Suzette was a gift to my parents. Big mistake. Who gives a dog to unsuspecting parents? My Dad had grown up with Newfoundlands. Now that is an impressive dog. I am sure that a poodle would not have been Dad’s first, second or third choice.
And Suzette was terrified of boat horns, train whistles and all variety of sudden, loud noises. If she was alone in the house when the sound shook her world, she would dig out all the pots and pans from cupboards, making even more noise and setting her off into a manic frenzy. The kitchen looked like an earthquake had hit. On our return, she would try to distance herself from the mess, blaming it on the sous-chef de cuisine. This dog needed therapy.
In Suzette’s dream state, she expressed her greatest desires. Her legs moved as she barked (soto voce) and ran to vivid spots where she marked her heroic journey. Then she would be rudely awakened from her day dream, and find herself dragging her butt on the sidewalk.
Bears were my companions from an early age…or at least teddy bears played a role in helping me fend for myself in the world. For our trip out west, a dear acquaintance of my grandmother made a sleeping bag with a pillow, and clothing for my miniature bear. This bear fit in my hand, and had articulated arms and legs. Horatio, the bear, often volunteered for role play. He was faithful and stayed by my side day and night. And Horatio was partly to blame for my not putting Bears and Humans in proper perspective. Smokey the Bear was also responsible…and Yogi Bear reinforced this warped anthropomorphism when he arrived on the Television scene.
But I never took my love of bears to such an extreme as Timothy Treadwell of Grizzly Man fame (a documentary by Werner Herzog in 2005). Timothy may have walked among the bears, but he got eaten by one too.
I had never seen wild bears before, so how was I supposed to know that dumpster diving was not a natural foraging behavior. Their home range had clearly expanded to include Yellowstone National Park campgrounds. Why waste time hunting for small animals and gathering berries for hours to get a few handfuls, when a bear could drop by the 24 hour campground deli, and pick up all variety of delicacies. And it was all prepackaged in those nice metal lunch buckets, ready to pop open with a good twist or two.
Sometimes an eager bear might dent the lunch bucket or even leave a few teeth marks in anticipation of the goodies within. And the mess left after a meal…well there were men in funny hats to sweep the deli.
Years passed and I headed to Yellowstone National Park with my wife. Our car broke down just miles from the park entrance. Great I thought, now we were stuck in a back-water town within range of magnificent country. I was very wrong. Ennis happened to be a Montana fly fishing Mecca, so I got some hot tips when I paid for repairs. We set up our tent in the Park next to the designated trout bearing river. It was a pleasant spring evening and we climbed into our Eddie Bauer sleeping bags. (Disclaimer: This is not product placement. My wife and I met when I worked for a couple of years at Eddie Bauer. She had a career there so we eventually were fully outfitted in EB clothes and gear from warehouse sales. We even owned a second hand EB Ford Explorer. This was not the car that broke down in Ennis.)
During the night we woke suddenly to the sound of breaking branches. Were bears prowling? The question of the moment: Do we run for the car or hunker down in place. My cousin got himself into this situation once and ran for the car…but forgot his keys. Dashing back, he managed to grab the keys out of his tent just as bear claws ripped the tent walls open. Not my vision of a good morning.
But then car doors were yanked open and slammed shut. Rapid footsteps could be heard crisscrossing the forest floor. No bears. The temperature had dropped into the high teens and no one was prepared…except for us. Families huddled silently near hastily built camp fires. The scene had the horrific look of The Road.
Next morning, I was conflicted. How hungry were those frozen travelers who had desperate looks in their eyes? I was eager to fish so I reluctantly climbed out of my cozy bag, pulled on some chilly clothes and unzipped the tent flap to assess the situation. No one was drooling for my body fat, so I headed for the river with my fishing gear. I tied on a fly and cast a few times only to find that my hand was curled stiffly, almost frozen, gripping the rod. My commitment could not overcome the lure of my warm bag…so I quickly retreated, to cast another day. I had to admit to myself that I did not measure up to the characters in A River Runs Through It. For them, fly fishing was a religion and no sacrifice was too great in order to be immersed in the sacred waters. I was not among the chosen.
Later we found devoted fly fishermen standing in the slow moving river, casting lines in sinuous arcs towards eddies of crystal clear water. On the banks, hot steam vents blew pure white clouds of mist into the crisp air. This was truly an other worldly scene, almost heavenly. These devotees had found their bliss.
Uprooting was traumatic. It was cruel and unusual punishment. We were being torn from friends and family. We were to be cut off from the world we knew. Free will was clearly suppressed, while deterministic parental autocratic rule prevailed.
The propaganda machine was in full force. We were going on an adventure. Heading west would open up all sorts of new opportunities. Home would be on The Road. We would live in the Outdoors and challenge the elements. We would cross the Great Plains, conquer Rocky Mountain Passes, glimpse Wild Animals, and jump into the Pacific Ocean. I was not convinced. But darn it, they knew my weakness. When they mentioned that I could ride horses, I finally buckled and threw in my lot with my parents.
While we might protest, our pets had no say in the matter. Someone should have called the ASPCA! Where was justice for all things great and small?
Perhaps it was best that I left my past behind. I had a phobia about going to my local elementary school. I yawned incessantly like a nervous dog every morning before heading off to first grade. The school cafeteria was run by drill sergeants who would inspect your plate after lunch. If you did not finish your food, you had to return to you table and force it down…or no play period. I hated Mac and Cheese. Every time Mac and Cheese was slopped onto my plate, I felt the gag reflex grip my soul. I knew I was doomed to sit in purgatory, staring at that gross, yellow yuck and listening to my classmates playing square ball outside…while I suffered. That was until my brother would come to my rescue, eat my Mac and Cheese and I could make it past the guards with a clean plate. The smell of that cafeteria would haunt me for years to come.
