Connecting (and Smelling) with the Nose of my Dog. ~ Melanie Sweeney

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Casting Golden Threads to Animal Nations

photo courtesy of Melanie Sweeney

The journey to another realm started, as it so often does, in the quiet  simplicity of a domestic task.

With Wally the she-galah at my feet, I was pegging the clothes on the line, consciously keeping my back, my solar panel, toward the deliciously soporific late-winter sun. Slipstream the whippet was pottering around the yard, disappearing for a moment around the corner of the house and reappearing with a soil-encrusted nose and a treasure he’d buried earlier in the week. Beautiful Brer-cat – sleek, chic, shiny black, green-eyed – joined me at the clothes line, to inspect the basket of laundry and supervise my efforts, since he has long laid claim to the role of domestic occupational health & safety officer.

As I neared the end of my task I turned to see Wally, now across the yard, determinedly digging. She was exhuming another of Slip’s treasures, a corn cob Wal herself had eaten a week and a half ago. The cob’s tatty remains Slip had purloined and buried for safe keeping.

photo courtesy of Melanie Sweeney

I joined Wal, sitting beside her, my back still aligned to the sun, as she diligently worked on her great excavation. The corn cob was soon discarded and Slip approached to reclaim it and whisk it away to a more secure location.

We sat in companionable silence, Wal and Slip engrossed in earthy pursuits, Brer-cat and I beguiled, seduced and lulled by the sun. I felt myself being gently expanded.

I have long loved this excerpt from Henry Beston’s The Outermost House:

We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein do we err. For the animals shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and the travail of the earth.

To my mind, Beston acknowledges both the dignity and otherness of our animal companions, offering them their rightful seat with us at the metaphysical United Nations round table. We humans, with our big brains and highly developed verbal skills, can so easily become enamored with a sense of our set-apart specialness, forgetting if we are set-apart, it is a role of responsibility we are called to fulfill, not a status bestowed upon us. When it comes to “extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained” we have much to gain by allying ourselves with “other nations”.

It is one of these extensions of the senses which I am enjoying by proxy as I sit in the sun with my animal companions. As I observe Slip’s nose quivering, probing and drinking the air, I am struck by how exquisite the external architecture of his extraordinary olfactory capabilities is. His nose is a sublime synergy of form, function and beauty; with it he reads messages and meanings from a text invisible and inscrutable to me. What would it be like to enter his world and experience each breath as redolent with meaning?

I allow my imagination to supply an answer of sorts. I visualize the empathy connection Slip and I share as a shimmering golden thread running between our hearts, and to that image I add our individual fields of physical awareness as softly glowing silver-gold clouds. I just sit for a while, immersed in a sense of being present not merely in my tangible body but throughout both our clouds.

Unsurprisingly, Slip’s cloud of awareness appears in my mind’s eye as vastly greater than mine – his senses are more finely tuned than my own – but the joy of it is I am now, by association, sharing that realm of experience. True, I cannot actually smell what he can smell (given some of the places he’s put that long nose of his I can probably consider myself lucky on that count) but I nevertheless have a sense of experiencing the world as he does, expanded beyond my usual boundaries.

photo courtesy of Lachlan Burrell (www.lachlanburrell.com.au)

I send out golden threads to Wally and Brer-cat too, and having done so, blissfully slip from intentional visualization to… somewhere else, mercifully free from linear cognition, in which a profound sense of being and connectedness gently prevails. I dwell peacefully there. Time does not seem to be passing normally, we are lingering in an alternative time zone.

Eventually I come to, and in the afterglow of the experience the desire to capture something of it in words awakens. Why do I feel this urge to write about my experience?

Partly so that I may savor it, for as Anais Nin says, “We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospection.”

Partly as a means of honoring the animals in my life – those beautiful, inspiring creatures who so frequently deliver delight and wonder, extend me beyond self, and whose dignity and otherness does not preclude intimate connectedness with me (for they are, after all, also playful and familiar). ‘My’ animals and the many other domestic or wild I care for, have been companions and teachers of the highest order. My love of and gratitude for their presence in my life significantly defines me.

And finally, I write this, with the intention that other humanimals will read it, because it provides me the opportunity to cast even more golden threads of potential connection into the ether…

photo courtesy Melanie Sweeney

Melanie lives south of Sydney, Australia with her Clan of nine, mostly rescued, animal companions – a noble steed, a wise ewe and her twin sons (who are like night and day), two galahs with two good wings between them, a golden-eyed former Queen, a green-eyed feline embodiment of How to Win Friends and Influence People, and a blue whippet whose eyes shine with Joy when he and Melanie ‘do speed’ together (he self-propelled, Melanie bicycle-assisted). Melanie is a curiosity-driven life ponderer who considers life abundantly populated with paradoxes. She is regularly ambushed by Gratitude and she agrees with James M. Barrie that ‘Life is a long lesson in humility.’

The Elephant Ecosystem

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anonymous Oct 1, 2010 12:14pm

What a great read! Thank you – I would love to have more details of you and Slip "doing speed" – A young Whippet has us and we are always looking for new games! Feel free to respond via email if you prefer. [email protected]

    anonymous Oct 12, 2010 5:01pm

    Hi Leigh!
    Thanks for your lovely feedback.

    Slip and I meet his need for speed (and distance) by going for bike rides of 6-8km about four times a week. Slip trots, lopes or gallops beside the bike on a lead, and in suitable areas (where he can't "lose his head" and run onto a road or anywhere he might get hurt) I let him off the lead so he can race ahead of me for a bit (only if I already know the terrain though), or I let him off and just dawdle along while he has some sniffing around time and then I race ahead and call to him and he sprints to catch up to me. I'm fortunate that I have a couple of great public bike tracks reasonably close to me.

    My very best to you and Bodhi…
    Smiles,
    Melanie