As you may remember from my previous post, I had a really amazing time at the brewery. The people I was with, as often is the case with me, made it memorable and special. But not just the people!
One of my favorite experiences of being in Cerro Castillo was being accompanied by a beautiful black dog named Jimmie, whose owner I met while staying at the hostel. Jimmie is a big dog, and dogs in Patagonia are very aggressive, or at least recognize the importance of appearing aggressive. I remember during many of my walks with Jimmie that he and one of his favorite dog companions, who was safely locked away behind a fence, would run to face each other, growl and bark and bare their fangs and run from one side to the other. They barked and were being aggressive the whole time, even running their teeth and body into the fence separating them trying to “get” at the other. And then after they do this 3-4 times, running back and forth along the fence, Jimmie would come back to me as if nothing happened. Actually, he’d come back with his tail high in the air, and I interpreted that as him feeling proud. Over time, I realized this was his way of saying hello to his good friend behind the fence – in a no-risk-but-watch-out-for-me kind of way.
One time, I laughed because the fence wasn’t closed all the way and the car gate section was open. Jimmie, not realizing the end was open, ran to the end where he normally does, realized that the fence was open and that they were both on the “inside” part of the fence, and they both stood there not knowing what to do. After a brief second, Jimmie ran back to the other side where there was a fence barring them from each other and they started barking aggressively again and trying to bite each other through the fence. See! I knew they were good friends! They didn’t want to actually hurt each other.
Isn’t this illustration so much of how dogs interact? They need to appear brave and aggressive, even if they’re not, and this happens all the time for dogs in the Patagonia region. One sees this in smaller dogs especially, but if/when a dog actually calls them out on their aggression, they run away to hide and, then when they feel safe, start barking aggressively again!
At the brewery, we had two dogs that we cared for. One was named Bordo because he came with tourists who left him behind, and the tea package that nobody likes is named Bordo, so he got the name. (Sad, right??? Well, it wasn’t my call.) Bordo is a completely lovable, non-aggressive dog. He almost never barks, despite every other dog barking like mad all the time, and just wants loving touches. He’s a complete sweetheart, and a bigger dog, so maybe his size gives him some level of confidence. The second dog we have is named Woofie (LOL, right?) and he was much more aggressive. He would bark and bark and bare his teeth and this turned out to be a bad idea one day.
I had come from a hike in the mountains and my favorite dog, Jimmie, had accompanied me. He came with me to the house, and I told him to go home, but he wouldn’t listen. Probably the language barrier. 😉 Anyway, at the house, Bordo is cool and Woofie is like “who’s the new guy?” and just barks at the poor fellow. All night, Jimmie handles it in stride since he’s bigger and not afraid. The next day in the morning, I go out to see how they’re doing and they’re still being aggressive. Whatever, I think, and I head back inside. Well that afternoon, I decide to go on a hike and Jimmie is still in the yard waiting on me. We all go out together, but this time, Woofie has been barking and baring his teeth all night, all morning, and all afternoon, and I’m a little sick of it – I’m sure Jimmie is too. I barely walk out of the yard when Jimmie decides he’s had enough of this aggression. He barks back at Woofie and they start fighting OMG WHAT DO I DO? I tried kicking but they just move out of the way. They’re biting each other, attacking, and Woofie starts yelping because he is getting manhandled by Jimmie LOL. I mean, I felt bad, but it was kind of his fault anyway. Jimmie pins him down, and Woofie stops barking. I assume at this point that Woofie got the message: he’s going to lose this battle. I’m relieved, but then as I walk past, Woofie barks and here we go again, he starts attacking Jimmie and Jimmie responds by attacking him back. Finally, Mario at the house comes out with a big stick and tries to bring it down on them. They all scatter and Jimmie runs away, back to his own home.
