Old dogs, war dogs, puppies or strays,
Poetry has power to brighten our days
Dog stories and poems are best read aloud,
To an audience of one or a theater crowd.
We reprinted this “story” from the October 6th, 1990 issue of Canine Chronicle because it is just as provocative today. The Messenger” is someone you know, not the author I hasten to say. You may not know the Old Ones but you will understand the rich analogies. It may take more than one reading to understand the message and become truly Wise.
PARABLE OF THE DOG CLAN
Since time began, the bringer of bad news has never been a welcome guest. There is no moral to be garnered here. As with most fables, it is tenuously held together with threads of truth and history.
Once upon a time, there came to the Dog Clan of the western plateau, an anxious messenger who had perceived a time of great anguish and upheaval in The Land. The world as they knew it would cease to be. Precious crops would fail and those that survived would no longer be of trade value because the purity of the harvest would be suspect and other tribes would be fearful of the root rot. He warned that without superior crops, the Dog Clan would no longer be regarded with honor and respect. The messenger did not know when this would happen but he knew it would be so.
From village to village, the messenger traveled. Very few wanted to hear his gloomy predictions but being quite civilized, they did not harm him. The People fed the visionary and sent him on his way. It is true that some of the Old Ones paid him honor as one of them but alas, they listened not.
Fortunately, there were Wise Ones who had become so because they had learned to read sign. After the messenger was gone on, the Wisest of them began to ponder. They looked beneath their feet with the eyes of the Hawk Clan and saw strange vermin burying in the earth. Fearful, they looked skyward with the soft eyes of the Hare Clan and saw many shapes and faces in the clouds. With great foreboding, they listened to the wind and heard the Spirit Of Tomorrow weeping across the high desert.
Because they were indeed wise, they recognized these signs and knew that they had become isolated in their greatness. And because many of them had also learned to read the written sign, they asked the scribes to pass to them all that was written in the great city of the North. And they were dismayed at what they read.
So they began to record their words on the treasured skins of the Dog Clan itself. That brought upon them not only the wrath of the Elders who wished not to have the People bothered, but even the Greedy Spirits in the Icy Tower to the East began to shift and mutter in the shadows.
The messenger went on. He traveled mile upon mile, most of his way being uphill and across deep and shifting sands. The Clan Of The Dog seemed to cover the earth itself and yet he knew that there was much more of the World, a World which cared not and saw not what calamity the Dog Clan faced.
In every village he was greeted with interest but when the People heard his message, they became annoyed and closed their ears and became like the Mule Clan. They said to each other that their crops were strong and there was no place in the World to obtain such precious harvest except from the Dog Clan and they did not wish to be bothered by such nonsense.
They wanted no one to rock the fields nor make difficult the way to the market place.
In a few places, the messenger was secretly taken aside by some of the Old Ones and he was encouraged and given sustenance. And everywhere, the Wise Ones shared what they had learned and so it was that the messenger became even more full of knowledge and his message became yet greater.
Of course, the messenger did not go unnoticed by the Greedy Spirits of the East who had eyes in every corner and ears under the soil itself. Even so, they were plagued by members of the Thomas Clan whose tiny doubts sometimes gobbled up the Feedback before the collective mind could dissemble and digest it. In the tribe of the Light Spirits there were flashes of dissention but they were few and always overruled by the Greedy Ones.
The most Greedy of Spirits had great power and they puffed up their cheeks and blew an icy wind upon the land and it fell upon the western plateaus with heavy silence. The messenger felt it at his back and he hastened in his journey. The Wise Ones shivered and cast meaningful glances at each other. The hand of the scribe was frozen for a time and the Old Ones withdrew deeper into the warmth and security of their robes. And the land became very still.
But the messenger was undaunted and slowly he began to draw the Old Ones from their robes and with much trepidation, they looked among themselves and decided they must build a fire to ward off the cold from the East. And because they had among their numbers some of the Wisest who were also Old, they asked them for advice.
And the Wise Ones said that in numbers there is strength and in unity there is power and a single weak voice becomes great in volume when it is joined into a chorus. The Old Ones nodded. The members of the Thomas Clan who had married into the Clan Of The Dog muttered that there was really no problem and even if there were, the advice surely wouldn't work and even if it did, why steer the canoe into rapids when one could fish upon the quiet waters of the lake? One of the Wisest, who was also a Teacher, raised his wooden staff at the bothersome Thomas Clan whereupon they fell silent.
