Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, August 21, 2016
Just a couple of hours down the road, there is a sweet little shady honor-system fruit stand, where before me, on a spectacular August-ripe summer day, stands an all-white Australian shepherd, a dog standing so still there is nothing to do but reach down and pat it.
Its owner, picking vegetables and a flower bouquet while keeping her eye on her charge (a baby boy playing with a carrot), tells us the dog is deaf and blind and that, in general, it is a good idea to let any dog sniff your hand before reaching toward it. Retroactively doing as I am told, I ask if it is a puppy. No, she says, the dog is actually 6 years old.
I find myself hypnotized by the quiet presence of the dog — just sort of struck by this animal’s life, eyes scarred and ears never having heard a sound, let alone a dog’s broader-than-human spectrum of them. I stay close, bending down. The owner fills us in on the nature of the rescue — another Aussie shepherd whose health was risked by breeders attempting, against great odds, to get the exceptional white one with blue eyes. Puppies with two merles as parents, usually dogs with an abundance of white in their coats, have a very small chance of being born normal; most are born either deaf or blind or both, and are then put down.
This dog has been adopted instead. She has been living on 40 acres, getting to know every square foot of the property by sense of smell and through the slow process of trusting those who love her.
She moves in miniscule increments in the fruit stand, micro-shifting this way and that like a compass needle, mostly staying put. I am feeling the silence of her world. She doesn’t know how beautiful she is, how little of the normal wear and tear is visible on her body. How thick, white, and wavy her fur is.
What gets me, though, right here and right now, is that she does not see the beauty and mutinous bounty — which can indeed overtake one — of the color-wheeled, sun-drenched, summer-thick world around her.
I buy slicer tomatoes so perfect, I am thinking of a sandwich (made on local brick oven bread I am not supposed to eat) of nothing but tomatoes and mayonnaise, just like the ones I ate as a kid. In the stall, a rainbow of produce is laid out neatly in brown bags, surprising flower bundles line a wall, and through the filtered mid-afternoon light, dust motes seem to be lolling in the air. And outside? Where the dog cannot see, even more?
Outside, it is a banner year in these parts — nothing like it in 20 years according to people who live here. Trees are so laden, it is a wonder they can even support all the heavy flesh of fruit irresistibly dragging branches down weeping-willow style. Staring up from under the peach trees at a u-pick place to the brilliant blue of sky, I feel the thrill of warm fruit ripening so close to me, I can almost hear it. Everything is so lush, so about to burst. In amongst the plums, we gorge a little before virtually holding our baskets up and tapping the beauties in.
In town, wild apricots line the sides of roads in blushing masses, then fall silently into ditches. And at a friend’s neighbor’s tree we find ourselves standing in the equivalent of fruit drifts, apricots so thick on the ground, our flip-flopped feet are sticky, sliding around, squishing the ripe fruit.
I am thinking of the pure white dog surrounded by the glory of the world and unaware of it. What do I know of her experience, though, really? Of her nose’s take on the world, or her heart’s? I know that in some ways what she really reminds me of most of all is me, of the sense of being a privileged human, someone surrounded by all kinds of great bounty and often not even aware of it.
In our readings of beautiful things, this is what we come across today by Pema Chodron, an 80-year-old American woman, Buddhist monk and gem. “What is meant by neurosis is that in limitless, timeless space — with which we could connect at any time — we continually have tunnel vision and lock ourselves into a room and put bolts on the door. When there’s so much space, why do we keep putting on dark glasses, putting in earplugs, and covering ourselves with armor?”
The white dog stays quietly in the stall. Me, I am outside, where — at least at the height of every kind of summer sensory overload — my dark glasses and earplugs are yanked out for a few moments in time.