A Snoopy Philosophy — the Blessing of a Dog

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“Life” according to Peanuts by Charles Schultz.

Snoopy and Charlie Brown’s conversation greeted me today in Marilyn Armstrong’s “What’s the Point of It All?” Some mornings I’m like Charlie Brown. Other days I’m like Snoopy.

More often than I’d like, I’m the human being on the left side of the dock — a morose Gloomy Gus. But I’ve most always been blessed by a Snoopy. A Maggie. A Sebastian. And, then, after Maggie and Sebastian died, a Barclay who looks on the bright side of life. How about you?

Sebastian and Maggie with Kay

Charles Schulz was a native Minnesotan. I never met Charles, but his cartoon of Charlie Brown and Snoopy sitting at the end of the dock looking out to the far horizon leads me to suppose two things about him. 1) Charles Schulz had a dog as his philosophical partner. Like me, he had a Maggie, Sebastian, or a Barclay. 2) He spent time in the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area (BWCWA), paddling a canoe through a narrow channel between the rocks, or sitting with his dog at the end of a Kawishiwi cabin dock . . . or nestled in a hammock . . . pondering the meaning of it all, and feeling more like Snoopy than a Gloomy Gus.

Kay in the Boundary Water Canoe Wilderness Area
Kay in the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area

“Yesterday I was a dog. Today I’m a dog. Tomorrow I’ll probably still be a dog. Sigh! There’s so little hope for advancement.” – Charles Schulz

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”
― Marcus Tullius Cicero

— Gordon C. Stewart and Barclay, Chaska, MN, March 14, 2019.

Living within nature’s rhythms

“I can soon begin to tell the time by how the light is slanting off our walls at sunrise and when the darkness falls — and I suppose back to a more essential human life.

~ Pico Iyer, The Urgency of Slowing Down. An Interview with Krista Tippett (Onbeing, November, 2018), quoted by Live & Learn.

Living within nature’s rhythms comes less naturally to us than it did for our ancestors. I say, “Let there be light,” flip a switch, and there is light. “The light was called ‘day’ and the darkness called ‘night’.” Not anymore. The darkness is as light to us. But not to dogs!

Barclay, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel shadow chaser.

Barclay, the canine companion who joins me for my daily afternoon nap, is what they call a shadow chaser. He lives by the movements of the sun, the hourly changes of light and shadow. Barclay aims to please. He’s very respectful of the napper. He lies very still . . . until it’s time . . . and he moves from the foot of the bed up to the pillow and licks my face to say “it’s time!”

The angle of the light from the bedroom window is his alarm clock. He knows the exact moment of the shift in the light’s angle that says it’s time to get up and head quickly to master suite bathroom where the light will be like the aurora borealis. Time to rise and shine. Time for me to open and shut the shower door. Over an over, to make the light move around the floor and walls so he can jump at it, pounce on it, eat it, or catch it with a paw. It’s playtime! Until the angle of the light shining through the small hexagonal window changes and the stream of light disappears until tomorrow about 3:10 PM . . . unless the clouds hide keep the light away, and it’s time to stay quiet at the foot of the bed for another day.

Morning sun on cabin wall.

The closest I get to nature’s rhythms here in Chaska is the end of nap time. At the cabin by the wetland, it’s altogether different. The light streams in everywhere, always from a different angle, luscious golden sunlight dancing on the rough-cut pine walls, or the blue light of the full moon that streams through once a month. And all without flipping a switch.

And God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness God called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day. (Gen. 1:3-5)

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, Minnesota, January 31, 2019.

Do we have to go outside?

The following conversation took place this morning with Barclay, the five year old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, in a warm living room in Chaska, Minnesota where it’s -33 degrees F outside.

temperature map, Jan. 30, 2019.

I’m not going!

You have to!

Why?

‘Cause you’re a dog.

But it’s 26 degrees BELOW ZERO out there! It’s only 10 above in Antarctica!

I know. We’ll make it quick. I promise.

Oh, sure! What you mean, “We’ll make it quick?”

We’ll go out and go real fast.

Easy for you to say. You have a big coat and boots!

But you’re a dog. You have a coat.

You’re makin’ stuff up. You’re prejudiced!

I’m not prejudiced!

Are too!

Am not!

Prove it!

There’s no way to prove I’m not.

Uh-huh! You go outside and I’ll go inside!

You can’t go inside and I can’t go outside.

Why?

‘Cause dogs go outside and humans go inside. I’d get arrested for indecent exposure.

See. I told you! You’re prejudiced. I’m not going out there!

Barclay, I’m sorry. There’s no alternative.

Uh-huh!!!! It’s warm in the basement.

But the basement’s part of the house. You’re a dog. You know the rule. You can’t go in the house!

I’m not going out there! You have paper towels. Take me to the basement! It’s warm down there.

How about I put on your winter coat and your booties?