And then there was the fiasco of my acting debut. I was selected to play Prince Phillip in Sleeping Beauty. I took my role seriously and followed the Stanislavsky method to portray the beloved hero. I was immersed in my role, and in running through my part to save Sleeping Beauty, I walked boldly up to the reclining young beauty and kissed her. That got a rise out of her but not in the way the role required. She was not happy to see me. And Protested much to the Director. Apparently I was supposed to fake the magical moment. I begged forgiveness of the Fair Lady but Alas, to no avail, and the Director demoted me to Page.
It was time to find another stage…out West!
We were very lucky. We did not get pulled over by a Highway Patrol Officer for pet abuse and Suzette survived the short jog alongside the car. But she was Not Too Pleased. Dad was relieved of his dog walking duty since he was responsible for leaving the leash attached to the car antennae. And I was quite relieved that my parents never put me on a leash, given their casual approach to care-taking on walks.
What you may ask is that artifact on the bumper of our Wagon? That my friends was a canvas water bag, located on the front bumper to gain the most evaporation from the force of on-coming air currents when we were heading down the road. The bag would “sweat” and the evaporation would cool the water held in the bag, just as our sweating inside the car from excessive heat was supposed to (theoretically) help us cool off. After the air conditioner broke, we hung wet towels in the windows to cool the air inside the Wagon. And after these dried out in the searing heat, we were left to sweat…and rely on the miracle of evaporation to survive until the next stop.
Gulps from the bag of water could be refreshing…but a Coke at the gas station offered much more satisfaction.
To vanquish her timidity, Suzette opened herself up to the curious new world. She thrust her head out the window and pointed her nose toward the rushing air? Given her cloistered life up til this point, the rush of sensations was intense, if not terrific. Dormant synapses snapped into gear as the aromas shifted wildly from earthy to smokey to floral to vegetal, in a heady onslaught. This was ecstasy. Pungent scents of associated wild creatures swirled as the juicy molecules drifted by. Her instincts struggled to stimulate the ancient genes. Nasal passages went into overdrive attempting to identify each scent: bison dung, coyote scat, vulture droppings, antelope…it was all coming at her in rapid fire and it was hard to distinguish one from another. Her breed had been domesticated for too long. She would need to make more one-on-one time with these scents and the creatures that marked these territories.
And then start marking her own territory. It appeared there was room for all to be welcome, and space to piss on rocks with abandon.
Was her generation coddled by the good life? Were advantages handed to her on a platter (or garbage can lid) by her parents, and the institutions that enabled her to indulge in the easy path to success? Was she owed this path because of who she happened to be? She always had been told she was special, a prime specimen of Ursus Horribilis. But as her profile got larger and her running speed got slower, she began to wonder. Would tough love have made her a better bear?
It was very hard to keep up with the flood of questions and the prolonged self-reflection. It was a lot to handle even for a prime specimen of Ursus Horribilis.
Suzette did not aspire to be Allen Ginsberg, and her Howl would not be full of anguish about the destructive forces of capitalism and Society’s evils. She would not conform. She would not be a prey like a lamb. For her Howl, she was to dig deep down to the subjugated self, get in touch with her Canine best mind, release the power of her own soaring call of the wild and send chills down the spines of vertebrates everywhere.
She had seen the best breeds of her generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical shorn to the bone,
dragging their butts through the dark streets at dawn looking for a fire hydrant,
who were expelled from obedience schools for crazy habits,
who cowered in barren rooms in doggie blankets, turning over wastebaskets, and listening to the Thunder Terror through the wall,
who were leashed to cars for the endless ride from New Haven to Seattle, until the noise of wheels and children brought them down shuddering,
who barked continuously seventy hours from park to car to Bellingham,
who drove cross country thirty days to find out if she had a vision or Ursa had a vision to find out Eternity,
and rose reincarnate in the ghostly clothes of jazz and blew away the suffering for love into a cry that shivered the cities down to the last radio and doggie mill.
[Apologies to Allen Ginsberg and admirers of Howl.]
Ursa did not want to emit rumbling sounds from borborygmus. She needed to expound with grumbling growls that would build in ferocity until the forest and its denizens shook with trepidation.
Given her upbringing, Suzette had been forced into the life of an introvert. Terror of exposure to the outside world had made her into a recluse. But the road trip had been cathartic. Others did not need permission to inhabit their wildness. She was now prepared to step outside her comfort zone, shred her inhibitions, face her demons and bare her fangs.
Ursa felt the resurgence of wildness in every pore and sinew. She surprised herself with her bold posture. In shedding her winter coat, she stepped forward with a bearable lightness of being.
Suzette and Ursa were totally in the moonlit moment, inspired by the strength of their genuine convictions. Fur flew…metaphorically speaking, as they launched into their adversary with barbs more piquant than hot chili sauce on tender lips.
Moonstruck! Both Wild Things, while challenging each other to dueling trash talk, had been caught in the vortex of energy, a vortex spotlighted by the full Western Moon. It had been orgasmic…in a platonic inter-species sort of way. They panted in a syncopated rhythm. Their hearts pounded and reverberated off the trash cans with a Gene Krupa beat.
Calm was restored in the Park universe. Suzette and Ursa swore to break away from Nietzsche’s heaviness of eternal recurrence, get in touch with their own lightness of being and begin self-creation.
So some exaggeration is definitely permissible in the craft of storytelling and Ursa was to make the most of that artistic license. She and Suzette had agreed that for the sake of their respective species, this was a legitimate technique. No harm was done. They were survivors of a trial by fire (and consumed plenty of marshmallows). They had every right to spin a yarn.