Westley’s barking has worsened since I’ve been writing regularly. He finds it hard to tolerate my long stretches at the keyboard and like a spoiled child clamoring for attention he scratches at the door to come in, then go out, then in, then barks, then chews up a toy, then barks some more. In dog training circles, these are called “nuisance behaviors.” The solution is more exercise, more training, more structure and consistency. He needs to know who’s boss. He and I have similar challenges, it seems.
It makes John and me crazy when he starts barking at us before we’ve even had our coffee. The mornings here are serene: birds at the feeders, soft light filtering in through the skylight onto the heart pine floors, coffee brewing and the promise of a whole day ahead. Even though John has so much stress at work that his breakfasts are often spent plowing through email and writing presentations, there is a still a peacefulness to our —BARK BARK BARK BARK. See what I mean?
We’ve tried a bunch of different approaches to the barking. All of them work, kind-of-sort-of, but then we get lazy, or he gets overexcited. You can’t let your guard down for one second with Westley. Our other dogs reached a point where they were trained, and it “held.” Not so with this guy. If you fail to reinforce a behavior you are working on even one time, fuhgeddaboutit. He has.
I’ve been trying to restructure our relationship. Dogs are sensitive and they know when you feel pissed at them, even though you’re doing your best not to let on. One solution I’ve been testing is to exhaust him early in the day by lengthening his morning walk. Before I have coffee or look at the paper, when my vision is still blurry and my hair has that early-morning rumpled look that once was sexy but now is just unkempt, I yank on a pair of leggings and boots, and out we go on the trails behind the house, in the mist, in the mud, in the quiet.
But this morning, when we arrived at the little stream that feeds into an old cranberry bog, now a tangle of desiccated roots and vines, we heard the roaring chorus of spring peepers. Reep, reep, weep, chirrrrrup. Here’s what National Geographic has to say about our friend Pseudacris crucifer (Hyla crucifer):
“Found in wooded areas and grassy lowlands near ponds and swamps in the central and eastern parts of Canada and the United States, these tiny, well-camouflaged amphibians are rarely seen. But the mid-March crescendo of nighttime whistles from amorous males is for many a sign that winter is over.”
I am only somewhat heartened to read that this annual right of passage typically happens in mid-March. I associate their song with mid-April, when the snow has melted, the last frost is past. Yesterday it was nearly 80˚ in Boston. The sudden heat comes in the wake of a seesaw winter that saw some snow and cold, but mostly a weird soup of weather in the 40s and 50s. If I were disinclined to “believe in science” (that’s an entire post right there), then certainly the qualitative evidence of my daily walks would convince me: climate change is upon us, and accelerating quickly. The NOAA reports that 2015 notched yet another “warmest year on record” – for the fourth time in this young century. In Australia, a molecular bioscientist and an economist have co-authored a study on personal energy consumption showing that disastrous levels of climate warming (the threshold of 2˚C) will be upon us much sooner than previously thought, possibly by 2020. In his book “Half Earth”, which I cannot read before bedtime or I won’t sleep a wink, Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson draws a stark picture of species loss in the biosphere and reminds us of our interdependence with the natural world: we are, after all, just another species.
Yet here in the US, we blather on about whether climate change is some sort of ideological plot being foisted upon the public. Our congress fiddles while the climate burns. Conservatives rant about job losses, as if this will matter if Mother Nature decides to give us the heave-ho right out of the Anthropocene age. (Sidebar: creating entirely new, sustainable energy industries will create jobs.) People whine: why should we give up our toys—our SUVS and AC and LEDs– if they won’t do it in India or China. Last time I checked, it’s called “leadership,” and it usually entails sacrifice and role-modeling, qualities in short supply in our legislature. I am proud that President Obama and Justin Trudeau, that hottie from north of the border, this morning announced a pledge for the US and Canada to cooperate in combatting climate change.
A few weeks ago I had a dream. I was walking down a long drive lined with tall pines, seventy and eighty footers, with trunks as wide as refridgerators. All of a sudden, the trees starting falling, kamikaze-like, first one, then three, then five massive trees slamming themselves to the ground, roots upturned. In the dream, I was scared for myself as the earth shook with each tree fall. But I was mesmerized, too: they were so angry with us.
So I do not welcome this morning’s symphony of whistling peepers, quacking ducks and honking Canada geese. To my ears, these are the stark BARK BARK BARK of nature, clamoring for our attention while we drink our coffee and drive off into our small, busy lives.
A Child’s Poem
Inspired by A Walk on the Trails in Early March
Reap-weep the peepers cheep.
Quack-quack, the ducks talk smack.
And goose’s honky tonk cries
Scratch across the young March skies.
“Do you think you’re not of me,”
Asks Mother Nature, wearily.
“Species come and species go;
You’re not the only game, y’know.
So child of man, do not blame me
If you should burn. You fail to see:
I don’t need you. You’re not the whole:
I’ve foxes, fishes, egrets, voles,
Bacteria and bugs galore.
These other life forms don’t ignore
My rule, but they evolve. Yet sure,
You humans just take more and more.