“Yes, I look like my grandmother…. And in those moments when a flicker of vanity hits me and I think, ‘Damn, I need a facelift,’ I remind myself that there’s a starving hound someone has abandoned and I must catch it, feed it and restore its confidence in the hound-human bond. So what if I look like hell? My heart is full, and I wish the same for you.” —Rita Mae Brown
“I happen to believe that dogs have souls… because so many dogs, I find, are closer to the human than humans.” —Norman Mailer, On God: An Uncommon Conversation
My brother, Crash, has a story about getting lost in a forest outside of Århus, in Denmark, during a hailstorm. He was in his early twenties at the time, on a no-budget, vagabond tour of Europe. Denmark is such a teensy little country that Crash thought he could just hike around anywhere, without knowing where he was going, and he’d eventually run into a town or the shoreline—but that didn’t turn out to be the case. The forest on the outskirts of Århus is vast, and in the middle of winter with an unanticipated hailstorm obscuring your vision and soaking through your shabby Norwegian thrift store overcoat, I guess it’s kind of easy to lose your way there.
At some point, after the hail had been pelting his blonde head for a good long while, Crash realized he was totally lost. He was also shivering uncontrollably. He thought he might die of exposure out there in the Scandinavian semi-wilderness—an ignominious death, to be sure. He could just see the Danish headlines (although not in actual Danish, since he wasn’t fluent in that language):
Asshole American Tourist Found Dead
Had Kierkegaard Book, But No Compass
He sat down on a low limb under a bushy tree to wait out the worst of the storm, but it only seemed to grow more fierce: hailstones the size of canned peas, mud puddles and coppery drifts of fallen pine needles rapidly turning white with ice. Crash was getting colder and wetter and more miserable with each passing second. He began to rue the day he’d met that dimpled Danish au pair girl in Santa Barbara who’d so sneakily seduced him into visiting her homeland.
Right about then, a big black dog appeared in the woods approximately ten yards ahead of Crash. He could just barely make out the dog’s shape through the curtain of plummeting hail. Crash stood up and walked toward the dog (or wolf, perhaps?) reasoning that, at the very least, being eaten by a wild dog would be more thrilling than freezing to death. It would also make for better Danish headlines:
A Werewolf in Århus?
American Savaged by
Danish Monster Dog
Crash had a job waiting for him as a journalist back in America. He couldn’t help but think in headlines.
The coal-black dog ambled up to Crash and sniffed his outstretched hand. It looked like a burly Bullmastiff—or maybe Cerberus, sans the two auxiliary heads. There was, however, a distinct friendliness about the dog that Crash sensed instantly. He scratched the dog behind its ears and the dog responded by leaning hard against Crash’s thigh and wagging its stumpy tail.
The dog had no collar, but even if it didn’t have a home or owners anywhere close by, Crash figured it knew the lay of the land better than he did at that moment. So when the dog turned and started walking deeper into the forest, indicating with an occasional backward glance at Crash that he should follow, he didn’t hesitate. He trotted after the dog as if it had him on a leash.
They slogged along a sodden deer path for at least a mile under a canopy of evergreens so dense and dark that it provided them with partial shelter as the storm cycled from hail to sleet. At last, through a gap in the trees, Crash saw a brighter light up ahead and he knew there had to be a clearing. It turned out to be a country road. And right across from that road sat an abandoned church.
Crash thought they might go inside the church and dry out for a while, but when the dog got to the church’s arched stone doorway it stopped, too frightened to go inside. Crash thought that was rather odd, but—peeking in through the heavy but unlocked double doors—there was definitely something creepy about the church’s dank, unlit interior (although maybe it was just the sight of all those skinny crucified Christs hanging everywhere). He decided to stay outside with the dog, under the church’s eaves, until the sleet finally slowed to a light drizzle.
The dog set out again and Crash followed. They walked another mile or so, this time along the country road, which led straight to a tidy little commuter train station. Crash thanked the dog after he bought a ticket back to his girlfriend’s house in Aalborg. He felt incredibly sad that he couldn’t take the dog with him. The dog seemed to feel the same way, whimpering plaintively as Crash got on the train. Crash had read a few stories about ghostly black devil dogs—and he would do much further research on the topic when he got back to America—but this dog had been his friend and protector. Perhaps even his savior.
Since that time, Crash, not surprisingly, has had an inordinate fondness for dogs of all sorts—especially black ones. He recently wrote in his own blog about an extreme, months-long case of insomnia that he experienced right around the time my book about him was published (see Crash on Crash), but what he neglected to tell his readers was that his insomnia ended just one day after his wife brought home a new black puppy to keep him company.
So does Crash think that his puppy has a Buddha-nature? Does he believe that God works in mysterious dogs?
You bet he does.