The Wise Ones then held a council. Did they want to share the secret of their wisdom? It was decided that those among the Old who were already Wise would understand and those who had lived long but failed to learn the secret would not recognize it anyway.
One council member opinioned that a few of the Dog Clan members had become Wise in reading sign long before they had become Old. The others nodded thoughtfully. It was then noted that some of the Old Ones had become sharper of both ear and eye, those senses which must link with the mind of the Great Owl Spirit in order to become truly wise. And so it was agreed that they should speak again to the Old Ones.
And they did. The Wise Ones were advised that a garment is only as strong as it's weakest seam and that the Old Ones must sew with sinew as strong as that of the Moose Clan. Some of the Old Ones were confused by this, never having sewn a robe before. But they thought about all that had been said and then they came together and speaking as one, they asked what they might use for thread.
Pleased, the Great Owl Spirit himself spoke to them in the tongue of the Wise Ones. He said the Dog Clan must first form one body and it must beat with a single heart. He said they must then appoint a voice that could speak the truth without fear. He said they would also need a powerful scribe with many hides to write upon.
The Old Ones nodded Wisely.
The Great Owl Spirit told them they would need many thick skins to protect them from the freezing blasts, which would surely come from the Icy Tower in the East. He said they should erect brightly colored scarecrows to guard their precious crops while they fought the ice shadows. He also cautioned them that a hard freeze could scorch their fields and cause their crops to wither away.
He told them of the many spirit forms the Greedy Ones would use and to beware the locusts sent to eat away at the edges of the fields. The Great Owl Spirit confessed that he could not eat locusts or the worms that would invade the heart of the crop itself. He warned that the Greedy Ones would send moles to work from underneath, chewing away at the very roots of the precious crop and that as much as he savored moles, he could not consume them all. The Old Ones shook with fear.
But the Great Spirit told them to still their trembling hands and straighten their backs bent with the burdens of tending their beloved crops. As so it was that the voice of the Wise Ones softly intoned encouragement to become strong of heart. Even the Thomas Clan was reassured. The Great Owl Spirit blinked and settled once more into his golden mantle of silence. But he did not sleep as Dawn approached.
The Old Ones argued well into the daylight of the new age. Some became wise during the discussion and some only became older.
The Wise Ones, being wise, only listened.
The Messenger continued on his way, driven by hunger for the precious crops. For many suns he was torn between serving or leading the People but then he discovered he could do both and so he was gratified. Throughout the land he began to attract a following of Old Ones who had become Wise and had learned to speak across great distances. But he also drew the wrath of the Greedy Spirits for they too could read the sign of the quill.
The Greedy Ones were also very clever. They sensed the fingers of sunlight reaching out to melt the very base of the Icy Tower they had built and they rallied against the danger. They vowed to cast the land into shadow even if it meant destroying the crops of The People. After all, they had their own crops to protect. They held many meetings of the minds and those that did not agree were frozen out.
Because they were so clever, they solved the complex problem of how to confuse the Old Ones and sway the minds of The People while at the same time, seeming to remain silent. They pooled their mighty resources and called upon their powers and they bought themselves a scribe to speak to The People.
And so The Dog Clan became increasingly splintered and fractured. There were many voices to be heard upon the raging winds and from every ridge there spiraled signals of smoke. Council fires burned in even the tiniest village. Tragically, the fields lay fallow and empty while those who loved the rich soil and depleted crops argued and debated and fought with shadows.
On the high plains, The People tried to harvest but as the Wise Ones had predicted, there were locusts in the fields and moles had gnawed at their tender roots. Strangely, the pestilence did not affect The Miller Clan of the flat lands whose crops multiplied and thrived among the grain fields of their neighbors. The People Of The World became suspicious of the Dog Clan and shunned those crops grown in the cities clustered by the Always Waters. They turned more and more to the bountiful Miller harvest from the great central plains.
But as the Wise Ones could have told them, The People of The World became more and more dissatisfied with those poorly tended crops.