Barclay in his winter coat..

Okay! Deal!!! You put on my winter coat and booties . . . then we go in the basement!

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, Minnesota, January 30, 2019.


My Dog’s Happy Hour

Barclay smiling

Barclay smiling in the car

There’d been no intention of a Happy Hour yesterday when I decided to go to Target for a short errand. “Barclay,” I asked, “wanna go for a ride in the car?” Barclay cocked his head, ran for the door to the underground garage, and leaped for joy. We drove to Target. I cracked open the windows, left Barclay in the car. In the parking lot, I see my friend Chuck, whom I’d been with an hour earlier on a business matter where I’d asked whether he’d ever been to Ike’s. He hadn’t. “Why do you ask? Is it good?” “I don’t know. I’ve never been there,” I’d said. “My neighbor Michael tells me it has the best Martini in town — not one of those tiny Martinis you get at most places around here. It’s big, and they give you the shaker, too.”

Inside Target, Chuck and I take our places in the line for picking up prescriptions. The line is long. Neither of us is good at waiting. We decide, on the spur of the moment, to go to Ike’s Happy Hour for a different prescription. We leave Target and join Barclay for the trip to Ike’s. At Ike’s I again leave Barclay in the car, opening all four windows a little more than I had at Target. As he always does, Barclay smiles. He knows the routine. He lies down on the driver’s seat.

Sitting at the bar for our nonprescription drugs, we notice the wind has come up and it’s pouring rain outside. “Do you think Barclay’s okay?” asks Chuck. “He’ll be fine,” I say, “nothing flusters him. He’s not afraid of storms.” The Martini is everything Michael had said it would be. So is the Happy Hour food he’d recommended: two mouth-watering beef tenderloin sliders with grilled onions and horseradish sauce, one on pumpernickel, the other on sourdough, for $7.50. We love this place!

We pay the tab and head back to the car. Barclay is calm until Chuck opens the passenger door. Barclay sits up, smothers Chuck with kisses, and says, “I was worried about you guys!” Both seats are partially wet from the storm. Barclay is dry. We are not.

Barclay on chest

Barclay

We leave Ike’s parking lot and drive back to Target where Chuck had left his car. Chuck goes in for his prescription. Barclay and I call it a day and head home. Safe at home in the underground garage, Barclay stays put like a petulant child. “Dad, why can’t I stay in the car? I love Happy Hour!”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 4, 2018

 

 

Elijah the 16 month-old walks the dog!


Elijah and Kay swingYesterday 16 month-old Elijah and his mom came by to visit Grandma and Bumpa (Grandpa). But mostly he wanted to play with his friend Barclay, the five year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. He took Barclay for a walk and a little conversation on the parking lot, stopping to point to the sky, step up to the sidewalk, leash in hand, and walk Barclay as no one else ever has.

  • Elijah, Barclay, and Bumpa, September 30, 2018.

My Dog and I

Although words cannot describe the delight I feel watching Barclay romp freely in an open field, Mary Oliver’s poem comes close.

Click “The Storm (Dog)” to hear Mary’s poem read aloud on David Juda’s lovely poetry siteVoetica.com

As Mary said, “I couldn’t have said it better.”

Barclay and Gordon

The Calm after The Stormy Romp — Barclay and Dad

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 10, 2018.

One day tells its tale to another

It’s quiet this morning. The only sounds are from the birds.

IMG_9456

The wetland by the wilderness cabin

Redwing blackbirds feed on the cat-n-nine tails. Woodpeckers peck the trees. Canadian geese honk to stake their claim to what remains of the beaver lodge. Trumpeter swans blow their trumpets to shoo away the geese. The loons warble a primordial language, an echo of a time we cannot remember but dare not forget. The first sounds from a primordial Silence.

At daybreak at the edge of the wetland, I read from The Book of Common Prayer (BCP):

“One day tells its tale to another

and one night imparts knowledge to another.

Although they have no words or language,

and their voices not heard,

Their sound has gone out into all lands,

and their message to the ends of the world.”

[Psalm 19:2-4]

The Good, Good Earth: Our Island Home

The pale blue dot — our island home

I come to the wetland on this “pale blue dot” (Carl Sagan) in a vast universe to hear the primordial echo away from the human crowing, honking, and pecking that hurt my ears back home. Barclay, the ever faithful Cavalier King Charles Spaniel companion, lives by his own natural rhythm at home as well as here at the cabin, but his wagging tail and constant smile here tell me he prefers this place where the only sounds come from the air and the wetlands.

Barclay smiling

Barclay smiling on way to the cabin

Barclay professes no particular creed, yet he seems to know better what my faith tradition, ducks, geese, swans, and loons know:

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament God’s handiwork” [Psalm 19:1] and “the whole Earth is the Theater of the God’s glory” [John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion]. With the help of The Book of Common Prayer, hearing aids, and binoculars, I sense it too.

