« Return to this article

Know the West

This dog believes


"Each week we’ll hear from a banker or butcher, a painter or social worker as they discuss the principles that guide their daily lives. We realize what a daunting prospect this is — to summarize a life’s philosophy in just 500 words and share it with a national audience. But that’s exactly what we hope you will do."

—Radio producer Jay Allison, in his introduction to the "This I Believe" series on National Public Radio

Well, Jay, I know this is a long shot. You’ve got Colin Powell and Newt Gingrich in your series, after all. Why should you bother with the beliefs of an undergrown Australian shepherd mix who’s still figuring out the difference between Sit and Down? But I’ve been trying to make my owner understand me, and she’s just not getting it. I hope a national audience will help my cause.

You see, I believe in the present. When I’m hanging my head out of the car window, or lying on my back in a comfy bed of weeds, I’m not worrying about the 2008 presidential elections, or the fate of the Endangered Species Act. (Though I do sometimes wonder if chasing rabbits will ever be defined as "take.") Instead, I’m soaking up my surroundings, thinking about wind, sky, sun and sleep. The here and now always seems worth my attention.

But at least once a day, my owner looks up from her computer, or the newspaper, with an all-too-familiar look of desperation. Then she says something like, "Pika, did you know that the Greenland ice sheet is melting even faster than anyone thought?"

I try, I really do. I fix her with my gentlest, most sympathetic dog look, and I say, "That’s a big problem. A big, big problem. But don’t you think you’d be better able to face it if you did just a little deep panting, and took a nice long look out the window?"

She sighs. "I know, Pika," she says. "The present moment is all we’ve got. According to you and Ram Dass and all those chicken-soup books, not to mention the Buddha and Thoreau. But I don’t have time for any panting or looking around. Didn’t you hear what I just said about the ice sheet?"

That’s usually when she pours herself another cup of coffee, and starts eating chocolate chips straight from the bag.

She’s not listening. In fact, she’s in the next room right now, compulsively checking her e-mail, in a state about God knows what. But I hope the rest of you will give me a chance. I’m not saying you should give up on your good works, or even stop that fretting you humans seem so skilled at. We non-humans want you to clean up your planetary messes, so we need all the guilt and good works you can muster.

I’m only suggesting that you notice when spring slides into summer, when the backyard cactus blooms, and maybe even when the garbageman arrives. You could notice when your neighbor passes by, or, when you sit down to dinner with your family, you could notice how the food tastes. Then, after a brief visit to the present, you could get right back to the uncertain future, resuming your fretting about global warming or the upcoming town council elections. No one would miss you, I promise — and I suspect you’d feel a lot better for your journey.

Take it from someone who lives seven days for every one of yours: Our moments on this earth are numbered, and briefer than any of us can possibly imagine. I believe each one is worth noticing.


Pika lives in Paonia, Colorado, with her family, which includes HCN contributing editor Michelle Nijhuis.