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A Woman's Best Friend

A Woman's Best Friend Is Four-Legged, Furry--and thinks With Its Nose
Erica Jong
From the Print Edition:
Kevin Bacon, May/Jun 00

(continued from page 2)

They think with their noses, and the nose is the most primitive and infallible organ. If we could all live by our sense of smell, our lives would be much simpler. Other organs--eyes, genitals--betray, but the nose never lies. Dogs have infallible bullshit detectors. Moreover, they heed them as humans never do. We love dogs because they show us how to live with utmost simplicity: Rejoice and kick up your heels after a good shit. Love the one who feeds you. Curl up with the one who strokes your belly. Cherish a good master and lick him into enduring servitude. Celebrate life. Praise God. Find your way home no matter how long it takes. Watch out for the coyotes in the woods. Sniff every corner of the room before you decide to stay there. Turn around three times and create a magic circle before you settle down to dreaming. Decide to trust someone totally before you die.  

These are some of the things I have learned from the dogs in my life. Cats teach other lessons--lessons about keeping your own counsel, cherishing your independence and giving love without surrendering one's self. Dogs seem more slobbery and slavish. But it is we who become their slaves. As a species, humans are slow to trust. Perhaps that's because we have disregarded our noses for so many millennia. The nose is the only organ that tells it true. By living with dogs, we reclaim the feral in ourselves. We may seek to civilize them, but in truth they help us to reclaim the wildness in ourselves. They remind us that in ancient days we had much wisdom that we have since sadly abandoned: the wisdom of touch, the wisdom of smell, the wisdom of the senses.  

These days I divide my weeks between Connecticut and Manhattan. When I want to work with the peace that comes only from long days alone, without the dynamo of the city whirring in my ears, I go to Connecticut, pray for snow and retreat to my studio on stilts to work on my novel. That is when I simply cannot do without a dog.  

Godzooki is becoming an exemplary muse. I feel safe in the country without human companions as long as she is there to be my early warning system. I rely on the fact that her nose and ears are sharper than mine are. I know she will bark long before the doorbell rings and keep me apprised of who is coming down my driveway--whether deer or delivery truck.   She has an I-thou relationship with every tree on my property so she constantly reminds me of how precious and singular each one is. The birches bend for her. The hemlocks drop their weighty armfuls of snow on her small head. Circling each one, she kicks up her heels like a creature that knows that God is good. She delights in the morning, greets noon by scratching at the door to go out, and becomes especially wary when the sun goes down. She is the wild side of me, expressing it without words. Somehow, she makes my playing with words more possible and more fulfilling. She and I have a perfect understanding about life. Language is good but language is not all there is. By sharing her domain of smells and sounds, I become more aware of the secret life that leads us.  

"Every creature is a word of God," said Meister Eckehart, a fourteenth-century German mystical theologian. Listening to the animals, we hear the secrets of the universe.    

Erica Jong, poet, novelist and essayist, is best known for her seven best-selling novels and six award-winning collections of poetry.


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