The depth of our own natures

A friend who lives in the wilds of transcendentalism, in the land of Thoreau and Emerson, told me not too long ago that his daily run sometimes took him on the path that circles Walden Pond. This same friend and his older brother were with me when I visited that pond for the very first time.

Here’s what I remember. I was disappointed to find a public beach at Walden Pond. I enjoyed the stroll around the pond. I saw the marker at the site where Thoreau’s hut once stood. I think I even remember seeing the railroad tracks mentioned by Thoreau, and being surprised that they were so close to the pond and to Thoreau’s retreat — come to think of it, I remember being surprised that this symbol of blessed solitude was so close to the town of Concord itself.

But what I remember most of all was when my friend’s brother took off his shirt and shoes, then leaped with a great splash into the pond, which great splash was followed by a great scream as his foot landed on a broken beer bottle.

A broken bottle — trash — tossed into the last place in the world where trash should be tossed — tossed into the holy waters of Walden Pond.

Flash forward a few decades — plenty of time for my friend’s brother’s foot to have healed — but also plenty of time for man to do even more permanent damage to Walden and the woods around it. According to a Harvard University research team,  climate change is the likely culprit in the disappearance of more than 25 percent of the flowers and plants documented by Thoreau in the mid-1800s; another 36 percent “exist there in such small numbers that their disappearance may be imminent.” According to the study, the mean temperature in Thoreau’s old neighborhood has risen more than 4 degrees Fahrenheit in the past century.

Here’s the bathing beach at Walden Pond:

Here’s what the pond and its surroundings looked like around 1900:

Thoreau declared: “In wilderness is the preservation of the world.” But Thoreau, if he still “traveled extensively” in Concord and its environs, would now have to look long and hard to find the violets, wild orchids, lilies, buttercups, anemones and wild roses once so prolific around Walden, into which waters the great philosopher and naturalist gazed long and hard in order to measure “the depth of his own nature.”

Noodle the Poodle

A while back, I promised to write about my daughter’s poodle, Noodle. I hadn’t done it yet, and my daughter reminded me of this again last night, when she proudly told me over the phone that Noodle, just a few weeks past her first birthday) had graduated that morning from obedience school.

When I asked what Noodle had learned at obedience school, my daughter replied: “Noodle’s gotten much better when it comes to impulse control.”

Here’s a photo of Noodle, taken a month or so ago, before she learned to control her impulses:

Noodle

Noodle

Anyway, this obedience-school stuff makes me uneasy.

What I’ve come to like most about Noodle is her enthusiasm — the way she rushes to the door whenever someone arrives, and jumps up and down like it’s the most exciting thing that’s ever happened to her –even if you just walked out of the house five minutes ago to get something out of your car — and then runs around the house for two minutes celebrating your return until finally screeching to a stop right where you’re standing to have you either (in order of Noodle’s preferences) 1) Throw a ball for her to chase and catch, 2) take her for a walk or 3) give her a treat.

I’ve also come to like her innocent and endearing lack of poise. An example: A few weeks ago, when Noodle stayed with us for a few days, I was walking her on a leash in our backyard. Our neighbors have a horse, a big horse. Noodle looked up and noticed this huge animal walking toward us, and suddenly changed from a poodle into a greyhound as she dashed back to the safety of our house.

Most of all, I’ve been charmed by Noodle’s inability to control her impulses. I’m not talking about her occasional inability to resist the urge to crap on the living room floor instead of going on the pad in the kitchen or, even better, waiting until she goes for a walk. I’m talking about Noodle’s compulsion to wake me up in the morning by climbing up near my pillow and licking my face. I’m talking about how Noodle melts like butter and sprawls on her back, legs akimbo, smiling a dog smile, when someone rubs her belly; I’m talking about how she can’t resist the impulse to run at full speed to chase any tossed bouncing object and my admiration for how she’s become so adept at the chase that she’s even learned to catch balls mid-bounce, in mid-air.

The American Kennel Club has this to say about poodles:

The Poodle, though often equated to the beauty with no brains, is exceptionally smart, active and excels in obedience training. A very active, intelligent and elegant-appearing dog, squarely built, well proportioned, moving soundly and carrying himself proudly. Properly clipped in the traditional fashion and carefully groomed, the Poodle has about him an air of distinction and dignity peculiar to himself. The poodle has about him an air of distinction and dignity peculiar to himself. Major fault (tends to be) shyness or sharpness.

The AKC’s experts know their poodles. All of those good qualities apply, amply, to Noodle.

In conclusion I must note…

*that the references to poodles as “him” can be blamed not on me, but on the very traditional and slightly stuffy American Kennel Club.

*that Noodle, as it happens, is purebred AKC herself, thank you. Her father was a purebred but a commoner. But there’s a pretty impressive line on Noodle’s mother’s side, with AKC champions going back a few generations.

*that I definitely would not like Noodle nearly as much if my daughter ever lost her senses and gave Noodle one of those goofy poodle haircuts so she looks like the French poodle Pepe Le Pew falls in love with in the classic cartoon “Little Beau Pepé” —

Pepe Le Pew leers at a French poodle
Pepe Le Pew leers at a French poodle

And so, while I’m certain this will not be my final word on Noodle, I do have these parting words about the obedience school training that threatens to erase Noodle’s charm and perhaps even destroy the essence of what I might describe as “Noodle being Noodle.”

Just two parting words, as a matter of fact, and those words are: FREE NOODLE!!!