“If you go slowly enough, six or seven months is an eternity—if you let it be—if you forget old things, and learn new ones. Even a week can last forever.”
Rick Bass, Winter

"In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer."
Albert Camus

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Day 104: Familiarity Does not Breed Contempt--Gertrude Stein and the Dog Agree

We like to think of our escape to the South in March as a human-friendly dog vacation at a human-friendly dog hotel, but I'm pretty sure Zoe only likes it because we've been here before, and therefore, it's a bit like being at home--another home.  What she likes is that it's familiar.  She knows these beachy smells now.  She likes the sound of the ocean.  But if she could tell us directly, I am sure she would say that the Carolina coast has nothing on the North Country, where we live, and where she can preside over another balcony overlooking another body of water, the Grasse River.

We were on the second day driving home and had crossed from Pennsylvania into New York when Zoe really perked up in the car. 

I watched her watching the landscape intently.

In North Carolina, we had seen dolphins and pink sunrises and trees ablaze with white buds.

We had run through salt water and watched seagulls and terns swoop down for fish.

But what excited Zoe was a return to the familiar.

This is what dogs teach us. That our home, wherever it is, is where we create our lives in every way imaginable.  Anyone can love a sunrise beach walk in mild weather.  But to love the place where we live in every season, even the monochrome ones, requires a subtle kind of knowing.  After a while, certain storm-scarred trees and shrubs become as recognizable and distinct as people and other creatures.  We know where the swimming holes are.  We know where to find berries in late summer and trillium in May.  If we can see this beauty a few paces from where we live, if we learn how to see and appreciate that place from moment to moment, we are truly alive.

The North Country has its share of poverty and extreme weather.  There is no ocean, and the river valley where we live is fairly flat.  When others might focus on the trailers we just passed, Zoe watches the sky and sees the branches bend in the wind. 

When others see farms that could be anywhere else in the U.S., Zoe smells the ones she knows.

And she is always thrilled to see critters out enjoying the sun. 
How I wish I had a photo--it was on the driver's side--of the happy, shirtless, Buddha-bellied farmer sitting in the grass with about thirty of his goats.  And then there are the Amish farms, the horses and buggies that she sometimes yells at for driving too fast.

While others might see these fields as monochrome, she sees the tall grass and knows what it feels like to run through it.

When others might see merciless rocks that the first farmers here had to remove with oxen, that miners later made into talcum powder, Zoe sees landmarks that tell her she's close. 

And then it's our street. She stands now at the car window, her face rapt.

And here is our yard.  Where did winter go?  It is warmer here than it was in North Carolina.  She runs up to the house to make sure all is as it should be.  She hugs her favorite carpet.  And later, she runs back outside to see the river again, her old friend.

And then on Monday, when it's near-summer weather, she takes her normal warm weather position under the deck.  She likes the cool leaves in her little fort down there, and she's so content to be back doing her job, watching the house, that she curls up her paws as she does when she's getting her belly rubbed.

Having a dog, going through a decade of one's life--more if we are lucky--with a dog helps us see what is around us anew every day, after every trip.

Gertrude Stein wrote in Paris, France: 
“Familiarity does not breed contempt. On the contrary the more familiar it is the more rare and beautiful it is. Take the quarter in which one lives, it is lovely, it is a place rare and beautiful and to leave it is awful.”
 My dog would agree, and as her person I have come to understand that it is wisdom to know this.


  1. I love this!

  2. Halley makes the last spot of snow in the shady part of the yard here's until it's gone. For her this year,way too soon.

  3. WAY too soon! But if I complain around here, people will think I'm nuts.