This is an essay about territory and how we mark it, so how appropriate that it opens with a dog. As some of you may know, I have a companion named Pixel, whom I have owned, loved and cared for since she was about 8 weeks old. Pixel is a mixed breed mutt, but just exactly what her lineage is I’m not sure. The man who was giving away the puppies from the back of the old Ford pickup truck told me she was Rottweiler and German shepherd, and that sounded like a good combo to me, as they would both be metric dogs. I picked Pixel from a batch of eight because she was the only dog who hadn’t had her tail docked. When I asked the man why not, he could only answer “I don’t know.” He was not a loquacious fellow, so as you can see some questions about her lineage and ancestry remain.
What I have been able to confirm is that the bastard lied, there’s not a drop of Rottie blood in Pixel! Rather, as you can see for yourself above, the enormous quantity of her long and silky fur leads inescapably to the conclusion that she is a mix of German shepherd and some other longhair breed, most likely collie.
When she sheds twice yearly, Pixel produces amounts of undercoat that are not merely amazing but alarming. My ex-housemate Cay jokingly dubbed this dense-as-felt fur floof. What makes the situation worse is that the dog is disinclined to let me brush her to the extent necessary to keep her coat in order. To keep her groomed, I have taken to plucking the fur from her at odd moments. She usually tolerates this up until she turns around and mouths the offending hand, at which point I quit.
What to do with the leftover lumps of floof is not a problem indoors, I simply throw them in the kitchen trash can along with other non-recyclable items. (I did at one point investigate the possibility of having Pixel’s floof made into something wearable, like a scarf, but a local weaver I consulted told me the fibers weren’t quite long enough.) But it was what I did with the floof I plucked off Pixel when we were outside, on our twice-daily walks, that caused me to re-think my behavior.
On these walks I often, in fact always, notice the trash that my neighbors throw out alongside the road, most frequently beer cans and occasionally bottles, wrappers and bags. The occasional dirty diaper is not unknown. I live by choice in a rural, low-density, low-traffic neighborhood, so such visual pollution is all the more obnoxious to me. You might argue that the landscape is already despoiled with Brazilian pepper and Australian pines, and I would not be able to argue with you, but I would ask, why add further to its ruination with trash?
Given as I am to over-analyzing everything, I wondered at the motives of those who throw their beer cans out the window. This road is a dead-end loop, so whoever the beer can throwers are must live here, they are not passing through. I know they are residents because, even though I pick up the beer cans, new ones appear with great frequency and regularity.
Of course, one motive to get rid of your beer can back here is to do so before you reach the main road, which is more frequently patrolled by our stalwart Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office. This applies if you were drinking when you left home. But were there not other, possibly even unconscious motives?
What, I wondered, if tossing a beer can out the window of a passing pickup truck was like a dog lifting its leg to piss on a fire hydrant or tree trunk, a way of marking or delineating territory? After all, if I can dump my trash in your territory with impunity, then in a sense, don’t I own it? It’s a childish act of subversion, a disruptive intrusion into the common visual space we all must share. Aluminum beer cans take anywhere from 200-500 years to decompose. When I pick them up on our walks and take them home, I recycle them along with most of the rest of my waste stream.
I always felt morally superior to the knuckle-dragging redneck louts who despoiled my precious environment with their beer cans. I wanted to give them a piece of my mind; in fact, some days I wanted to feed them a knuckle sandwich. To clean their proverbial clocks. Usually I just pick up the cans and remind myself to pick my battles carefully, I have to live with these people after all. In fact, I’m in the dark as to which of my neighbors it might be, there’s about two dozen dwellings on this loopy street. I keep theorizing it’s primarily one repeat offender, but I don’t know for sure.
Then, while I was out one day, something other than beer cans caught my eye. It was a large clump of Pixel’s floof that I had removed from her coat… several weeks before. Maybe even a few months. A long time, at any rate, far longer than anything organic had a right to exist untouched. It was wet and dirty but intact. The proteins that make up hair must be incredibly durable and stable, as nothing seems to break them down!
As I continued on my walks I began to notice more and more clumps of fur that I had pulled out of Pixel and left strewn around the neighborhood as tell-tale indicators of our passing. They were not decaying. They were not being used by birds to line their nests. They were not magically disappearing. Weren’t they really just as obnoxious as the beer cans? In spite of the fact that they were organic, rather than metallic, I was forced to conclude that they were every bit just as much of an eyesore and a pollutant to the environment!
Worse yet, I had to admit that I was just as much under the influence of an unconscious need to litter as the guy with the beer cans. I too needed to mark my territory, I just did it with something soft and fuzzy rather than cold and hard. I felt a distressing sense of moral equivalency.
With this realization, I began to pick up what remaining pieces of floof I could, along with the beer cans and bottles. I can report the neighborhood looks a little better, and my sense of moral superiority has returned. After all, I don’t see the rednecks getting out of their Chevy S10’s to pick up their beer cans! I have learned a valuable lesson about self-righteousness: It doesn’t matter if it’s warm, fuzzy and organic if you’re making a mess with it!