“My kind of dog,” writes William Stafford, “unimpressed by dress or manner, just knowing what’s really there by the smell.”
April, says the Academy of American Poets, is National Poetry Month. I didn’t put the slashes into the previous paragraph, thereby indicating poetic lines, because I’m aware that most people do not consider themselves fans of poetry.
It’s a little like history, which most people also say they don’t like. Unless it involves guns (speaking for the male sector) or quilts (considering the female sector). Hey, I don’t make these stereotypes, I just observe them.
So, sneaking that poetic stanza into my first paragraph, I put a dog into it, too, for the sake of near-universal appeal. My particular dog loves this time of year. Snow cover is so boring, because it has no smell. Now there are gophers and night crawlers and an infinite variety of fascinating scents on the ground, creating great interest even for a beast who is half-blind. An old dog, I mean, which is the best kind.
It is impossible to tell how many dogs per capita there are, or even how many dogs there are, on the plains or in any state of the plains, because of variations and gaps in registration. National statistics say 37% of households have dogs, which I’m sure is an under-estimate.
I’m also sure that the prairie states have more dogs per capita that the country overall, because of the high levels of gun ownership, which indicate high levels of participation in hunting, which requires hunting dogs.
Who inevitably, more quickly than we do, get old, and that brings me back to Bill Stafford and his poem, entitled “Choosing a Dog.” Stafford is the greatest poet of the Great Plains, a prairie boy, a prairie man. He has roots in Hutchinson, Kansas, and I love his poem about the prairie dog town on the edge of that city—one town alongside another. The poem of his I love best, though, is “At the Un-National Monument along the Canadian Border,” about a grassland crossing between the US and Canada, which I always image to be the lonely outpost of Portal, North Dakota.
Except that right now my favorite poem of Stafford’s is his dog poem, which begins with puppy love and concludes with an old dog by the fire, whom I see as my old hunting companion.
And sometimes when they look in the fire
they see time going on and someone alone,
but they don’t say anything.
Maybe one more season, I hope.