This story begins with a family car trip. The Rev (Mom) the G.P. (Great Provider, Dad), Rowlfie and Stadler (the big dogs) and I were headed to Port A. to check out what remained of SandFest after last weekend’s shindig. We are not an idyllic 1950’s style family that looks like we should be on a Rockwell-painted Saturday Evening Post cover. Rather we are a roly-poly-loud-rock-n-roll family that looks like we should be in a mugshot.
in perspective, one of the earliest bits of automobile etiquette my Dad taught us is what we still refer to as the “Family Flip Off.” It’s where everyone in the car collectively presents the “demon finger” to bad drivers. The expressions of offenders when they witness an entire family aged seventy to toddler-in-a-car-seat hitting them with both barrels whilst grinning maniacally is priceless. It’s become one of our most cherished traditions.
So you can see how maybe our road trip conversation was a bit strange.
Inspired by the two big dogs leaning on me (so that I’d put an arm around each of them) I said, “I wonder if there’s a story of a king who got a lion because he figured he’d look really cool. Then, because he was a king, he totally got a lion and kept it by his throne so that he could rest his hand on its head and look really regal while dispensing death sentences for stuff like whistling or being red headed. Then one day the lion just bites off his hand because regardless of what it’s being used for, it’s still a gigantic cat.”
“I think there are stories like that,” said the Rev, “only the lion ate the whole king instead of just his hand, which caused them to pull out lions’ teeth because kings still wanted to look cool, but they also didn’t want to get eaten.”
“It’s not just lions,” added the G.P. “Every day on the news you see something about some idiot with a tiger getting mauled or a dog eating a baby.”
“No one ever says it, but house cats are essentially just hellish, bi-polar attack ninjas,” I enjoined.
“Yeah,” said the G.P., really sinking his teeth into the conversation, “what about that guy in Vegas who damn near got his head bitten off by a tiger?”
“I don’t know, Dad. I’m kinda on the tiger’s team there. That guy looks like he tastes like self-tanner and perm solution. I don’t care how much I love somebody, if they stick that combo in my mouth enough times, I’m gonna bite them.”
We all cackled.
This little talk got me thinking, as the wind whipped in through the windows (open for the enjoyment of the canines).
“Why, then,” I thought, “are we so focused on keeping animals around us – even dangerous ones?” The question worried me, because the answer was both obvious and unfortunate: to dominate the danger. Even though my dog is about as fierce as a dust bunny, I was still pretty grossed out by that idea.
We stopped on an empty stretch of beach to give the hounds a brief interval of blissed-out puppy freedom. As I was playing in the surf with Rowlfie and running across the sand with Stadler, I came up with another answer to why we keep animals close to us – one that I liked much better than just being a scardey-cat jerkwad who wants to conquer everything (and, frankly, who deserves to get eaten for it).
The reason I think I love the dogs so much is that the element of wildness in them is a bit closer to the surface, and that serves as a catalyst to bring forth what’s left of the wildness in me. There’s a term for this feeling: biophilia.
The Biophilia Hypothesis suggests that humans have an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life. Since this idea was put forward in 1984, psychologists have discovered that spending time in nature is an effective way to alleviate depression, and that people who spend more time outside are happier overall than those who don’t. I think that a long time ago, humans made a compromise where we got increased safety, but sacrificed an ethereal but important connection with nature. Sometimes, this sacrifice is necessary in order to be able to live with animals – we need our wildness in controllable doses.
For instance, when my parents adopted their gigantic Newfoundlands (Fergus and Farley), the G.P. insisted in stentorian tones that there was no way the Rev was going to, “DEPRIVE MY BOYS OF THEIR MANHOOD!” Then one day he was out walking them in a field, and paused to crawl under a low-strung electric fence. Right when he hit the halfway mark, both dogs simultaneously hit puberty and started humping him. Dad was stuck for a few minutes. When he tried to crawl away, he got shocked with enough juice to deter a steer. The dogs, at that point, weighed about 245 pounds combined, so it took him about five embarrassing and uncomfortable minutes to get them to disengage via a combination of screaming and kicking. The boys lost their respective “manhoods” the very next day. Wildness is all fine and dandy, but no one really wants to get humped by it.
I, for one, enjoy indoor plumbing.
Compromise is necessary for life in society, but it’s healthy to put down our modern conveniences and pause to just breathe the air and feel the ground under our feet. As Henry David Thoreau once noted, “In wildness is the preservation of the world.” I don’t ignore the sea when it calls me, and I always bring Stadler – even though she usually digs a hole under the car and sleeps in the shade until I’m done being a nature dork. We are exactly what we are, but we are more than what we know. In all of us, there is still something left of the wild – and it is exquisite.