Note from Con Slobodchikoff: This is a post by guest author Randall Johnson, who has been a frequent commentator on this blog, as well as a frequent guest author and commentator on the Dog Behavior Blog.
Finding a way to reconnect with nature can take place on a grand scale by walking through a tropical rainforest and feeling, rather than seeing, the immense variety of life it supports, swimming with free-ranging dolphins, or, say, coming face-to-face with a great whale. However, more often than not, it’s the everyday, seemingly mundane, events happening around us that have the power to call us back from our artificial steel-and-concrete world and ‘ground’ us, as it were, in the natural world.
A few years back, my wife
and I bought a weekend / vacation home in her hometown, Lagoa da Prata, a small
town in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais.
At the time, we were living in Belo
The house was part of a new development on a large tract of land that used to be part of the town’s biggest dairy farm and the setting clearly reflected its past: a long stretch of dirt road ran in front of the house led to the colonial-style farm house and then into a patch of dense forest. On one side of the road, there was a wide expanse of open meadow and on the other side, behind the house, a huge fenced-in cow pasture.
We soon discovered Suzie had a friend—a short scruffy male who looked a bit like Toto from The Wizard of Oz , except his fur was dirty-white. After trying several names, including Toto, we settled on Toby. Unlike Suzie, though, Toby showed no interest in being adopted. He hung out with us while we were at the house and we gave him food and water. Sometimes, he took an afternoon nap inside the house, but he rarely slept there at night.
Anyway, my wife and I got into the routine of taking a walk down the dirt road early in the morning and again in the evening, right before sunset. Suzie and Toby invariably accompanied us.
As we strolled along, I watched Suzie and Toby as they ran through meadow, Suzie leaping through the tall grass like a gazelle. Toby was less graceful, but he kept up as they chased after butterflies and small birds. Sometimes it looked as they were running for the sheer joy of it. Once in while, they teamed up to harass the cows on the other side of the road, yapping and lunging at them, and then they’d take off again. It looked like a pleasant diversion (from their perspective, not from the cows’), maybe even a kind of adrenalin rush, because if a bull happened to be nearby, he wouldn’t hesitate to charge after them.
These were moments of boundless exhilaration. They were being themselves, having fun, unfettered by other worries or concerns, enjoying the “here and now”, which is something we 21st century humans often have trouble doing, even in small, rural towns. They were wild hearts and free spirits, very much part of the world we share together, but more viscerally attuned to it.
Walking down that country road was one way of seeking a reconnection with nature, but the active ingredient, the ‘bridge’ that made the connection real, was watching Suzie and Toby’s innocent, high-spirited capers as they gave me a glimpse of a purer, more primal connection that I myself cannot feel with the same intensity. Still, occasional glimpses have been enough to keep me grounded, and by reminding us that we are, first and foremost, products of the natural world, our companion animals may yet have another useful service to offer us.