A Dog Looks at Life (and Politics)

For many years it was believed that dogs only saw in black and white. This saddened me, thinking that our canine companions with their heightened sense of hearing and smell were destined to live in a world where everything appears in shades of grey. More recent behavioral tests have shown that dogs perceive some of the color spectrum, but to a much lesser degree than humans. I’m not sure why, but I take comfort in the knowledge that dogs can see some colors.


Most of the schools around us will start classes again next week. I have very vivid memories of those back-to-school days, especially during my grade school years. The beginning of a new school year also meant a new pair of sneakers. Lacing up those shoes for the first time, with their fresh-out-of-the-box rubber soles, taking a few exploratory steps then bounces, made you feel like you could run faster and jump higher than any kid had ever done. Another clear and pleasant memory was getting that new, pristine, 24, 48 or 64-count box of Crayola crayons. It was a sensory overload with a scent unique to a newly opened box of crayons and a visual treat of perfectly pointed and unsullied colors, surely capable of creating any masterpiece the coming grade would require.

Alas, as I got older a new pair of shoes, became just a new pair of shoes … containing no superpowers. I gained the knowledge that my brain interprets the reflected light of different wavelengths from objects as colors and a new box of crayons became less magical.


My grandson went through a stage where he wanted to put hot sauce on everything from eggs, to french fries, to hamburgers. From a culinary perspective, this is very immature. Fortunately, he soon outgrew that. Life (and dining) is not a choice between unseasoned oatmeal or hot sauce, it is a wonderful mix of nuances and subtleties.

This same grandson told me that he didn’t like onions. I listed off several of his favorite dishes and told him that they all contained onions. He seemed surprised.

“You probably don’t like raw onions,” I said, handing him a sliver of an onion that I was dicing.

He gamely took a bite then quickly said, “No, not a fan.”

I tossed the diced onions into the skillet with a little olive oil and sautéed them until they became translucent, filling the kitchen with a wonderful aroma. I offered him a small spoonful for tasting.

He nodded thoughtfully then said, “Better.”

I reduced the heat, added a little butter, slowly stirring until the onions became caramelized.

“Wow,” he said, “Totally different.”

One onion does not fit all situations. Caramelized onions would be terrible in guacamole and raw onions would ruin a good French onion soup. There is room for all types of onions.


There is a function in Adobe Photoshop to convert an image with multiple shades of grey into an image with only black or white pixels. One of those options is called the 50% threshold. If you choose that option every pixel above 50% grey becomes black, and every pixel below 50% grey becomes white. For those pixels at 53% or 47%, there is no negotiation, there is no moderate position, they are assigned to one extreme or another. Increasingly this is where our political landscape is taking us. Admittedly I have a few issues that I perceive as black or white. One of those is the sanctity of human life. I believe that human life is precious throughout every age and every stage. On this issue, there are no shades of grey for me, it is literally a matter of life and death. There are other issues where I have strong opinions but accept the possibilities of other options. Further down are issues that I am attempting to research and investigate, but have no firm opinion yet.


The centrifuge of the media attempts to spin us faster and faster towards opposite ends of the political spectrum; oatmeal on one end, hot sauce on the other, raw onions on one end, caramelized on the other, black pixels vs. white pixels, red states move to the right, blue states please take your position on the left. Moderation has ceased being a virtue and is now portrayed as a weakness.


Mimsy and I take our final walk of the night. It is late summer and I soak in the sounds, smells, and sights of the cornucopia of life that surrounds us. The synchronized rise and fall of the cicadas’ chorus has given way to the chirps of crickets and songs of tree frogs. In the distance is the drone of a lawnmower as someone attempts to take advantage of the last rays of dusky light to finish their lawn care. The night breeze carries the sweet smell of new-mown grass. Twilight has muted the colors of our landscape that would have been bright and brilliant just a few hours ago. I wonder if this is how Mimsy views the world at midday, the new box of crayons reduced to muted colors.