And all the while, the Old Ones struggled to stay alive and to stand strong (and warm) in the ever-colder atmosphere. Some of them became so chilled that their teeth rattled and their bones ached and so they became weak and easy prey for the vultures that circled patiently. Some of the Old Ones begged for arrows but the Wise Ones closed their ears, and the Birds Of Prey drifted ever lower and in tighter circles. The Great Owl Spirit blinked but he did not interfere for he knew that only the Wisest would survive.
Finally some of the Old Ones remembered all that the Great Owl Spirit had spoken through the lips of the Wise Ones. Thus they came together and raised their voices, timidly at first, then finding a middle key, they sang in one strong chorus. And all across the land, the Drum Clan (who were sometimes Old) awoke to keep rhythm for the voices. And slowly, the Old Ones began to be Wise.
The Drums marked the heart cadence as the Old Ones gained strength and increased their numbers. But because all of the Old Ones were not so wise, they did not see those of the Mole Clan who burrowed within their ranks. The Great Owl Spirit blinked again even as the Evil Ones smiled and continued to blast The Land with frosty white shadows.
But gradually, the Messenger began to be listened to by The People. Gaining confidence, they sought to follow the advice given to them by the Wise Ones. They set about putting together a cloak of great strength. It protected a heart beating as one and gave volume to their voices. But The People knew that they had not the toughened sinew to hold the garment together.
They were wise enough to know that.
And so they asked the Wise Ones where they might find the toughened thread needed to hold all the pieces of their skins together. The Wise Ones thought for only a moment and then as they so often do, they answered the question with a question. They asked who it was that had the loudest voice? Who had walked the greatest distance in defense of their fields and who had the thickest skin? Who, said the Wise Ones, could be crafty and yet honest? Who would be strong and yet bend to the collective will of the Old Ones?
Who was a Warrior of olden times who could yet fight with the arrows of the day?
The Old Ones cheered and each knew the answer. Some rushed off to the East to join with the legions of the Greedy Ones, knowing that voice was, well, if not easily heard, at least it was well read. And after all, had not those in the Icy Tower cultivated the fields the longest?
Some dashed off to the flat lands where they believed thread grew in great spools. After all, had not those people the most plenteous fields of all? And surely they had the thickest skins!
Some of the Oldest hastened to the West where there were people who seemed to always bend with the wind.
Some of the Wise Ones had to think a long time about the two faces of Honesty and Cleverness and then they too, headed East where cleverness reigned supreme.
Some looked to the City Of The Wind and saw an old Warrior seasoned with many skirmishes, a survivor of much political intrigue and they felt confident and set out to the middle Land.
Most of the Old Ones were unsure. Confused. Cautious. They sat quietly and they pondered while all about them the Dog Clan raced hither and yon.
Then slowly, through eyes no longer clouded with the mist of Time, they looked at one another and became Wise. Their minds joined as one and they called upon The Sun God to cast warmth and light upon their fields. The Spirits Of Light (being prisms of the Sun God) heard them as they fled from the Icy Tower, leaving it sheathed in white shadow. The Drums spoke louder and all together they called upon the Eagle and he rose on sunswept wings, piercing eyes searching for a small figure on the vastness of The Land below. The Great Eagle followed the warm rays of the rising sun as it reached golden fingers into every cold nook and cranny and then finally, he saw the Messenger.
He swooped low over the weary figure, silent wings casting no fear shadow upon the villages of the Hare Clan. The Messenger was lifted up by the Great Eagle whereupon he became recognized all across The Land as the Wise leader of the Old Ones.
The fields bloomed in the warmth of the sun and The People Of The World once again cherished the abundant crops of the Dog Clan. The Evil Ones worked frantically to prevent the Light Spirits from destroying the Icy Tower but it was too late and gradually they just melted away into the white shadows from whence they came.
Some of the Old Ones became very wise. Some became Evil Ones and so were driven from The Land. Some only got older but no wiser and no more evil. The Icy Tower melted and a beautiful open Tower was erected by the Spirits Of Light. Because the Tower Of Light was not fastened to anyone place, its brilliance bathed all of The Land for the first time since the Beginning.
The Great Owl Spirit blinked his golden eyes and sat comfortably on the highest perch of Wisdom. And The Dog Clan lived happily ever after.