Though you have considered all the facts.”
–Wendell Berry, “Manifesto: Mad Farmer’s Liberation Front”
My husband and I bought a Great Dane puppy a few years ago. (Think of Marmaduke or Scooby-Doo if you’ve never been around a Great Dane and you have a good idea of what we’re dealing with.) Every morning since we bought her, we take her for a walk, usually along some abandoned railroad tracks behind our house. As she’s grown, we’ve explored more and more of the tracks that go through the woods, through a Catholic retirement community and then to St. Mary’s College.
Ziva (that’s the puppy’s name) loves these walks: since she spends most of time “off-leash” she can explore all sorts of interesting things like rabbits and groundhog holes, mostly empty beer cans, chocolate bar wrappers, and brambly thickets that (apparently) smell very interesting. As fun as the woods are, Ziva’s favorite part of the walk is the many-acre lawn at the entrance to St. Mary’s. After passing through a second bit of the woods that separates the retirement village from the college, the trees open upon a stately expanse of weedless grass, always perfectly raked and mowed to about 3 inches long. Since we walk in the morning, the grass is usually heavy with dew and sparkles in the sun, which is just starting to peak over the trees. Edged by thick woods on one side and the lovely brick architecture of St. Mary’s, the wide grass is a fabulous place for Ziva to run and play.
Since she has been big enough to walk that far, Ziva has loved arriving at this lawn. As she sits there, looking across the grass and waiting to be released, her hind-legs quiver with anticipation. The minute we say “OK” she starts down the small hill, nose to the grass, sniffing the earth and licking the dew. Then, burying her nose deeper, she rubs her head in the long, wet grass and does a somersault―a full-on, bum-over-head flip in which she lands on back and then wriggles into the grass before getting up and starting all over again. Across the entire lawn she will repeat this process of rolling and wallowing in grass, looking up at us after each flip and panting with joy.
Watching her pure puppy delight in the wet, grassy newness of the morning, day-after-day, has got me thinking about the whole idea of “praise.” Typically, I think of praise as a verbal affirmation of something, usually a sort of respectable singing to God, telling him how great he is. It can seem a bit removed from reality: an intellectual exercise of affirming the divine in his divinity (as if the almighty needs to hear me tell him he’s great) and an affirmation of my own righteousness (after all, I am singing praise to the divine in an approved religious manner). Or I think of Job: “Though he slayth me, yet shall I praise him.” Or I think of the tradition that all our work and lives are praise but I’m never quite sure what that means, in practice at least. While singing ― in good times and bad― or working with all diligence are perhaps types of praise, Ziva’s rolling in the grass seems to be praise of a different order: it is a visceral delighting in the immediate goodness of creation, as if wallowing in the wet grass, face covered in dew is an active “YES!” to the open lawn stretching out before her.
While it is quite true that the world frequently sucks and terrible things happen pretty routinely, watching Ziva has made me want to adopt a more puppy-like approach to the world I am faced with every day. It would be good to learn to nose-dive into a full, bodily celebration of the good at hand, even when it is as simple and routine as dew and a nicely mowed lawn.
Photography provided by shootingforyou.com.