peaceful Sunday walk on the beach was interrupted by a small boy
who came running at me, screaming, pursued by a small fuzzy dog.
I snatched him up and he clung to me as the pooch ran round and around
us, barking--no menace to me, but a terrible fright for this child
with shiny black hair, perhaps six years old. Whose dog was this?
Some distance away, a teenaged couple was sauntering along the waterline.
Neither of the pair seemed to have noticed the chase or heard the
boy. After a bit, the little dog ran to join them. Meanwhile, from
the opposite direction came a woman with a shawl over long dark hair
and a girl who looked to be about ten. "My brother's scared of dogs,
the girl said. I tried to explain that this dog probably just wanted
to play. When the little boy calmed down I set him back on his feet.
The couple and their dog had meanwhile crossed the
beach, heading toward the parking area. I raced in pursuit, called
out, and they eventually stopped and turned. "Did you see what
just happened? I demanded. Her reply was: "Oh, he only chases
after people who are scared of him. Something wasn't connecting. "That
boy may be scared of dogs for the rest of his life, I said. "And
now he may also be scared to run on the beach. She looked me up and
down coldly. "I
don't care, she said. "Who are you? The morality police?" They
I was angry. How could someone be so callous toward a child? Perhaps
this was just a case of a teenager being oblivious to what was around
her, then reacting defensively to a gray-haired stranger who chased
her down with a reprimand. But as I thought about the incident in
subsequent weeks, it settled into a context.
We live in a culture of exceedingly busy people proceeding on separate
tracks, paying little attention to others they randomly encounter.
On this urban beach, a lot of people run and walk preoccupied with
purpose, be it fitness or sports training, iPods plugged into their
ears even as the waves make soothing music a few feet away. So is
it any wonder that a young person, walking with a friend, doesn't
notice what her dog is doing?
My mother would have said: "That girl was badly
brought up!" But maybe her parents had no time. People in the United
States work longer hours than people in just about any other country
in the world. We are driven. The myth is that we can have everything
we want if we work hard enough and don't let our eyes wander from
our goals. That requires a hard narrow focus and has led to the outsourcing
of much that used to be an integral part of daily life. A parent
on the way home from work might stop at the gym, then pick up a partially
prepared dinner to pop into the microwave. There is no time to cook.
Nor is there time for regular family dinners, when everyone has to
hurry in and out on separate schedules. (At a camp in Marin County,
middle-class children had to learn about passing the potatoes and
waiting until everyone is served before taking a second helping.)
Having it all--house, dog, child, career, physical
fitness--what does that mean? That remodeled kitchen with granite
counters won't create a warm family feeling if nobody cooks.
The fragmentation of daily life is hard to avoid because it's inherent
in the structure of today's society. The hunger for authentic experience
that it creates, however, has sparked a countertrend, evidenced by
interest in sustainable living, farmers' markets, green architecture,
wildlife watching, eco-expeditions, or quests to track what we consume
to its origins, to meet nature face to face. In this issue we feature
an article by Michael Bowen, a city dweller who is a hunter. He tells
why he hunts and why he hopes to take his son along, when he's old
enough. He also writes that the hunting community and non-hunting
conservationists need to seek common ground.
Finding common ground implies sharing, as opposed
to possession or competition. And that usually means compromise.
For each of us to get what we need, we may have to give up some of
what we possess or desire. My daughter was approached on the beach
by a man whose little daughter had been knocked over by a dog. He
asked: "Do you
agree that dogs need to be leashed here?" She thought about that,
considered how she had loved letting her German shepherd run, way
back when there were fewer people, fewer dogs, and few, if any, professional
dog walkers; when we didn't know about the need to protect snowy
plovers. She thought about her little boy and this man's little girl.
"Yes, she said. He asked her to hold up a sign so he could photograph
her with it. "Just signatures are not enough, he said, "we
Yes, faces. Let's look at each other. We might find that we like
what we discover.