I’m not going to lie, from this point onward, I didn’t really connect with Woofie. I would affectionately stroke his head and he would accompany me on walks, like he always does, but I just never felt like we would be good friends. I analyzed this thought and realized that I view Woofy as a coward and I don’t like cowards. What do I mean? I mean, if you can’t back up your words with actions (or in Woofy’s case, your barks with willingness to fight), then I view you as a coward. It’s a matter of honor, maybe even integrity – at least for me, and maybe I should say for human persons. It’s like when I got mugged in Colombia. Two guys, both much larger and bigger than me surrounded me and ripped my shorts off to grab my stuff. They didn’t want to fight; they just got my stuff (well, one pocket’s worth of stuff and my sunglasses that were hanging from my shirt) and were quickly walking to leave, but I wouldn’t let it go. I pursued them, got thrown to the ground, got up again, and then one of them threw a big rock at my face, which I dodged but did slipped and fell again to the ground. The point is, I felt my honor was at stake, and that was worth defending even though it was hopeless (I’m not trained in fighting or combat or anything, and they outmatched me in size, experience, and … numbers. (Thinking about this, it might be different with a knife or a gun, just because of the danger level.)
So anyway, Woofie got on my nerves, which really is just another way of saying it’s all about me and not about him, and I wondered why I was feeling this way. Is it because I feel like I’m a coward? Is that why I was upset? Even now, I’m not sure how I feel about myself, whether I feel like I’m a coward or not, but I do recall that I felt like a coward in my jr high and high school years, and I am disappointed, frustrated, and kind of ashamed at who I was back then. I just had no confidence in who I was at that time, and I think Woofy just represented, to me, my past self. I probably need to relate better to this past self, or past interpretation of myself.
While working at the brewery in Cerro Castillo, I was sitting on my bed, thinking about changing out of my clothes but not feeling sure what to do next. I had so many options! I could go outside, and either be productive by drilling Spanish vocab or just relax and listen to music or a nice podcast. Conversely, I could stay inside and relax with Netflix or my kindle. There were so many options to choose from, and I had no sense of what I actually wanted to do. Sure, I had the sense of what I was “supposed” to do (i.e. review Spanish), the senses of what I had done in the past, a kind of compelling by habit (walk/hike while practicing Spanish vocab), and the sense that I had experienced joy in the past and would likely experience joy with them in the future (listen to music and do a hike). But I had no sense of what I wanted to do at that moment!
It was then that I took a moment to assess how I felt, and how I felt was an abiding sense of happiness. But this sensation had two distinct-yet-unified components. (The image that comes to mind is an H2O particle, where the two distinct-yet-unified Hydrogen particles are united to the Oxygen particle.) The first being that I love being here, and the second, that I’m so grateful to be here – and I was thoroughly inhabited by this thought. I was happy for the great food that I’d had, for the fresh bread and butter, for the opportunity to speak English and be understood when I wanted to, for the very friendly and generous couple that had invited me in and made me part of their home.
Work on the brewery was so different from many previous experiences. I was instructed on what to do for my task and then left alone. They trusted me to do what was necessary, according to their instructions, in as quickly a manner as possible – and with a few post-cleaning hiccups, I’d like to think that I rose to the occasion.
It made me reflect on my experiences at the Credit Union. Our world is becoming increasingly quantified, and we see this everywhere! Whether it be goals to lose weight (measuring calories burned, measuring caloric intake), goals to increase quality of sleep (I use my Jawbone Up3 to measure how many minutes, and times, and total time that I spend in all 3 different stages of sleep), goals to achieve at work (too numerous to count), etc. Now I’m not a crazy anti-quantify person (I use my Jawbone Up3, for instance, and I see the usefulness of it at times), but I also recognize how precious my brewery experience was for contrasting so sharply with that. I think the reasoning for quantification of others, though it could also apply to ourselves, is generally as follows: we either don’t trust others to do their best work apart from close supervision, or we believe that we know how much time is optimal and don’t trust others’ judgment in making the best use of their effort/time.
At the brewery, I was instructed in what to do, what the task required, and then was left alone. They didn’t come in to check on me that I can remember. If I had questions, they quickly answered the question and then went back to what they were doing, trusting me to do what was necessary for my task. I will close by saying, though, that Mario and Root were very, very intelligent, and they could keep track of how well I was doing even apart from watching me all the time.
