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The Heron's Nest

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Volume IV, Number 12: December 2002.
Copyright © 2002. All rights reserved by the respective authors.

Editors' Choices • Commentary • Haiku Pages: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 • Index of Poets

Heron's Nest Award

      winter nears –
      in the dog's eyes
      the wolf

                                            Billie Wilson

      In 1993, dogs were reclassified as a subspecies of wolf (Canis lupus familiarus). Technically, the oft-used term “wolf hybrid” is incorrect. The word most accurately describing the more recent wolf/dog crosses is simply “wolfdog.”

      Although all dogs are subspecies of wolves, I will not linger on an image of Billie Wilson's “wolf” as a chihuahua. I prefer to envision it as a malamute, a husky, or samoyed. For a little fun, however, try inserting your own choices of breed (try several) in place of the word “dog's” in this poem. I have, and I discovered that each breed appreciably changes the feel of the experience. The sort of dog each of us sees is not so important though. Specificity is a desirable quality in haiku, but not always, and this poem is a case in point. If Billie had designated a particular breed of dog, the poem would have been weakened in two ways. First, we readers wouldn't be allowed the opportunity to imagine the dog for ourselves. Second, the resonance struck by using a generic name would be all but lost. “Dog's” allows us an intuitive realization: with the approach of winter, the primitive nature in all living things tends to come to the surface, compelled by the natural instinct to survive.

      How interesting it is that the 23-degree tilt of Earth's axis, in conjunction with its orbit around the sun, accounts for all of the seasonal changes. From winter solstice to summer solstice an expansion takes place, a great inhaling. Light increases, energy increases, seeds sprout, animals give birth, life burgeons and matures. From summer solstice to winter solstice there's a contraction, a six-month exhalation. Light and energy decrease, life-giving fluids no longer reach to extremities, and things begin to dry and to shrivel. There is a drawing inward, and more and more the focus is on self-preservation.

      Billie Wilson lives in Alaska, a place that is still very wild. Winters there are long and harsh. One must be resourceful to survive in such a climate, both physically and emotionally. It's easy to go stir-crazy when the mercury drops way down, the sun barely rises (or doesn't rise at all), and one is compelled to spend much time inside. Relationships are put to the test.

I can see this in the eyes of Billie's dog. Here is a pet accustomed to having its needs provided by humans: a bowl of food once or twice a day, the water bowl filled regularly, and a soft pad to sleep on. Leftovers may also be offered, perhaps a bone to gnaw. And then there's the pleasure of being petted. In short, dogs often lead pretty cushy lives. But deep inside the tamest of pets is something perfectly primitive, something that will invariably come to the surface as circumstances warrant.

      This poem reminds me of a story about two Buddhist monks looking up at a flag. One says that the flag is moving; the other argues that it's the wind. When their teacher happens by, they ask him to settle the matter. “Neither of you is right,” the teacher says, “It is mind that moves.” So, is it wolfness in the dog's eyes, or is it winter? Are winter and the wolf in the dog's eyes or the poet's?

      By pointing to one specific manifestation of winter's approach, Billie Wilson effectively reveals not only the movement from one season to another, but the entire cycle of seasons. She points to the constancy of change.



Christopher Herold
December 2002

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