Ah summer! My favorite season for exploring and embracing the thrill of wild growth near us and secret caverns built by trees bent with the ache of age and rocks haphazardly piled in sundry patterns resembling lintels and frameworks of inviting doorways. Nearby, a frivolous creek, which feeds the Cuyahoga River leading to Lake Erie, slows down a bit in late spring as it meanders into summer.
This summer I will do my exploring with a new companion. Lily arrived to our home too late last year to start a career in exploring our environment with me. I had to prepare this southern Georgia gal, part Maltese, part miniature poodle, with short excursions around the area so she could get accustomed to the smells and brush and animals to be encountered. She seemed excited to get into the full swell of everything even as she learned throughout the fall, winter, and spring that there might be encounters with creatures and events – like the time we deftly avoided a skunk who was nonchalantly walking alongside us in the brush before I heard it and moved to cross the road.
Lily is our little dog of wonders from our friend’s pet shelter and like all of the other three dogs before her, we took her in for her new forever home. She is endlessly curious, extremely friendly, and learns quickly the guardrails of her domain. We named her Lily for her all-white hair; yes, hair because these guys do not have fur so they do not shed. She is obedient (with some exceptions), loves people and kids, is mildly tolerant of bigger dogs, and plays incessantly. Many years ago the police told us we needed a dog. There was a hunt for a drug dealer in the park next to us who had escaped into our property which is somewhat off the beaten track. So we got Allie, then Hopscotch, then Finn, all spaniels, and now Lily. With her exceptional gift of hearing, she runs around the house barking when a car or person has begun traveling our driveway a full 1,000 feet away, no matter what time of day or night!
My sister-in-law recommended I read one of the speeches recorded in a classic edition of great American speeches. George Graham Vest was a young lawyer in Missouri in 1885 who defended a man suing another man for killing his dog who allegedly had killed some of the latter’s sheep. Vest ignored all the compelling evidence that would have proved the shooter guilty and instead presented the jury with a wonderful short speech called, “Tribute to a Dog.” After giving his short speech the jury found the shooter guilty. You must read the speech for its impact but it lists the innate virtue of the dog toward its companion. You may lose your money or friends, or reputation, or your fortune, but one friend “will guard the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince.” Even if one is “an outcast in the world…the faithful dog asks no higher privilege than to accompany him.” If you are a pet lover, especially of dogs, you have to read this wonderful speech. It was a part of an episode of “Death Valley Days,” sometime in the sixties.
Recently, a friend told me of her excitement of rescuing a cat from a local shelter. I was so happy to hear this and join in the fun of learning about the
new pet who is now a part of her life. When Lily sits at my feet in my office or bedroom, or when she taunts me incessantly to walk her at exactly three o’clock everyday, I know there is something deeper operating within: it is a connection with the Creator of us both, and Lily is the one to make sure I know it.
Animals, especially animal companions, are really connections with our loving Creator. Ed Yong, science writer for “The Atlantic” has written a remarkable book on animal-human communication titled, An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us, in which he says that the human ‘world view’ is only one of billions of ‘world views’ which he calls ‘Umwelt’ suggesting that a web of world views exists among animals and insects along with humans. This means, says Yong, that there is no one world view! Spiders see only with vibrations; bats see with echo navigation, and snakes smell the body heat of their prey. Powerful. But I find it true. All sentient life sees from its own gifts and this sight contributes a richness of life we do not experience unless we try to see as others do. What a wonderful life if we can allow the ‘Umwelt’ of others, human beings, animals and insects, tell us what they see from their uniqueness. Standing on the rocky banks of the creek, I listen to Lily’s communication with me and we are both stunned into silence listening to a barred owl calling out in the dusk of the day. It is a moment of holiness when we and our fellow creatures are in sync and in wonder.
For this week, see if you can find the many references in the Book of Psalms that might lead you to ponder on God’s immense love of all creation, especially animals and insects. The Psalms are superior for their references to the power and gift that animals are for us. So, take your scriptures and sit outside, preferably with an animal companion, and welcome summer with the promise to reverence all life. And thank God for the ‘Umwelt’ of our totally connected life in nature.