Last Friday my wife and I took a walk through the neighborhood, and down to the campus of Eastern University. An overnight snowfall had blanketed all the lawns and streets and roofs. It wasn’t the nihilistic whiteness of the albino whale that Ishmael talked about, but a plush, powdery covering that seemed to radiate peace.
I guess that interpretation relies on the fact that I wasn’t depressed that day. Snow is less reassuring to me when I’m bummed out. Then its early whiteness just seems what Ishmael calls “the visible absence of color,” evoking the idea of a larger, even cosmic nothingness, and I’m quick to anticipate the sea change to sooty, slushy grays.
I’m grateful that I wasn’t thinking that way on Friday. We crossed a bridge where an icy pond fed into a stream, a waterfall swashing over big rocks below, and trudged through a stand of trees until we could see the university’s baseball field.
Right where the center-fielder will be standing a few months from now, the profile of a black dog stood out sharp against the long white.
This dog stood tensed and alert as if awaiting instructions from its master. It fooled us at first. We looked for its owner but no one was there. Maybe this was Godot’s dog.
Then we noticed how still it was.
We slid down a bank, humped through big drifts and across the field to check it out. The alert hound was actually a flat black plastic decoy, spring-loaded so it could turn in a breeze.
Dangling from its neck was a little tag that said WatchDogGoosepatrol.com. I looked up the company when we got home. Their product is apparently an effective way of keeping those Canadian honkers from hanging out and crapping on your field or knoll. What the scarecrow is to crows, this black dog is to geese.
A couple things struck me. First, the fact that it was a black dog, a pairing of species and hue famous as a metaphor for depression. Years ago I read Churchill’s Black Dog, Kafka’s Mice, Anthony Storr’s incisive book about depression in people of high achievement. And I’d been thinking about this metaphor a lot in the previous few days, after coming across Brad Feld’s insightful post about how he dealt with his depression. He mentioned the black dog idea, and embedded a brilliant video that uses the metaphor to illustrate important dimensions of the disease. (See the video at the end of this post.)
The second thing that struck me was that this dark bowwow standing sentry in center-field was a mere decoy, a snoop doggy fraud that never actually put those buffaloed geese in jeopardy. Okay, he scares the birds witless and keeps the field shitless. But this hound will never hunt.
The black dog of depression can be like that too. Hulking, harrowing, mean and menacing, but ultimately a hornswoggling mongrel phantom. Thoroughly deceptive in the way he crouches there and growls his lies about who you are and what your life means and what you’re capable of.
I grew up with dogs and I love them. But this one ain’t no faithful Lassie or Benji or Scooby-Doo. He’s a false Fido, a cozening Cujo, a Rin-Tin-Tinhorn.
We need to keep that in mind. Sure, it’s still scary when his gargantuan shadow slides across you, when those dead eyes glare and that huge slavering maw opens wide. But the more we deepen our awareness of this hellhound’s deceptive ways, the more we can defang him, the less power he’ll have over us.
And as the guy in the video below points out, you might actually teach this old dog a few new tricks that can make him less intractable. Work at it and you’ll get to the point that his tail ain’t wagging you.
He may never leave permanently, but you’ll get better at bringing him to heel. You’ll send him running, and he might even fetch back resources you can use to help yourself or others who are struggling with their own oppressive mutts.
You ain’t no gullible goose. Don’t let him be your alpha dog.