Quiet moment at home with Burnsie

On this Memorial Day Weekend 2015 I’m remembering a comedian who helped me see things uncomfortable to see, a funny man whose absence makes the world seem somehow less safe.

Comedian George Carlin died Sunday, June 22, 2008. I miss him. He poked merciless fun at social pretentiousness and made me laugh at my own word-games and inconsistencies. Carlin was my yappy, feisty, ‘terrier’-type comedian and to me the world feels phonier without him.

Comedian George CarlinI read all his books. I went to his live concert in Albuquerque in 1998 and I used to begin my day at breakfast with a daily dose of Carlin humor from his quote-of-the-day calendar.

When people describe Carlin as “irreverent” I think they almost always use the wrong word. They wish to praise his boldness, independence, honesty, and a boisterous contempt for anything pretentious or arrogant, all of which is a part of real reverence — and also very much like the Scottish Terriers I know and love!

Comedian George CarlinReverence, as Paul Woodruff makes plain in his book, Reverence: Renewing a Forgotten Virtue, has more to do with politics than with religion; it has to do with knowing limits and human scale; it has to do with reigning in human power, pride, and ambition.

Reverence is the ground for respect, or disrespect, whichever is appropriate. Reverence calls for respect only when respect is really the right attitude. To pay respect to a tyrant would not be reverent, but weak and cowardly. Comedian George CarlinThe most reverent response to a tyrant is to mock him—and that is precisely what George Carlin did perhaps better than anyone: he mocked the pretentious, the arrogant, the self-satisfied and self-righteous in elites and hierarchies of power … and in my soul. I didn’t always agree with him or share his perspective but I always valued his comedic allergy to all that is phony.

I see that work of puncturing my I-Who-Know-Best pretentiousness as very Scottish Terrier and miniature donkey work. My dogs and donkeys are Carlinesque-figures in my little daily world, challenging my know-it-all control at every turn. Scottish Terrier little black bodies are perpetual question marks over human self-absorption. They confront me with the limits of human power and remind me of the unpretentious beauty of what is basic, simple, and real.

Our world seems less safe to me because a larger-than-life figure is gone who publically mocked pompous human power and hypocrisy in all its forms. We all need reigning-in from runaway pride, greed, and power. We need strong voices to remind us of limits in the international arena, in Congress, in dog clubs, in our own personal illusions of omniscience. I miss George Carlin daily.

The comedian is gone … but his work of challenging human arrogance lives on in my life, at least, in my Scottish Terriers and braying donkeys. They’ve always been superb as Carlinesque puncturers of my vanity.

Long live George’s memory … long live the humbling work in my life of resident Carlinesque Scotties!

George Carlin on \”The American Dream\”

Joseph Harvill, Scottiephile

Quiet moment at home with Burnsie

*Blogger’s Note: My Scottie, Albie, turns 15 this month. Nearly deaf and visually impaired by cataracts, she’s still Matron at Las Golondrinas. To celebrate Albie’s 15th birthday I’m reprinting here a humorous story she “wrote” for Great Scots Magazine in the Sep/Oct issue of 2002. Titled, “Thinking Dog’s Race,” it recounts a memorable race to catch a Roadrunner when she was an agile 2 year-old speedster. You had your many days in the sun, Albie, Old Girl. Enjoy this adventure one more time! JGH

It was inevitable. Call it destiny. Call it crazy. It had to happen. Sure as frapping is written into the DNA of every young Scottie the race of my life was certain.

It all started on the patio of our new place in the country, about 30 miles south of Albuquerque. We were relaxing, taking in the serenity of giant Cottonwoods and open fields when a staccato, clacking sound set me and Willie and Gus on a course that has changed our lives.

I’m Albie, the two-year-old princess-in-charge-of-the-universe at GSM, and I’ve got stories to tell. Last time I wrote these pages I told you about ‘The Adversary,’ the big palomino horse I had to enlighten as to the proper pecking order in this and every other universe. Well, I’ve discovered in the rural Southwest there are not only usual domestic animals a Scottie must educate, there are a host of wild critters totally illiterate as far as the proper order of things, and most of all, completely in the dark as to who is supposed to give the orders!

New Mexico State bird, the RoadrunnerNow one of those wild illiterates was the source of that strange clacking sound. Dad scrambled Gus and Willie and me up onto the top of the wall so we could see. There he was, not 20 yards in front of us—Mr. Roadrunner. If you can imagine a ring-necked pheasant in farmer overalls and a Punk Rocker hair-do you’ve got some idea of the bird we saw and heard that day. That bird is the Roadrunner!

I’ll admit the Roadrunner leaves something to be desired as an ornithology centerfold. I kind of think he was pieced together from spare parts. But I don’t hold that against him. After all, there are wags who drop insults even about Scotties’ good looks—you know, “Hey, big guy. What happened to your legs?” or “Where’s that head going with that little dog?” My head’s not too big, and my legs are not too short, thank you very much. It’s all relative—and I’m proud of my relatives! Where’s the law that says head size and leg length must match, anyhow?

This whole business of beauty and grace, of form and function, is important to my story because I have something of an attitude when it comes to my own prowess. What I mean is, I see myself as the Florence Joiner-Kirsy and Catherine Zeta-Jones of Scotties, all rolled into one. I’m an athlete with glamor. And I know it. Why, I can jump like a deer and run like a diesel. Dad says he’s sure there’s a Macgrasshopper somewhere in my pedigree and maybe a Caledonian gazelle! Whether that’s so or not, I’ve known from the very beginning I was destined for great things athletically.

But knowing greatness in your heart is not the same as proving it against really tough competition. And that’s where the Roadrunner comes in. You see, Roadrunners are the running backs of the bird world, the guys who leave pursuers in the dust. Dad says they can pick ‘em up and put ‘em down at about 17 miles per hour without breaking a sweat. Here, then, I found the worthiest competition by which to test my true abilities. I knew I had to see just how good I was. The Great Race would crown me as champion of Las Golondrinas.