I think it was my last day on the ranch when I came down with an infection and was sick. (I got better after taking antibiotics.) I knew I was coming down with something, as the fever had sapped my energy completely and my headache was growing stronger over time. I was completely drained and just wanted to sit down and collapse – but I was receiving room and board based on my work in the ranch, so I couldn’t do it. I felt like I had to keep working.
We were finally about to leave, and the rain was coming down harder. We had already cleaned up some trash, wire, and sticks which, in theory, would allow the grass to grow faster for the cows to munch on, and were on the way out when he asked me to open/close the gate so the car could go through. I got out and went to the gate, untwisting the wire that “sealed” the gate and tried to lift the gate out of the mud to move it. I failed the first time because it was so dang heavy and because my footing in the mud wasn’t steady. I tried again and got the gate open, though I was a bit embarrassed at my inability to get it the first time, especially with him just watching me. After he was through, I went to lift the gate and move it closed, but this time, I couldn’t quite wrap the wire around the post – I needed the gate closer to the post to get the amount of wire I needed. My friend got out of the car to help and said, “Joshua, you’re so weak! Why can’t you get the gate closed?” I responded that I’m tired and sick and I was sorry I couldn’t get it closed.
We hop back in the car and I reflect on this experience. He didn’t mean it in a mean way, it was a half-kidding-half-serious kind of comment. But I still got a little upset because he claimed I was weak! And yet he was right, I couldn’t close the gate. So I thought more about it. Did I pull with all my strength? No, I didn’t think so. I think I could have closed the gate, but if I could have, why didn’t I? I decided I had been trying to save my energy for a future task, even though there IS no future task. (That was the last gate.) But why did I do that? That doesn’t seem like a good habit to have! Try everything with 70% effort? Where did I get that idea from? I remembered also having this idea during Jr High basketball practices, where we would run and I’d be so tired, but I wouldn’t run my best because I was expecting to have more sprints and needed to save my energy for those. Looking back, that was a dumb idea. I should try my hardest always and then, when I can’t run anymore, I can say “well I gave it my all and didn’t hold anything back.” I think I need to work on this.
Another time I was walking with Jimmie through the neighborhood, and we see a group of 4 dogs walking with each other. Jimmie watches them pass us, but no one barks or attacks the other – it’s just a group of them encountering us (Jimmie and I). Jimmie watches them for a bit, then looks up at me wistfully, and I scratch his head. Jimmie seems sad to me. I consider the feeling. First, I believe he’s happy to be with me. Also, I’m not the only one he has. He has people to scratch him and give him love, provide him regular food and water, provide him company and distractions (like when we go hiking or working in the ranch). But I think there is something that we don’t give him, and that is companionship with his own kind. Dogs, for millions of years, have been pack animals. They would be born together, hunt together, live together, care for each other, and die together. Their lives were done together in packs, in close-knit communities, which helped the ancestors of today’s dogs survive enemies and harsh climates and resource-scarcity – maybe even to be happy! But now, for the majority of dogs, they are trained to be with their family and away from other dogs. Most dogs of today, excepting packs of coyotes and wolves that we humans hunted to near extinction, don’t live in packs. I wondered if Jimmie, even though he couldn’t express this thought to me or even to himself, could feel this lack of community, this lack of a tribe, deep in his bones (I mean, his genetics) and feel something missing. I then wondered if people of today can feel this lack of a tribe, like how all groups of human ancestors used to live. Do we also feel this self-estrangement, a sense of loneliness and absence and “something’s missing” when we live in isolation from our neighbors, our extended family members, when an average family sees friends for meals once every two weeks? I believe we do, that one can’t just erase millions of years of human experience by being born with a blank slate. I believe we feel this lack, this missing cultural tie, this communal bond – just as I believe dogs miss it too.
OK well that’s enough of my rambling thoughts for today. I leave tomorrow at 7:45am for a flight to Santiago, and then Lima, and finally Bogota where I’ll be killing 2 weeks before my teacher training starting July 2. Wish me luck!