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Outside of Language

I run a fine-toothed brush from Adriana’s ruff to tail over and over, pulling out handfuls of short white hairs with every stroke. Ade sits between my legs on the porch. She stretches her shiny pink nose towards the sun so that I can reach under her neck. It’s her sweet spot. Around us, a breeze ruffles, birds tweet, squirrels bicker, a hawk screeches. The countryside isn’t quiet. But, it is peaceful because like my dogs nature exists outside of language. And right now, there’s nowhere I’d rather be.

Woods surround our house on three sides. A two-lane country road runs in front. Across the street, ragweed, thistle, and wildflowers bloom in an empty field. We can see our closest neighbor’s house during the winter, but in late spring the foliage grows as thick as it does in a rainforest. I never knew so many shades of green existed until I moved to rural Tennessee. Sometimes, it feels like we live in a green cocoon.

Since quarantine, I’ve been brushing the dogs more than ever. One, it gives me a sense of accomplishment. Every stroke yields results. But more importantly, being outside with my dogs is one of the only spaces where I can escape language, where I can escape the overwhelming clatter of current events. A recent BBC article said in utopia newspapers wouldn’t sell very well. Lately, I’ve been reminding myself of that fact a lot.

Ade’s eyes grow heavy. I can’t blame her. We just finished our four-mile walk. She fights it, struggling to stay awake because she wants to feel the sensation of being brushed, the sensation of warm sunshine. She wants to smell that breeze with its hint of wild honeysuckle. Eventually, she can’t resist any longer and sinks onto the deck. She communicates all of this to me without using a single word. With Ade and I, words never interfere. And without words lying is impossible.

In Euphoria, Lily King calls language an unreliable sense, and I couldn’t agree more. For a society that preaches actions speak louder than words, we often do the exact opposite. But it’s never that way with my dogs. In their world, actions are all that matter, and honesty is one the byproducts.

I’ve tried to lie to Ade before. On days I’m leaving for a work trip, I pull out my luggage, pack it, and drag it to the car when she is fully absorbed in a peanut butter Kong on the deck. Yet, she knows I’m leaving. She might not know when, but she knows it will happen. And her serious, sometimes anxious behavior proves it. When words disappear so does that unreliable narrator, a filter that consciously or not influences every word we use and every word we hear.

A squirrel leaps from one branch to another, whipping his tail for balance. Ade lifts her head, glances at the squirrel, then drops back down. She’s too sleepy to care about a squirrel right now, which means she’s really really tired. Her loose fur collects in tufts in the porch’s nooks and crannies. The breeze catches them. They pirouette through the air and twirl into the woods. In a few months, we’ll find these same tufts in birds’ nests. Mason once said he loves nature because it is what it is. There’s no agenda. I could say the same thing about my dogs.