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Reading to Dogs

My favorite photo of Willow. We are both lap swimmers.
©copyright Chloe Annetts 2020

 

 

Saturday morning, the roads quiet, the temperature mild, no car to dig out, so off I went to meet Fletcher, a therapy dog, at the Gardiner Library. The blurb in the newsletter said:


Beginning and struggling readers sign up for a 15 minute time slot to read to certified therapy dogs.Come read to "Fletcher"! A fun, relaxed, stress free environment supports children's learning. Please sign up ahead of time. Spaces are limited.


Gardiner is a small town with an outstanding library, helpful librarians, events, donated books for sale for $1 (dangerous), a shelf of local authors ("Say Nothing is there), and peaceful nooks to read, get onto a computer, contemplate. Large windows bring in the light and a vista of the Minnewaska Ridge.


Alas, no one signed up; Fletcher had a day off. I was disappointed. I had never witnessed children reading to dogs in a formal setting and I was curious. Though the domesticated wolves we call dogs don't have language, their gestures, facial expressions and sounds convey to their co-dependent owners/companions all they need to know about their needs, feelings and the status of the environment. They warn of intruders more accurately than any electronic surveillance. They are protective of their territory and of us.


I have a particularly close relationship with my daughter and son-in-law's eldest dog—Willow—and I'd have to say, though many doubt me, that we completely understand each other. She is smarter and more abundantly caring than quite a few people I know. Although I am thinking and writing and reading all day long, when I am with Willow, I am, literally, entirely in the moment—her moment.


The younger rescue in the family—Nucky—is a comical, sweet-natured dog who I enjoy just as much as Willow, but because Willow is older and frailer, I take special walks with her these days. Sometimes we walk quietly, sometimes I talk to her and she looks up at me in acknowledgment of my chattering. The other day we witnessed an eagle with a squirrel in its talons being chased by a crow. Willow is a German Pointer with a strong prey instinct and I expected her to bark furiously, but she remained reverently silent, as did I. A van stopped; the driver had seen the eagle, and we chatted amicably about the sighting.

 

Eagles are no longer endangered, but bald and golden eagles—their feathers, nests and roost sites—are still protected under multiple federal laws and regulations. These regulations work, the eagles are back.

 

I had forgotten that The Endangered Species Act was signed into law by President Nixon on December 28, 1973. The Supreme Court called it "the most comprehensive legislation for the preservation of endangered species enacted by any nation." Memories of that important day sustain my hope, if not my belief, that we will surface from our present political conundrums with courage and gusto.

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Our House of Mirth

"Pure Joy" ©copyright by Peggy Weis 2020

 

"He taught me to be hopeful, to be optimistic, to never get lost in despair, to
neverbecome bitter, and never to hate."


--Congressman John Lewis about Martin Luther King Jr.

 

"When and where will this end? What is a republic taking sides against itself?"

 

--Amos Bronson Alcott, progressive educator, father of Louisa May Alcott

"Don't ask whether you need an umbrella. Go outside and stop the rain."

 

--Jill Lepore, "In Every Dark Hour," The New Yorker, 2/3/2020

 

written for the Future of Democracy Series.

 


As if the sham trial and the sociopathic cowardice of most of the Republican senators was not enough this week, a colleague handed me a book by Adam P. Frankel called "The Survivors." I haven't read any Holocaust literature for a long time, but I could not refuse a well-meaning gift. And it was, after all, the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz where the ashes of three of my grandparents and countless other relatives are what—buried? scattered? What verb shall we use?


I had flipped the book open at the table while my colleague was eating a scrumptious turkey, cheese and avocado sandwich and I was sipping on Sencha tea and eating an apple. I had not heard of the book. Frankel was a speechwriter for Obama, but I had never heard of him either. My comment in that moment was simply, "Oh, he must be a good writer," as the one speechwriter I have known well—for Kofi Annnan at the UN—is a good writer. Nonetheless, I wanted the book to disappear. I tucked it into my briefcase and continued to enjoy my apple, my tea and my friend. We had a wonderful conversation; it was good to see her.


The next morning, I emptied my briefcase and there was "The Survivors." It's a beautifully produced book with an inviting albeit simple cover. I opened it and started to read. This was a grave mistake. And we are talking about graves here, and not just graves but mass graves. I finished the book in a couple of hours. I skimmed a bit and read it backwards a bit, as I did with Daniel Deronda. And that got me through it, and through the agony of the history that is my history, that I cannot shirk or bury or ignore, a history that obsesses me some days, and enrages me on other days, more so recently as I have watched the regime in Washington do its calculated, autocratic dance.


I have a dear artist cousin I call when Holocaust angst, agony and despair overtakes me. Years ago, after the birth of her second grandchild, a therapist suggested she visualize joy and resist repeating Holocaust themes in her work. So she thought about her grandchildren and started creating adorable, fascinating, life-affirming work. I have three out-takes on my walls: a stone forest, a teepee, and a comical figure. I looked at them a lot this week as a reminder that there is life beyond children in cages, and Iranian students with operative visas turned away at the borders, beyond a fascist president humiliating a respected radio reporter, beyond a tell-all book and a voice vote on the floor of the Senate, and a regime—not an administration, a regime—that in three years has never governed anything but its own self-interest.



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