Puppy Power Revisited
I have been enjoying Sumangali's trilogy of dog stories very much – lovely prose and a very beautiful poem, showing us again the wonderful talents of a writer and such affection for her canine and other friends. May I share a few short memories of my own.
Many years ago, before my soul became tired of a wastrel's life and pointed me to our path, an acquaintance of mine took pity on two border collie pups he spied in a dog pound for unwanted strays and took them home (the fate of such strays is sadly very grim). My friend's compassion dried up after one week of ownership (chewed shoes, fur over all of his clothes, malodorous carpets, the odd bone wedged under his bed etc) and I was implored to take them 'while he had a break' (a euphemism, as it turned out, for 'flee the country never to be seen again'.) Reluctantly – though in hindsight happily – I agreed. The two pups grew into two wonderful creatures that I loved. Lifelong vegetarians, they were full of mischief and fun, possessed of such intelligence and intuition that I was endlessly surprised, and unfailingly loyal as friends.
My grown up collie friends had a bizarre fondness for all kinds of fruit and took apples, strawberries, peaches and pears at whim from market places, stalls, any random back gardens they came across – and with absolute impunity, for what sane person would accuse a dog of stealing their grapes or strawberries?
"Your honour, the defendant's dog jumped over my fence, ate several bunches of grapes then ran off with a pear in it's mouth – then had the gall to return the very next day and finish off my strawberries. The nerve!"
"Madam, I am a patient and God-fearing man but all that is about to change! Are you asking me to believe that a grape-loving dog performed a supernatural jump over your garden fence, lunched off your vines, chose a pear for dessert then trotted off? And did this fruitarian canine enquire, perchance, whether you use organic or inorganic sprays on your strawberries when it reappeared the following morning for breakfast? CASE DISMISSED!"
In backcountry New Zealand where I spent long months away from my own two-legged kind, my border collie companions and I enjoyed our life together very much – later this little family expanded and I had lambs, wild pigs that had lost their mother (and proved equally delightful and loyal as they grew up), the odd goat, a mercurial and sometimes temperamental fawn plus a few very unendearing chooks that generally disapproved, with much cluck-clucking, of all these animal comings and goings. Oh, and also my bemused but patient horse.
Subarata turned up from Ireland around this time. She adored animals and they her. Sometimes up on a ridge at work, I would see her far off on a farm track, Pied-Piperish with a stream of dogs, pigs and a lamb or two strung out behind her. Our winter cottage back in the mountains was like a scene from Babe on those cold nights – dogs stretched out by the log fire, a lamb or two on a hay cot, the three pigs on the porch outside, squealing at the injustice of this, prim and disapproving hens perched on the yard fence, the horse meandering in the yard – snorting to gain our attention and hopeful of a late night snack from the ever doting Subarata, usually an apple or piece of pie.
Our remote place was surrounded by the Matemateaonga Ranges, a mostly trackless and vast wilderness of native forest. Here many animals roamed and I had numerous occasions in which to be amazed by the sixth sense possessed by these wild creatures – they have an awareness of their environment which far surpasses that of urban man.
In untouched nature, it seems that life is intricately interconnected, symbiotic, the forest a whole living entity – thus what happens in one small part, the footfall of a man, can quickly be felt elsewhere. Animals instantly detect a change in what you might call the 'forest consciousness' through both obvious means – bird calls of alarm/a sudden silence in the rhythm of the forest/through highly developed and acute senses – but also through subtle means, a shift of consciousness across the forest as the 'ripple' or energy shift created by the intrusion of something unnatural, especially man, is registered. The forest has it's own language which is read at subtle levels by all parts of the eco system. Interestingly we humans too have this capacity but it is dormant, probably atrophied by now, emerging again only through protracted periods of solitariness in nature.
If you practice sitting very quietly in a wild forest (not exotic plantations) and listening, tuning in carefully, you can begin to sense the feeling of the whole environment, the pauses where everything is suddenly alert to some change, and detect local things – an animal moving up a nearby ridge, a shift in energy or a 'ripple' in the matrix of silence.
Wild animals too are very conscious of 'intention'. After a period of fear and mistrust the wild deer and pigs in the hills around our small home stopped running away when they saw us, and would watch carefully then resume feeding when we walked slowly past. We would avoid looking at them and be as relaxed and peaceful as possible – but when the occasional visitor came they would instantly melt away into the forest.
Once I stumbled across a large grass nest in the forest made by a boar to shelter it from the snow – mistaking the size of the unseen animal beneath I put my hand under the dried grasses and ferns and felt a large leg. The nest erupted and an enormous black and tan boar stood there, glaring at me, literally two metres away – I was helpless as these are lightning fast and can beat a galloping horse in speed. Sensing I was not a threat it quickly turned and wandered away – as did I!
As a child I had an Australian terrier for company – this little dog had a 'small man' inferiority complex and would often rush at much larger animals, at passing cars and even the nearby train – teeth bared, whipping itself up into a fury at this invasion of it’s territory our little friend would stand inches away from the huge wheels of the passing engines, snapping away in a frenzy of indignation.
Our vegetarian collies were very placid and gentle, especially Scruffles, the female collie. In the mountains I remember her finding a tiny hare and bringing it back to us in her mouth, ever so delicately and protectively, for care. Raised as a pup with so many other species from God’s creation, the unbiased Scruffles would play with the lambs and pigs each day, an activity that most self respecting canines would certainly frown upon.
Both had a wildly adventurous life, even riding in helicopters when I had two summers as an outfit guide on six day white water rafting expeditions. Scruffles loved riding the rivers, her paws over the front of the inflatables and braced as we charged down the big rolling rapids while a more circumspect Scobie, preferring to stay dry, would sit up on the lashed down food barrels, a difficult balancing feat, bracing himself against the pitch and roll and downward plunging.
The bond between man and animals can become very strong, even to such a point that their karma can become intertwined. Sri Chinmoy once commented on the death of a student's dog in this light – the reason was extraordinary and deeply moving. When Scruffles died, racing at full speed along a back country road in glorious style, flowing and free, such a sight, then under the wheels of a sudden car, we were heartbroken. We mourned the death of our longtime companion for ages.
Where are they now, these lovely souls that shared their lives with us for a while and then were gone? What a compelling case for animal-to-man reincarnation they make, for where else can creatures of such sentience, intelligence and development go but onwards into our troubled human kingdom with it's further, if bittersweet, possibilities?
If through some divine dispensation I might have some small say in all this, a boon for my many years of dogless austerity, I would choose for them a pleasant interlude in some heavenly canine loka (vegetarian of course, the accent on strawberries and grapes) then a gentle transition to the human realm, perhaps even somewhere around here, a brother and sister in some happy rural family, lots of pets and farmyard pals, doting parents of course. Perhaps our paths might even cross – two children flying along some forest trail, happy and free, running wild towards me through the trees, and stopping momentarily to say, a little shyly to this stranger – 'haven't we met you somewhere before...?'