Monthly Archives: December 2011

Nostalgia

Do you know the MGMT song, “Kids”? It’s the 21st Century version of Cat Stevens’ “Remember The Days in the Old School Yard.” These world-weary 20-something lyricists [Ingrosso, Goldwasser & VanWyngarden] are reminiscing about their lost youth: “Take only what you need from it. A family of trees wanted to be haunted.” When the howling wind made the trees in the Smithsonian woods creak and groan, I couldn’t get that song out of my head.

Notice the past tense. A few weeks ago, the policy of allowing leashed dogs to transit school property to enter the woods was rescinded. A batty lady very loosely in charge of 3 free-range dogs [whom we had unpleasantly encountered earlier that month] had let her Lab menace a walking party of school children; and now all dogs are banned. Highly inconvenient, since we have yet to find another way into the nature preserve. Highly ironic, too, since we had just been given the blessing of the Smithsonian Police to patrol the woods for hunters, innit?

It’s not only the intrusion of having to find another place for Lili’s daily trek; it’s the humiliation of remembering the time when Lili was the Off-the-Hook bad dog [and I, the bad owner], several years earlier, when she menaced a Vizcla on the school grounds. Ironically (again), just the day before I got warned off by the School Safety Officer, Lili & I met the [always unleashed] Vizcla & her owner in the parking lot, without any drama. After I had loaded Lili into the car, I made friendly overtures to the other dog, who seemed to chagrin her owner by coming over and licking my proffered “paw.”

But now to the heart of the matter. As I have made clear in such posts as “What’s keepin’ ya?” and “The Holy Ground,” our walks in those particular woods have given structure & meaning to my life [Can’t speak for Lili’s existential experience.]; and the prospect that they may be forever lost to us causes me emotional pain & suffering (aka, nostalgia).

Having done this Wolf Work on myself, I knew that the only way out of my anger was to seek out another “family of trees [that] wanted to be haunted.” Before we had discovered the joys of the Smithsonian woods, we used to walk Lili in a municipal sports park [on an erstwhile landfill, now converted to a nature preserve]. It has much to recommend it. It’s about equidistant from our house, but nowhere near a school. The dogs-on-the-leash rule is strictly enforced by park rangers. In previous years a family of Blue Herons graced the wetlands pond. (This year we’ve spotted turtles, beavers, deer, and the occasional snake.) In the past, I had found the paved paths a bit too safe & boring, compared to the rough & ready challenge of the Smithsonian woods. However (hurrah!), the other day I discovered a dirt path leading into some woods on the edge of the park, complete with trip-you-up tree roots & a bluff with a stunning view of a tidewater inlet way below. Reminds me of when I was a kid in Tarrytown, overlooking the Hudson River.

So, see? The cure for nostalgia is…nostalgia. The cure for one Paradise Lost is to find another Paradise (which might one day also be lost), innit?

Meanwhile, during Winter Break it’s been “crickets” @ the old school yard. No children to menace and no authorities to enforce the No Walkies Zone. We may have revisited “The Holy Ground” a time or two; but when it’s term time, we’ll make new memories in “another part of the forest” that graces this Chesapeake estuary.

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Filed under gets right up my nose, transitional objects, what's it all about?

"I have a bone to pick with you."


Like most idioms in your first language, the meaning of this one seems obvious: “You and I have a score to settle.” But why does it mean that? Why a zero-sum-game power-struggle vibe, rather than, “Oh, look! I’ve brought a bone that we can share, cuz I’m an altruistic mammal.” [See this week’s NYTimes Science section, for a heart-warming University of Chicago study of (relatively) “free” rats liberating caged rats, even if they did not then get to enjoy the newly-freed rats’ company. They even saved and shared their chocolates with their less fortunate brethren, like something out of a Festive Seasonal Disney flick.]

My extensive collection of Word & Phrase Origin books shed no light on the (bone) subject, so I ventured into [onto?] the web, where I found a site (Usingenglish.com) intended for the wising up of those for whom English is a second language. Mint, nar’mean? They don’t bother with derivations, just plug & chug [“This means that. Just memorize it, already.”] definitions. Other sites attempting to explain whence cometh the bone-to-pick-with-you idiom get all vague and say “Dating from the 15th or 16th century. Referring to two dogs fighting over a bone. See bone of contention.”

So, what? Before the 1400s, English dogs behaved with ratlike altruism and shared their bones? I should cocoa! [Try finding the derivation of that idiom, I dare ya. I’ve been looking ever since I first heard it used in Ealing Studios comedies, in the (19)60s.] Then came the reign of the Tudors, and the Great Bone Panic. [I just made that up. Use of the Poetic speech function.]

And thus, to the bone I have to pick with the NYTimes science reporter, Sindya N. Bhanoo. As with most attributions of species-wide behavioral traits [including the sweetie-sharing rats of Chicago], there is the danger of extrapolating beyond the data. I suspect, for instance, that the “altruism” of the lab rats [which was found more consistently in the females, incidentally] is another manifestation of the Oxytocin effect, in which In-group members are tended & defended, whereas Out-group members [street rats, for instance], would receive short shrift.

Likewise, the Tudor dogs who were observed [proverbially] contending over bones may have been those indolent little hand-fed ones who hung around Hampton Court Palace [not the noble Big Dogs who went out with the hunting parties, and could forage bones galore out in the woods].

Alas, the thoroughly modern Lili is only allowed stage prop Nylabones, which she nevertheless seems to value highly, since she usually tries to pick [gnaw] two of them at once.

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Filed under attribution theory, ethology, murky research, zero-sum-gaming