Travels with Dakota

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Not surprisingly, one book which kept coming up as necessary reading for our trip is John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley. Several things struck me as I picked up my paperback copy and commenced to read. Without doubt the first thing that struck me was that Steinbeck is an amazingly deft writer and craftsman. Okay, this may not be an earth-shattering discovery, but I expect everyone recognizes the feeling of encountering someone who really can write. There is just a world of difference.

Subsequent realizations focused on the similarity of our impulses to travel and how well much of the book, especially Steinbeck’s philosophizing, has withstood sixty years’ passage.

He opens, “When I was very young and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch. When years described me as mature, the remedy prescribed was middle age. In middle age I was assured that greater age would calm my fever and now that I am fifty-eight perhaps senility will do the job. Nothing has worked.”

A bit later he writes, “I saw in their eyes something I was to see over and over in every part of the nation—a  burning desire to go, to move, to get under way, anyplace away from any Here.”

See what I mean about the writing? I am embarrassed to put my own prose anywhere near his.

As someone who has always lost themselves in maps and in contemplation of faraway places, it isn’t surprising that we would undertake our own journey. Our experience in telling people of our plans is not that different than that of which Steinbeck writes. In the vast majority of cases the response was one of envy and desire. Sure, a few would question our sanity, but that same desire to explore and travel is shared by most, “Yeah, let’s chuck it all and go adventuring. I sure wish I could.” We are endlessly fortunate to be able to do so.

Of course, one major difference between Steinbeck’s journey and our own is communication and the internet. Steinbeck took “enough writing material to take care of ten volumes” and, of course, he was not in daily touch with his wife and family on his trip. That left him with far more time to contemplate his experiences, but I confess I much prefer being able to text and talk daily with my children and friends not to mention sharing experiences through this blog.

Many themes over which Steinbeck muses have withstood time, somewhat sadly, the commercialization of culture, the homogenization of speech and locale, the consumerism which dominates society and thought and racism. So much of what he writes reverberates eerily in our current circumstances. That makes me very hopeful about life and society in general. If these concerns were relevant sixty years ago and we’re all still here musing about the same issues, how can disaster be at hand?

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But enough of that, let’s get to the dog stuff. Charley is Charles le Chien—a big standard poodle of a dog. A “diplomat” and “a bond between strangers” and “a good friend and traveling companion”. Dakota is a smaller sort of dog, but outstanding in his physical appearance. He may be less outgoing that Charley, but he is equally good at sparking conversations regarding his physical beauty. He is friendly, but tail wagging and greeting are always preceded by barking. Once you get past the bark, there is no bite, just an acceptance of others’ adoration for his beauty. This dog never met a photo op he didn’t like.

Does Dakota like this uprooting and travel? Is he confused about his life on the road? I don’t think such deep thoughts ever enter his brain. I love the dog to death, but deep thought has never been one of his characteristics. The presence of an ample supply of kibble and his beloved yellow duck is pretty much all this dog needs.

My final comment on Steinbeck’s work is that he spent way too little time writing about Charley– arguably the most furry and interesting character in the book. This is not an error I plan to perpetuate. Blogging will include copious amounts of information about my furriest sweetie and lots and lots of photos. He is, after all, the most photogenic of the three of us. (Apologies to Jim).