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Maybe James Brown Would Know

This article appears in the Nov./Dec. 2001 issue of Quail Unlimited Magazine

Imagine a day that begins and ends pretty much like the day before. Same basic routine of wake up, go about your daily tasks, eat, sleep, repeat. If variety is indeed the spice of life, this day would taste about like typing paper. The same meal at the same time in the same place. Spend sunup to sundown in the same surroundings and then lie down at night in the same spot. The weather may vary slightly and chance people may drift in and out leaving little lasting impression, but all in all there is not a whole lot to differentiate one day from another.

Such a routine would make anything slightly out of the ordinary seem extraordinary, reminiscent of 19th century small towns when the weekly train would blow through. The people of these towns all knew exactly what time to expect the locomotive to come steaming past with its procession of passenger and box cars. No one sent out a memo or made rounds on the telephone to remind the residents that tomorrow was THE day; the townspeople just knew that train was coming on Thursday.

Now imagine what it would be like if you didn't have the benefit of a calendar; all you had was a strange sense that tomorrow might be different. Some funny feeling or premonition stirred bits and pieces of your mind that had lain dormant for many months and for no explainable reason familiar sights, sounds, and smells began to interrupt your thoughts. Especially that sulphurous aroma of gunpowder, short-lived but pungent as sour milk. Psychiatrists will tell you that scent is one of the most powerful memory triggers, kindling thoughts of holidays, random acquaintances, old jobs, small rooms in large buildings and other non-sequitir times and places.

All of this feeds an uneasy sentiment inside. You get that edgy sort of feeling that kids get the day before Christmas. Nothing can make it go away. Nothing can occupy your attention for more than a few minutes before you get uncomfortable and anxious and impatient and just wish that it were tomorrow already. Yet you are totally helpless.

Several days before quail season opens, I notice this same sort of behavior in both my dog and me. I've never done anything even remotely resembling a scientific study of this phenomenon, and it's probably a good thing I haven't. I have a hunch (or a theory, since we're speaking scientifically) that all I would wind up with is a lot of wasted time. I'd prove something that I already know, which is that guys like me get really excited as opening day approaches because we know the goodies that wait for us on the other side of sunrise. And I'd still be scratching my head about what I don't know, which is how in the world a dog knows that opening day is approaching.

I don't doubt that my dog has a fairly good vocabulary. For a dog. He knows what "outside" and "treat" and "no" and a number of other words mean. He is also familiar with several expressions like "quit begging" and "get off the bed". And he puts two and two together virtually every day when he sniffs the pants I put on. Dress pants mean I'm going to work and he heads directly for the back door. Casual pants mean I'm likely to stay around the house, so he jumps back on the bed. Brush pants mean we're going hunting, and he comes uncorked. But he doesn't know how to read a calendar and nothing in his vocabulary explains how he knows that opening day is approaching. I don't talk about it, to him anyway. I don't wander around in my brush pants during the week of Thanksgiving. So what gives it away?

There are many, many people who argue that dogs are incapable of thought and reasoning as we know it. They stand firm behind their opinion that a dog's actions are the direct result of instruction, conditioned response, trial and error, crime and punishment (can anyone find a difference between this and the causes of human actions?) and as such, dogs are incapable of rational thought. The capability of rational thought being their prerequisite for a soul, they conclude that dogs have no soul. And to me, that is quite a troubling thought.

This world is filled with the unexplained and unexplainable. Somewhere among the UFOs and writing spiders sits a dog who knows that opening day is upon him. Possibly that superior sense of smell detects an aroma of gunpowder or brush pants or even a small covey percolating somewhere between his nose and his frontal lobe. Or maybe he has some sort of internal calendar, far more advanced than anything we can conceive, that tells him with Swiss-watch precision what day it is. Or maybe he just has a really good hunch. Once a year, every year.

A fourth possibility considers that any of the aforementioned would qualify as incidents above and beyond mere rational thought. Now if rational thought is a prerequisite for the existence of a soul, wouldn't something above and beyond rational thought also qualify as soul-worthy? I'm sure you could find arguments against this, mainly from those belligerent beings for whom debate is a vocation, but from where I sit a soul is a lot more than rational thought. A soul is capable of guilt, compassion, anticipation, sadness, imagination, content, unbridled enthusiasm, endless patience, and host of other traits that I display only rarely. And a soul knows, without being told, that tomorrow is opening day.




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