Last night, while I was out on the front porch, talking on the phone with a friend in L.A., Emmy the Pit Mom came outside through the open door.
“You here to enjoy the night air?” I said. “Great.” I patted the wooden swing. “Want to sit next to me?”
At the other end of the line my friend chuckled. “Say hi to Gwen the Beautiful for me.”
“Oh, I will. As soon as I go inside.”
“Isn’t that who you were talking to just now?”
“No, that was Emmy.”
“The dog? You were talking to the dog like that? I was sure it had to be the woman you love. Or at least a human being.”
Those of you who are regular readers know how my mind works. So you know what he said got me to thinking.
And, of course, wondering.
Is there really something so strange about how I talk to Emmy? I talk to her the way I do all the animals around here. The way I talk to Huck the Spotless Appaloosa, Elaine the Not So Wild Mustang, Decker the Giant-Hearted, Belle the Wary and the cats and the chickens, too.
And I realized that the strange thing about the way I talk to the animals here on the Mountain is that I talk to them the same way I talk to people. I talk to them as conscious, self-aware human beings. I talk to them the way I treat them – with respect.
Respect? For animals?! Who’d a thunk it?
Certainly not me. Back in the day when I was scrambling for a living, fighting tooth and claw for my little piece of the pie, I saw a huge difference between humans and other species.
Humans were Kings of the Hill. Rulers of the planet! Big Kahunas in every way.
And animals – horses, dogs, barracudas, whatever – were background. Décor. Not so much creatures as objects to be bent and shaped and controlled.
Don’t get me wrong. I had lots of pets. Loved them all. But I talked to them in that stern, authoritarian voice people reserve for All Things Less Than Human. “Come! Sit! Stay! Heel!”
Or in that sugary sweet supplicating tone we use when expressing affection. “Good doggie. Good girl. Who’s Daddy’s favorite kitten? Mmmm ”
Whoa. Imagine if we talked to our children that way. Or our spouses or partners. Co-workers
Oops, never mind. As I look back on my life as father, husband, employee and employer, I realize I don’t have to imagine that at all.
I did talk that way.
Never thought about it. Never even noticed.
Condescending? You bet.
Desperate for love and approval and authority, too? Absolutely.
There I was, an adult in the meat market we call the Big City, begging, borrowing and wheedling my way to personal and business success – and never noticing, not for a moment, that although I would say, when asked by those close to me, “I’m doing this all for you. My life is all about you,” that wasn’t how it was. My thoughts, feelings and deeds weren’t about “you” at all.
They were all about “me.”
When I bragged about the achievements of friends and family, I really was bragging about myself. Looking for honor by association.
When I entered my St. Bernard in dog shows and showed off her ribbons it wasn’t because she loved it so much. It was because I felt enhanced and empowered by her “success.”
Now, though, I’m out here in Paradise. Surrounded by trees and critters. At the mercy of the wind and the sun and the rain. Sharing this mountaintop with, yes, the woman I love. And also with the animals whose behavior and interaction teach me so much everyday.
And for the life of me I can’t find one reason not to think of all the creatures I’ve gotten to know so well as “people.” Not one valid instance to order them around. Nor wheedle or beg or cajole.
I just plain respect them too much.
This morning, I called my friend back and explained all this to him. His response was another chuckle. “You’ve been in the woods too long,” he said.
I don’t think so.
Right now, I don’t think I ever could be in the woods for too long.
They’re filled with way too many new people of all species for me ever to want to leave.
Copyright C 2006 by Larry Brody. For permission to reprint this column, please write to LarryBrody@cloudcreek.org.
Author Larry Brody’s weekly column, LIVE! FROM PARADISE! appears on his website, www.larrybrody.com. He has written thousands of hours of network television, and is the author of “Television Writing from the Inside Out” and “Turning Points in Television.” Brody is Creative Director of The Cloud Creek Institute for the Arts, the world’s first in-residence media colony. More about his activities can be seen on www.tvwriter.com and www.cloudcreek.org. He welcomes your comments and feedback at LarryBrody@cloudcreek.org. Brody, his wife and their dogs, cats, horses and chickens live in Marion County, Arkansas. The other residents of the mythical town of Paradise reside in his imagination. Larry Brody