A few days ago Simon and I were out early for his walk — early enough that the just-past-full moon was fairly high in the sky, and the eastern horizon showed just a bare hint of the coming day. It was still dark enough that mooncast shadows surrounded us.
Simon paced along the top of the hill, performing his regular morning check to see if there was anything chaseable in the woods. Occasionally he spots a member or two of the local deer herd, who make regular foraging rounds across our meadow and into the very woods Simon was watching so carefully. Sometimes it’s a pair of the chubbiest gray squirrels we’ve ever had around here. He doesn’t care much, he just loves engaging with the wildlife.
Suddenly he went on alert. I looked in the same direction he was, and when I saw no movement in the early morning stillness, I suspected he’d noticed his own shadow, walking through the woods as he moved. He’s alerted on his shadow before, and I think poor canine eyesight prevents him from connecting the dots to realize that he’s prepared to chase himself.
When the walk was over and we were returning to the kitchen door, we were backlit by a safety light over the driveway; Simon saw his reflection in the glass covering the screen door, and barked. He barked at my reflection, too. I have no idea what he imagined happened to these two intruders when I opened the door and they disappeared.
It must be a bit of a mind-mess for a dog, which can’t readily distinguish between real creatures and reflected images or shadows moving through the woods. If it moves, it deserves his full attention.
We aren’t so different, even though we are more richly endowed in the eyesight department. We have difficulty sorting out our own shadows and reflections — not those cast by the moon or hiding in a glass door, but the ones that live deep within each of us.
Oddly, we don’t rev up our reaction juices and prepare to do battle or give chase as Simon does; we are much more likely to turn our back on these spectres and find something to keep us busy elsewhere. We don’t relish encounters that may reveal more of ‘us’ that we can handle.
Perhaps dogs have something to teach us.