Saturday, February 16, 2008

Law and order

I know what you're thinking: "Oh, no, not another dog post!" Well, this isn't a dog post, although dogs inspired it--or rather, a dog owner did. She's a regular at a nature preserve where I often walk.* She's an older woman, maybe in her sixties, and I suspect she's a borderline collector; i.e., one of those people who compulsively takes in stray animals. She's obviously not completely around the bend, since her dogs seem well cared for, but she clearly has taken on a lot more than she can handle. She brings as many as six unleashed dogs to the park at one time, all of them mixed breeds in the 40 to 80 pound range, and lets them run along the trails and through the woods. They ignore her commands, and you can hear her hollering at them all over the park. The dogs aren't vicious, but they are obnoxious — running up to people en masse, sniffing and slobbering . A couple of them are overly protective of her and bark aggressively at anybody who gets too close. Although there's some risk of a serious incident — a multi-dog melee, or somebody being bitten — the main issue is simply that the woman and her dogs are a nuisance.

The rules of this particular park are clearly posted at the entrance: No unleashed dogs allowed, and no wandering off the trails. Therein lies my problem. To put it mildly, I am not big on rules and regulations. I generally take a lot of pleasure in seeing people ignore petty authority, but my feeling about this woman gives the lie to my libertarian pretensions. It pains me to admit it, but she strikes me as the sort of person who makes rules necessary, and there's a part of me that wishes the park police would nail her. I'd never make that happen by complaining to them, but I did find myself confronting her directly the other day. I had to wade through her mongrel horde on a narrow part of the path and my irritation got the better of me. I'm afraid my tone was not friendly.

I hate that. I hate it partly because I don't like to think of myself as on the side of authority, ever — but I also hate it because I feel a certain sympathy for her. I see myself in her, for obvious reasons, and I can understand that she is indulging in a fantasy when she goes tromping through the woods with her adopted pack. I'm sure her fantasy is important to her, and I actually have a lot of respect for that. People can't live without some dream of themselves, and in a perfect world she'd have woods in which to wander without coming into conflict with snooty people like me, who are busy indulging their own fantasies.

She actually seemed a little embarrassed by our encounter, and I haven't seen her since. It's possible that I stomped on her buzz so effectively that she can't enjoy the park anymore — which, if it's true, makes me a certified jerk in my own eyes, even though I suppose I got what I really wanted.

Yet law-abiding scholars write:
Law is neither wrong nor right,
Law is only crimes
Punished by places and by times,
Law is the clothes men wear
Anytime, anywhere,
Law is Good morning and Good night.

Others say, Law is our Fate;
Others say, Law is our State;
Others say, others say
Law is no more,
Law has gone away.

And always the loud angry crowd,
Very angry and very loud,
Law is We,
And always the soft idiot softly Me.

From "Law Like Love" by W.H. Auden. Read the complete poem here.

*I assume regular readers have figured out that the walks I blog about actually happen in different places--some rural and remote, some more urban. The park in this story is one that sees a lot of day visitors.

Diana with Her Hunting Dogs beside Kill (detail), Jan Fyt (1611-1661). Image via Web Gallery of Art.


Bozo said...

Bob Dylan said: "To live outside the law you must be honest." I think he's right, but I see very few people doing it.

chayaruchama said...

I love your conscience-
And your waffling.

It sucks to be human, sometimes.
I wrestle with my demons regularly-
Doesn't get any easier, regardless.

Mary said...

I feel your conflict here. I think it's good (necessary even) to indulge in some good old fashioned civil disobedience from time to time, but only when convinced it's for the greater good. She shoulda had her dogs leashed.

BitterGrace said...

Bozo, that line kept running through my head while I wrote this post. I guess I'd add, To live outside the law you must be awake--meaning awake to the world, to other people and to the impact of the things you do. That lady's problem is that she doesn't just have a dream, she's lost in it--a common affliction.

The conscience and the waffling are a matched set, Chaya. Mary, you're right in both points, of course. I don't really think it was wrong to speak up, but I do wish I'd done it in a friendlier way.