Albie scouts for a RoadrunnerI set about learning all I could about my competition. Make no mistake about it, the Roadrunner is good. Real good. Dad says this bird is so agile and so quick he’s one of the few who kill and eat rattlesnakes. Using his wings like a matador’s cape for distraction, the Roadrunner snatches a rattlesnake’s body and cracks it like a bullwhip, then flails the hapless snake’s head side to side on the ground—and swallows it whole! Sounds terrier-like to me, and before I know it I’m liking this bird.

Turns out the Roadrunner is the New Mexico State bird. He weighs in at about a pound and a half and can measure two feet long, standing about a Scottie’s height at the shoulder— 10 - 12 inches tall. Typical diet is insects, lizards, and snakes. He’s part of the cuckoo bird family (Geococcyx californianus) but he’s no fool. He doesn’t take guff from anybody, snakes or whatever. Roadrunners have been seen fighting prairie dogs in turf squabbles as well as their own kind. Dad says when the first hatchlings take all the food brought back to the nest sometimes the parents end up eating the runt offspring. He says the Roadrunner is so well adapted to desert living they reabsorb water from their own feces before excretion, and that their advanced nasal gland eliminates excess salt instead of using the urinary tract like most birds. Wow! My competition is a canibal whose idea of fun is popping rattlesnakes like a bullwhip and who is tough enough to live off his own waste! What’s not to admire about this guy?

I had to remind myself I’m no slouch athlete either. Dad says I’m “quick as a snake” and I showed it on a walk in the field behind our house one evening when Gus and Willie hesitated, looking at a bird sitting still as a stone in a bush in front of them. While they stood by watching I snatched that bird right off that limb quicker than you can say “scat.” Everyone was dumbfounded. Most of all that poor bird who looked at me in disbelief, as if to say, “I’ve never seen a dog so fast!”

I half suspect it was that bird I snatched who somehow got word out to the Roadrunners that a new rival had arrived at Las Golondrinas. From our patio wall I watched them in the open fields day after day practicing and pumping up for the inevitable race. They were good. Real good.

It was an evening in early Spring when the Big Race took place. We’d all walked to the end of the open fields behind our house and were heading home when my hour of destiny finally came. The folks were on the elevated path at the fence line along with Gus and Willie, but I was exploring in the middle of the open field.

Suddenly, there he was big as life standing right in front of me. He stared with strange bald eyes and I knew in an instant he wanted this race as much as I did.

In a flash of feathers and fur it began. No walls, no obstructions, just open fields to rev it up and see what we were both made of.

He lowered his head and took off running, and was startled to look back and see me closing the gap. I ran so fast Dad said I skittered across the ground like a drop of water on the surface of a frying pan.

But old Roadrunner had ‘afterburners,’ too. Just as I got close enough to snatch his long tail feathers he kicked into turbo-mode and jumped out ahead of me again.

The ChaseI could not believe the ‘kick’ this guy had as a runner. It was awesome. By that time my tongue was hanging out so far I just knew I’d trip over it.

From somewhere deep in my Highland soul I mustered strength to close the gap between us one more time and lunge at that speed demon like one possessed. I was close enough to grab his feathers and just as I lunged for the finish that demon bird cheated and took flight.

The race was over. I collapsed in exhaustion. The folks collapsed in laughter. The Roadrunner sat on a low limb in a nearby tree making his clacking noises that I swear sounded like clapping. We both were impressed. That race was one to remember!

Among Native Americans in my part of the country there is something called a “vision quest” in which a young person goes out into the desert alone and is expected to come back with the answer to the question: “What is your name?”

That’s not as easy as it sounds. The vision quest is about deciding “Who am I really?” and “What is sacred to me?”

That race in the open fields behind our house was a kind of ‘vision quest’ for me. At least, I think of myself differently since that day, and I know I think of the Roadrunner differently.

In fact, I’ve decided to make him my totem brother. That means I now see his special powers as features I want to define me. His great mental agility, for instance. Native cultures believe a crest symbolizes quick and efficient thinking capabilities. The Roadrunner has that. He shape-shifted from a Humvee to an F-16 fast as a wink when the situation demanded it. Another feature of his I want is his sense of humor. His clownish gait when running or walking reminds me to laugh at myself and not take things too seriously.

And another thing I admire. His voice. I made fun of his noises at first, but not anymore. His variety of sounds from crows, to chuckles, to clacking and coos remind me to always use sounds in the right way at the right time. Sound as well as speed can change situations.

Like Native Americans, I feel my ‘vision quest’ encounter with Roadrunner has changed me. Oh, I’m no faster as a runner. And I still dream about what might have happened if our big race had not been terminated by Roadrunner turning into an F-16.

Still, I know I have new ‘medicine’ these days. I’ve taken Dad’s advice and learned from my competition. Now, whenever I hear that familiar clacking sound I think of my totem-brother’s strong medicine—mental alertness, sense of humor, and speedy action coupled with the right use of sound—and I re-connect with who I am, with what really matters to this Scottie, and with all I’ve learned about my own strong medicine.

I listen to Roadrunner’s voice with new appreciation these days. That’s because in my heart I know he didn’t really beat me in that big race. This Scottie now has new weapons ready for whatever race may lie ahead.

Joseph Harvill, Scottiephile

Albie + kittens[Post Script : Albie, at 15, has slowed and mellowed in her ’senior’ years but is more of a sweetheart than ever. This photo of new ‘orphan’ kittens at Las Golondrinas was taken 05/16/15 on a rainy Saturday morning: kittens snuggled into Miss Albie for warmth and comfort!]