It takes patience to walk a beagle. It is not an exercise for the terminally rushed, nor is it for those who want to cover a lot of ground and work up a sweat. Beagles have other agendas.
It doesn’t take long being out with a beagle before you recognize that they perceive a very different world than we do. They walk constantly back-and-forth, one side of the path to the other, backtracking, wandering off to explore hidden paths beyond our perception. If the beagle is on a leash, its human will be stopping every few feet to let it smell some message on a running bulletin board we would otherwise have no clue about. Twigs, blades of grass, mailboxes, curbs, shrubs—-all have their notes from others who have passed before. All must be read. Then, of course, the beagle will add a few drops of its own gossip and scrape a little dirt and grass over it before the walk can continue. A few feet later, the scenario repeats.
Our beagle, Bonita, likes to be outside with us, but her backyard is not our backyard. I don’t know what she sees, hears, and smells out here, but she must have an entirely different picture of the world than we do, her own tiny snapshot that differs greatly from our own.
We—all of us—beagles, people, all living things, experience so little of the vast whole. For example, we humans see only a very limited range of the “light” that is there, a piddling band of frequencies between infrared and ultra-violet, missing out completely on most of the vast range of energies, like radio waves or microwaves (although we do a little better than dogs in this regard). Our hearing isn’t so great, either—it’s common knowledge that dogs can hear much higher pitched sounds than we can, up to three times higher, not to mention sounds that are just too faint for human ears to pick up. And let’s not even get into to smells, the beagle’s forte. In that regard, we are beneath canine contempt, hopelessly handicapped, and must be lead around by, well, the nose, for our own safety.
Here’s the thing. When I sit in our backyard it feels like a sensory deluge—-the wind in the trees, the sounds of the insects and birds, a nearby lawnmower, colors, motion everywhere, a few smells I can actually detect (rain coming!), the textures I feel. It’s too much to take in completely. Yet, for all of that, reason tells me that I really perceive almost nothing of what is really there. I can’t follow the invisible pheromone trails that pull insects along through the air. The network of mycorrhizae, carrying chemical pulses through the soil between plants like a inter-species World Wide Web, is out of range to me. The butterfly world of polarized light and ultraviolet flowers must be eerily beautiful, but I just have to try to imagine it. I can’t see the radio or gamma waves the universe is sending through me constantly or hear the drumming of insects to get word to each other about important matters. I can’t trace the paths of migrating species by tracing the unseen lines of the earth’s magnetic field. The equipment just isn’t there.
I’m looking at an infinite world through the tiniest of keyholes, trying to reconstruct an ocean in all its complexity from a drop of spray.
But that’s probably the only way it could be, since I can’t even pay attention to more than a fraction of what I actually detect, anyway. When we humans get really curious about what is out there beyond our ken, we can always use instruments to help, like beagles, compasses, or special microphones and cameras, but we would probably lose our minds if we were long exposed to the raw torrents of information and events that are beyond our senses. Maybe our filters are here so we can attest to the world as we alone see it, our part of the puzzle—the world according to butterfly, beagle and me, all different, all correct.
As it is, I can sit and look at our backyard and, if I don’t think too much about it, pretend that it really is as peaceful as it seems. Bonita is snoozing in a patch of sun. A swallowtail is feeding on a flower. Nice and quiet.