The dog who devoured Walden

reese the dog with his head on the book Across the Wide Missouri
Reese the dog: bibliophile.

“Books,” Thoreau declares in Walden, “must be read as deliberately and reservedly as they were written.”

reese the dog napping under a bookshelf
‘How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book.’

In his puppyhood, Reese had a voracious yet discerning appetite for books. And if he could have read them as well as literally consumed them, I’m sure he would have. He shared with Thoreau a hardwired curiosity. “It is not all books,” Henry David adds, “that are as dull as the readers.”

miles the dog near kenosha pass
Miles understands that ‘Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.’

Books have provided some solace in the wake of Reese’s passing. I completed the bulk of George Kennan’s undervalued epic, Tent Life in Siberia, a self-deprecating adventure memoir that left me wishing it was even bulkier. The first book I read after Reese’s death was Henry David Thoreau: A Life, the nimble and resplendent new biography by Laura Dassow Walls. The timing was serendipitous; the first book Reese ate was a fancy edition of Walden; or, Life in the Woods, which was richly annotated and featured reproductions of Thoreau’s sketches, and in which I was just nearing “The Bean-Field”.

aspen on kenosha pass colorado
‘Shall I not have intelligence with the earth? Am I not partly leaves and vegetable mould myself?’

“To read well, that is, to read true books in a true spirit, is a noble exercise,” I imagined Reese digesting on multiple levels, “and one that will task the reader more than any exercise which the customs of the day esteem.” He would go on to consume Gary Panter’s Jimbo in Purgatory (which I didn’t get to read), Caleb Carr’s The Alienist (which I did), Jack London’s The Call of the Wild (naturally) and other titles since forgotten.

“Beware,” advises Thoreau in Walden, “of all enterprises that require new clothes.” By this rule alone, dog ownership would seem a virtuous enterprise. But he did not offer counsel on ventures that require new books.

wyatt in the trees near kenosha pass
Wyatt knows there is not ‘safety in stupidity alone.’

Thoreau had no time for a canine companion in his brief life, though his worldview was shaped in part by his encounters with dogs and wildlife (and his observations of the latter’s progressive disappearance): “I like sometimes to take rank hold on life and spend my day more as the animals do. … They early introduce us to and detain us in scenery with which otherwise, at that age, we should have little acquaintance.”

The woods felt a bit hollow, the scenery’s grasp loose, on our first hike without Reese; I missed his intimate observations. But if present and able, he would likely have countered my woe by regurgitating Thoreau: “There can be no very black melancholy to him who lives in the midst of Nature and has his senses still.”

Over the years, I acquired other copies of The Call of the Wild and The Alienist; I can’t afford to replace Jimbo in Purgatory. There remains a void on my shelf for Walden.

wyatt the dog running near kenosha pass
‘The swiftest traveler is he that goes afoot.’
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