If dogs had national parks, they would be for scents, not sights. They would be everywhere, ever-changing and often fleeting monuments to all the world’s odors. The dog-president and dog-congress would upgrade every being, living or dead, to national park status, and every day would celebrate free admission to the country’s greatest natural treasures.
Puppies would eagerly ask their families when they could revisit Dirty Hole in the Neighbor’s Yard and roll around in it for perhaps four or five minutes (backyard permits required), and maybe, just maybe visit Dead Squirrel at Curbside later on vacation. The Department of the Interior would set up billboards every five feet: “Stunning Amazing Wonders, four feet ahead! …and behind! …and to the left and right! …oh my god they’re everywhere, the world is amazing!” And of course, souvenir park passports would be locked in the depths of every dog’s mind, instantly stamped at no cost.
Educational roadside exhibits would read: “On June 28th, 2016, Bill Johnson dropped an ice cream cone on this street corner. The sticky residue continues to froth in the sun, a staggering ten days later!” Brochures would describe the scent profile of First and Main Hydrant: 4% rust, 10% toddler snot, 22% pee from large breed male dogs (dating back generations), and so on and so forth. Dog park rangers would give tours of Sally Smith’s crotch, particularly when she exits the gym, for that is when her scent is the most pungent. Mythology would arise, as told by campfire beneath the stars: “They say that the native cats still claw at the carcass of the hawk every full moon, keeping its scent fresh as if run over just yesterday.”
Of course, every dog would sleep satisfied knowing that the nation’s greatest treasure is the one deep within their own butthole.
In Prague last summer, I was fortunate enough to make the acquaintance of a good-natured soul, a sharp-witted optimist, a master pianist and composer from Israel. This young man was also blind, although not entirely. He could make out light, darkness, and color, but struggled with any sort of definition. We often needed to help him walk outside, lest he trip over a curb or walk in front of a tram, and it was always a pleasure to be in his company.
Yet while walking in one of Europe’s most beautiful cities, about what else could we talk but beauty?
Oh, can you make out that cathedral?
It is beautiful isn’t it?
Yes, very beautiful.
There is the Vltava; can you make out its sapphire shimmer as it weaves by the pillars of the stone bridges?
Oh yes, I think I can, it’s very nice.
And what we see as ripples of water pushing against garden-like embankments with people picnicking beneath an Old World cityscape, he sees as a cloud of blue meeting a cloud of green with a cloud of red hovering somewhere above a cloud of gray.
Among us internationals was a beautiful Russian woman of astonishing talent and pure heart. She spent every day at his side, helping him across the city, up staircases, and into and out of restaurants. As our time together drew to a close, we dined in an underground pub with live folk musicians performing at the end of an otherwise crowded dinner hall. She asked him to dance.
Nobody was dancing. There wasn’t a dance floor. This was an act of courage. And clearly, he was not a dancer.
But they danced the night away, her guiding him away from chairs and walls and guests and occasionally the musicians themselves, and the whole restaurant looked on jealously as the clumsy blind man danced with the most beautiful woman in the room.
But to him, she must’ve looked not unlike everybody else: a blur, a cloud of flesh and clothes, some more colorful than others, but none too distinct. His lack of sight allowed him to experience other beautiful traits of hers: her attentiveness to his needs, the feeling of her hand touching his arm guiding him to where he needed to be, the comforting sound of her voice, the smell of her hair, the feel of her breath, and other such things [that perhaps sound kinda creepy to a sighted person, but surely we are missing out on the whole experience a human being has to offer by relying solely on sight. After all, do we not have five senses?].
What would the Grand Canyon be to a blind man?
Not too long ago, I sat atop my favorite oaken knoll looking out over the San Francisco Bay, and I thought about how beautiful I found this place of respite and meditation. The golden grasses waved waist-high with the wind, and gnarled oaks dotted the landscape until, towards the West and South, it morphed into a forest littered with redwood groves, and to the East, it infiltrated the suburbs down to the bayshore (and beyond, the stark brown Diablo Range to the horizon, sometimes green with the winter rains). To the North, one could barely see San Francisco and Oakland, and a series of bridges connecting the two opposing halves of an otherwise unwieldy metropolis.
And to a blind man, it all means nothing. So I closed my eyes.
I could hear the surrounding birds chirping, interrupting the sounds of crickets, cicadas, flies, and whatever other insects help weave the fabric of sound which engulfs us. There was an electric hum, cars drove by, wind blew, and people chattered in the distance.
And to a deaf man, it all means nothing. So I stopped listening.
I felt the cool wind against my skin. It was crisp, dry, and refreshing. The sun was warm against half of my face, but my skin soon felt as though it were burning. My feet pressed in my shoes on uneven ground. I felt a tree, and the bark was rough.
And if I were numb?
It smells like dirt. Maybe some horse manure. It surely tastes like something inedible.
And without taste and smell, it becomes nothing.
As we come up in this world, we evaluate it according to our senses, for what other choice do we have?
We desire to revere beauty, to praise fine cuisine, to spend good money on massages, silk and satin, mud bathes, and music, and to surround ourselves with a collection of handcrafted candles. These things are good because our senses declare it to be so, but why do we accept our senses as an objective truth?
I would like to think that most conflict in this world is a matter of aesthetic differences. You displease me because you prefer spicy vegetables, whereas I prefer mild dairy products. You displease me because your preferred music involves steel guitar, whereas my preferred music involves electric guitar. Your culture displeases my culture because your culture wears baseball caps, whereas my culture wears scarves. Your nation displeases my nation because it speaks with a language that contains too many consonants and our nation prefers a higher ratio of vowels.
But if we take away our senses, we stand as nothing more than pillars of a mysterious, indescribably dark consciousness, lost and alone. Our ability to perceive beauty is what allows us to also be offended by our differences. Disgust and disdain are mere side-effects of having the gift and pleasure of perception. Let us not speak too ill of them.
I do not find comfort in knowing that the beauty of my little oaken knoll is not universal. My senses are the only truth I have.
There has to be something beyond what we can perceive, something beyond what our five measly and superficial senses can evaluate. Whether this be God or Cosmic Energy or some sort of ethereal resonance shared between all things, I don’t know, but I wish I could devote my life to its revelation, or rather devote whatever life is left beyond the daily distractions of work, sports, cartoons, food, shelter, health, and other such trivial matters. Perhaps these distractions are designed to keep us away from pursuing what might be such uncomfortable truths.
But no. I insist: we must seek to find something valuable in us, in our surroundings, in our existence beyond what our senses can perceive. I refuse to believe that this which I can touch and taste and see is all there is, that with us so too vanishes the world as we deem fit to cherish. Perhaps this is the pursuit of divinity, of spirituality, or meaning, or purpose, or love, or peace, or something for which we do not yet nor should have words.