UserpicThe Chautauqua Lecture 3

On that note, here is a passage from The Philosopher and the Wolf that records a memory of running. The visual backdrop (not given here) is the Black Warrior River along which Brenin and I would run most mornings.

On Our Runs Together …

I realized something both humbling and profound: I was in the presence of a creature that was, in most important respects, superior to me. My realization was fundamentally an aesthetic one. When we were running, Brenin would glide across the ground with an elegance and economy of movement I have never seen in a dog. When a dog trots, no matter how refined and efficient its gait, there is always a small vertical vector present in the movement of its feet, and this movement of the feet will transmit itself to the line of its shoulders and back. A wolf uses its ankles and large feet to propel it forwards. As a result there is far less movement in its legs – these remain straight and move forwards and backwards but not up and down. So, when Brenin trotted, his shoulders and back remained flat and level. From a distance, it looked like he was floating an inch or two above the ground. When he was especially happy or pleased with himself, this would be converted into an exaggerated bounce. But his default motion was the glide. Brenin is gone now and when I try to picture him it is difficult to furnish this picture with the details necessary to make it a concrete and living representation. But his essence is still there for me. I can still see it: the ghostly wolf in the early-morning Alabama mist, gliding effortlessly over the ground, silent, fluid and serene.

The contrast with the noisy, puffing and leaden-footed thudding of the ape that ran beside him could not have been more pronounced or depressing. I wanted to be able to lope. I wanted to glide across the ground as if I were floating an inch or two above it. But no matter how good at running I became – and I became very good – this was always going to escape me. If you want to understand the soul of the wolf – the essence of the wolf, what the wolf is all about – then you should look at the way the wolf moves. And the crabbed and graceless bustling of the ape, I came to realize with sadness and regret, is an expression of the crabbed and graceless soul that lies beneath.

The Philosopher and the Wolf, pp. 84-6.


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