Wolfe Publishing Group

    Pages Past

    Canine Companions

    As the new season approaches, and the days of summer’s heat and humidity give way to cooler mornings and nights, I find myself reading more each day than I have the past few weeks. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy reading in the summer but seem to catch up on magazines more than books. Living in the upper Midwest as I do, the cold, gray climate from November until March can be daunting, and books are my daily warmth and light.

    These cooler temperatures also seem to invigorate the dog’s steps, not to mention mine.

    These thoughts became top-of-the-mind awareness for me a few weeks ago after watching the newest adaptation of Jack London’s Call of the Wild, causing me to pursue reading dog stories with the vigor of the dog Buck in that story. The stories I read were not just sporting literature, as Mary Oliver’s book of poetry, Dog Songs, was included. The conclusion was simple: I enjoy dog stories, all of them, top to bottom, the happy ones and, unlike the editor of this magazine, the sad ones as well.

    This romp through canine classics included essays and short stories, as well as full-fledged books both fiction and nonfiction. Throughout these readings, two common themes were apparent: No matter the breed, pedigree and training, dogs will be dogs; and despite their being dogs, we still love them unconditionally. The term “kennel blind” is never more apt than in these stories, as even the incorrigible characters have redeemable qualities. On those pages, flatulence, runoffs, sexual promiscuity – not to mention digging, barking and rolling in a variety of decomposed stenches – were forgiven with a look, lick or wag of a tail.

    While humor often occurs in these tales, the realism of emotional attachment is present throughout each text. Since the domestication of canines somewhere between 14,000 and 29,000 years ago, the hunters amongst mankind have been following dogs and documenting their experiences, first through images and more recently, through the written word.

    Often overlooked is the fact that Russian, French and other European writers discussed this topic before Americans did. One example is found in Meditations on Hunting by Spanish philosopher and author José Ortega y Gasset. In the essay, “Suddenly We Hear the Sound of Barking,” he writes: “Man has done no more than correct the dog’s instinctive style of hunting, molding it to the convenience of a collaboration.”

    Or at best we try, when writing of our trials and tribulations.

    The writers of this genre are a litany of accomplished authors, such as John Taintor-Foote in the 19th century (my favorite of his dog stories is Jing).  The list also includes contemporary sporting writers such as Charles Fergus; his Rough Shooting Dog is about an English springer spaniel. And Mike Gaddis, two of whose titles, Jenny Willow and Zip-Zap, feature English setters.

    There are many authors who deserve discussion, but sorting the wheat from the chaff, I suggest the following dog reads. Sunlight and Shadows by Gene Hill succinctly encapsulates why we follow dogs in the field. Cold Noses and Warm Hearts, compiled by Corey Ford, author of the classic short story “The Road to Tinkhamtown,” is well worth the read. Finally, another anthology, Afield, edited by Upland Almanac’s own Bob DeMott, provides modern discussions of our four-legged partners and our passion towards them.

    As we move through our bird seasons, we may chase different species of birds and traipse ground from the Northeast to the Northwest and every place in between. We may hope for a loud, vibrant flush or a hard-to-find single, carry any manner of scattergun and slog across cattail sloughs or battle alder swamps. Those differences do not matter.

    In both our autumn jaunts and the stories we share about them, the one, common denominator is our dogs.

    It is only for the love of our dogs.

    Wolfe Publishing Group