wolf knows how to handle Dog Daze quite well. She remains as undaunted and joyous as any day of the year. Melting snow uncovers all manner of delicious morsels; chicken bones, rabbit pellets, dead squirrels and unidentifiable but highly interesting things that if not crunched and slurped down, need snouting, pawing, and carrying around. Mud and ice? No problem, they are made to be tracked back in the house. Each day she wakes up naked, skips her bath and tooth brushing, doesn’t bother to make her bed, ignores the automatic coffee pot, and goes straight in to torment her human by starting the day with an ice-cold wet nose on any warm skin she can uncover. She only has one worry and that is quickly erased with a few cups of kibble. Thereafter, she only has to make two decisions each day and to her credit, she deliberates earnestly on this judgement while I shiver on the porch steps. Eventually, she settles on the exact right spot, whose criteria are completely unfathomable to me, but it is always in the neighbor’s yard, so at least we agree on that. If she can coax me into tossing a tennis ball or stick, the day can be a complete success before the clock strikes 8:00 AM.
If it is a cold March day and there happens to be a fire in the fireplace (she doesn’t bother to split or carry wood either, thank you!) the day’s work involves languorous stretching and sleeping in the hearth’s radiant glow. There she relishes whatever dog dream mysteries invoke paw twitching and muffled yelps. My vanity hopes that I am part of those dreams and pheasants are flushing at the tip of her nose and my shooting has big Canada Geese splashing down into the pond. If wolves have similar dreams, I don’t want to hear about it. In my fairy tale I am an essential part of her dream.
Author Jim Harrison- the same dude who called me a moron- started one of his novels with the quote “It is easy to forget that in the main we die only seven times more slowly than our dogs.” This gave me pause, not only because I am on dog number five out of my allotment of seven, but because both my dog and I are on the same track toward the end of our lives, hers is just a lot steeper. The kicker is, she seems totally undaunted by that inevitability and thus, never lets it diminish the joy of her day. She doesn’t let time get under her skin whether it is September duck season or March doldrums. There might be a squirrel to chase, a yard cat on the fence for her to growl at, or a slipper to carry around. Time — we have to get a handle on that. In his book How to change your mind Michael Poulan identifies one scourge of depression as the recurrent torment of past traumas and the curse of anxiety as the incessant worry about what might occur in the future.
The sweet spot to escape this troubled past and looming future is to be in the moment of the here and now. We can focus our impressive skills of observation and awareness on the present, after all, we do this when afield, why not in the Dog Daze? If we can suspend our self-importance and ego then relax our self-inspection, we move toward being neutrally present. Dogs seem really really good at this. They are never self-conscious about bad hair days, bad gas, urping on the carpet or falling down in front of company. They either know we forgive them or they don’t give a natural damn. To escape the Dog Daze, all we have to do is watch them carefully and imitate their carefree approach. Maybe skip the part about urping on the carpet though.
There are popular internet memes featuring squirrels, Mercedes Benzes, goldfish, and of course cats, that say “Fake it until you make it” and maybe there is some truth to that approach. It is just as easy to get into good habits as it is bad habits to fight the Dog Daze. Tie some flies (under bright lights), walk that dog, watch some fishing videos while on the treadmill, and keep reminding yourself; This too shall pass.