Glorify the [Primordial Silence], O springs of waters, seas, and streams,

O whales, and all that move in the waters,

All birds of the air, glorify the [Primordial Silence],

Glorify God and praise God forever. 

[“Song of Creation” excerpt, Morning Prayer, BCP, p.89, amended by GCS]

  • Gordon C. Stewart, The Pea Pod, Northern Minnesota, May 6, 2018.

Elijah: “Grandpa, what’s love?”

Elijah love

Photos of Elijah

Grandpa, everywhere I go people say they love me. What’s love?

If I were wise, I’d take a month to read up on it before answering a big question like that, but I’m not, and instant gratification is too slow for a seven-and-a-half month-old grandson, so I’ll give it a shot.

Thanks, Grandpa, gimme your best shot, but don’t hurt me!

Not that kind of shot, Elijah. It’s just one of those expressions.

Yeah, Mom expresses before I go to daycare.

No, not that kind of expression. “I’ll give it a shot” means “I’ll try.”

Okay, try to give it a shot. What’s love?

Well, Elijah, like Frank Sinatra said, love is a many splendored thing. Love means MANY things to many different people.

Grandpa, you’re not giving me your best shot. You’re using a shot gun. Take out your rifle and give it to me straight! What’s love?

Like I said, it’s one of those words that requires lots of thought. We throw it around to express all kinds of feelings but most of them aren’t really love. Like “I love ice Ben and Jerry’s ice cream” and “I love ‘How to Get Away with Murder'” and ‘I love ‘Sesame Street’ or “I love my ‘Huggies’.

Yeah, like I love Lammie!

IMG_9526

You do, Elijah. You do! You express great affection for Lammie. You have a thing between you. The way you feel about Lammie is the way we all feel about you. Everyone just wants to hold you. You make us feel like children again. Your smile makes us smile. Your laugh makes us laugh.

Yeah, like Barclay makes me laugh. I love Barclay. He’s even better than Lammie. He can give me his paw! I love that! “Sit, Barclay! Sit!” 

Yes, I know. Lammie is a stuffed animal. Barclay’s a real one. He’s a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. He loves you. But he doesn’t love you and you don’t love him because you can order him around, Elijah.

Barclay on chest

Barclay the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

Remember, no matter how much you love Lammie, now matter how much you love Barclay, and no matter how much I say I love you, I always love you more than that!

Thanks, Grandpa. That’s a many splendid answer. I’ll always love you, too. But I love Mom more! She expresses herself much more clearly than you do!

  • Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, January 7, 2018.

 

 

The Light Show

The moonless night beyond the picture window contrasts with the candles that wash a warm glow on the orange rough-cut pine walls inside the A-frame cabin in a place without a name.

flightA flock of Canadian geese flews over the wetland before dusk, honking their way south before winter comes to the Upper Midwest, while inside the cabin walls the Toronto Blue Jays had flown south to Minneapolis over the radio to play a ballgame with the Twins. Unlike the Canadian geese, the Blue Jays are going nowhere; the Minnesota Twins are preparing for a long flight to the World Series.

votive-candlesThere is something strange about being alone in a remote wilderness cabin without a remote or internet, but some things stay close. Like the radio I bring to listen to the Twins games, and my canine companion Barclay who doesn’t care about the Twins or the radio but does care about candlelight. Barclay had headed for his kennel for the night an hour after the Twins had broken the sacred silence—until the sound of a match drew him back to the sofa to watch the candlelight flicker against the walls.

Sometimes I wish I were a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel instead of a lone silly goose who needs a radio to stay sane in an otherwise silent night in a warm-lit cabin in a place without a name.

d6dbdcca-1865-4dbf-b1dc-9cfda368e47d.1By the seventh inning stretch, I’m tired of the Twins game, blow out all the candles, see Barclay to his kennel, and head up the ladder to the loft in the darkness. Only then do I notice the light show beyond the cabin walls: the Northern Lights dancing across the sky, a natural light show no World Series can match. Through the loft window I watch the light that knows nothing of matches, candles, or our whereabouts off the human map.

Sometimes, when awe reduces me to lightening bug, it feels good to be human.

 

Barclay and his Big Sister

Barclay and his Big Sister

Barclay and his big sister pausing on the walking path.

Lonely folks cruise the internet hoping for a good match. Websites pair strangers looking for love. They meet in coffee shops, bars, parks, and restaurants.

On rare occasions the two make for a good match. NEVER are they better matched than Barclay and his big sister.

We should all be so lucky! Forget the internet. Get a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and some pink shoes, and enjoy the mutual admiration on a good walk, healing and heeling at the same time.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Barclay’s Dad, Chaska, MN, April 9, 2017, responding to The Daily Post invitation to share a photograph and commentary on the theme “A Good Match“.