Monday, November 10, 2008

The ghostly wolf

Interesting excerpt at the Telegraph from Mark Rowlands' The Philosopher and the Wolf (I must get this one):
One morning, while I was writing in the study, I heard a succession of loud thuds from the living-room. Not content with taking the cushions into the garden, Brenin had decided it might be a good idea to take the armchair too. And the thuds were caused by his repeatedly banging the chair against the door frame as he tried to drag it through. It was then that I realised a more radical approach towards Brenin's entertainment was required, an approach based on the premise that, all things considered, it would be best for both of us if Brenin were constantly exhausted. And so we began running together.

Trying to keep a wolf under control by making sure it's constantly exhausted is one approach. But even a moment's thought will tell you that it's not a very good one. Our runs did tire Brenin out initially. Me too - but that was of lesser importance, since I wasn't the one trying to drag the furniture out into the garden. Brenin, on the other hand, became fitter and fitter, and therefore more capable of wreaking havoc on the house and its contents at any given time. Soon, runs that used to plunge him into an exhausted slumber for the rest of the day he came to regard as a gentle loosener. And so the runs, of necessity, became longer and longer. But, of course, Brenin just got even fitter; and you can probably see where this is going. Bicycles were an option. But folks didn't take kindly to bicycles in Alabama back in those days - a fact I discovered through a near-decapitation incident involving me on a bicycle and some liquored-up rednecks with a baseball bat and a pick-up truck. Only pinko, commie, hippie bedwetters travelled under their own propulsion in Alabama back in those days. And so the bicycle option wasn't one I was really keen to explore at that juncture.

And so I kept running, and Brenin kept running with me; and we both got fitter, and leaner, and harder. This pragmatic impetus for my new-found fitness, however, quickly changed into something else. On our runs together, I realised something both humbling and profound: I was in the presence of a creature that was, in most important respects, unquestionably, demonstrably, irredeemably and categorically superior to me. This was a watershed moment in my life. I can't ever remember feeling this way in the presence of a human being. But now I realised that I wanted to be less like me and more like Brenin.

My realisation was fundamentally an aesthetic one. When we were running, Brenin would glide across the ground with an elegance and economy of movement I have never seen in a dog. When a dog trots, no matter how refined and efficient its gait, there is always a small vertical vector present in the movement of its feet. Depending on the type of dog, this movement will be obvious or almost indiscernible. But it's always there if you look carefully enough. With Brenin, you could see no such movement. A wolf uses its ankles and large feet to propel it forwards. As a result, there's far less movement in its legs - these remain straight, and move forwards and backwards but not up and down. So, when Brenin trotted, his shoulders and back remained flat and level. From a distance it looked as if he was floating an inch or two above the ground. When he was especially happy, or pleased with himself, this would be converted into an exaggerated bounce. But his default motion was the glide. Brenin is gone now, and when I try to picture him it is difficult to furnish this picture with the details necessary to make it a concrete and living representation. But his essence is still there for me. I can still see it: the ghostly wolf in the early-morning Alabama mist, gliding effortlessly over the ground, silent, fluid and serene.


  1. This does sound amazing - I'm dying to find out how in the world he ended up the wolf! (Have you read the Daily Coyote site? There is a book due our for that soon as well.) (This all makes my "pound puppy" seem horribly dull! ha!)

  2. Colleen's right, this sounds positively addictive. (And when are publishers going to make more stuff available for download?!)

  3. This sounds fantastic! Animals and running. I read *Wesley the Owl* a couple weeks ago. It is an extremely fun story of a biologist who adopted a barn owl and lived with him for nineteen years. Living with Wesley involved daily mice killing among other tasty activities.