I dread the coming winter as much as I dread the coming election. The nuances and subtleties of summer’s growth, sounds and life will give way to a 50% threshold of dead branches against a cloudless sky.

“Let’s go home Mimsy,” she understands the command and does a 180.

I shut the door softly behind us. She is a creature of routines and can’t wait to go to bed (though she has slept most of the day). I unbuckle her harness and she dashes upstairs.

I step briefly back on the front porch, leaning forward, palms pressed against the porch rail. As if on cue, fireflies started to dance above the lawn.

Yes, winter is coming … but so is spring.

Peace, Poppy

Late Night Porch Meditations

It was a beautiful Labor Day weekend in famous Ferguson. The temperature dropped and I took the opportunity to retire to the front porch after dinner. The katydids, crickets and tree frogs were in fine form, serenading me with the background murmurs of the cars running up and down Elizabeth Avenue. The air had a hint of autumn, a foreshadowing of seasons to come. The trees in our neighborhood had long abandoned their frivolous bright green hues of spring and donned more somber shades of deep green with hints of brown. The maids of May Day had become dowagers in just a few short months.

Earlier that day, I sat on the same porch, finished reading a book and laid it on the table in front of me. It was Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley. When I decided to change the focus and name of this blog to “Poppy Walks the Dog”, I thought the least I could do was review some real writers who had a focus on dogs.

James Thurber was the first to come to mind, His “Snapshot of a Dog” remains one of my favorites. If you are not familiar with Thurber, check out his writings and cartoons.

Steinbeck was next on the list. It has probably been 25 years since I first read, Travels with Charley. It recounts Steinbeck’s 1960 lap around America, with his dog, Charley. The motivation was in Steinbeck’s words, “To find our what Americans are like today.” Like many of Steinbeck’s writings, it is both melancholy and hopeful. His journey was around the edges of the United States and encompassed nearly 10,000 miles.

What are Americans like today?

As one little guy sitting in the heartland, with my own perspectives and prejudices, I’m not qualified to answer that. We are certainly more diverse than we were in 1960. Our technology has certainly changed. We are blessed/cursed to have the internet and social media. We have the ability to be petty much more efficiently than in 1960.

Are we more divided? The media keeps telling us how we are such a divided nation. We are certainly just as political. Part of Steinbeck’s journey took him back to his hometown of Monterey, California, where he had time to spend with his sisters. This was against the backdrop of the upcoming presidential election, pitting Kennedy against Nixon.

Civil war is supposed to be the bitterest of wars, and surely family politics are the most vehement and venomous. I can discuss politics coldly and analytically with strangers. That was nor possible with my sisters. We ended each session panting and spent with rage. On no point was there any compromise. No quarter was asked or given.

Each evening we promised, “Let’s just be friendly and loving. No politics tonight.” And ten minutes later we would be screaming at each other. “John Kennedy was a so and so …”

“Well, if that’s your attitude, how can you reconcile Dick Nixon?”

“You talk like a Communist.”

“Well you sound suspiciously like Genghis Khan.”

It was awful. A stranger hearing us would have called the police to prevent bloodshed. And I don’t think we were the only ones. I believe this was going on all over the country.”

What are Americans like today? Are we better or worse than in 1960?

I believe the answer is a resounding, yes! We are better and worse than in 1960. Part of Steinbeck’s lap of America took him through the deep south at the beginnings of the civil rights movement. Many of those affairs make the recent Charlottesville events look like a Sunday School picnic. We have made a lot of progress since then. We are not perfect, but we are certainly moving in the right direction.

As a race, we humans are fundamentally flawed. We will never be perfect, hate will always be a force to be reckoned with. It won’t matter who we elect or what laws we pass, utopia will never be achieved.

But for tonight,  I’m just a guy sitting on his front porch on a Labor Day weekend with his dog and I’m okay with that.