words and the world

a new puppy, in ways both similar and not at all similar to a new baby, has to learn early on about words and the world. watching him gather this knowledge and put it together to create a story of understanding is a truly an amazing evolution to witness. but while the learning of the fresh new brain gets so much attention and interest, the teaching of things deserves a little notice, too. this dynamic conversation can reveal some fascinating truths.

they say experience is the best teacher. from my life so far i can say that i definitely agree, but ranking it as the best doesn’t mean it’s the only, nor does it explain why. why do we mistrust the words of those we rely on most for everything else in our lives? why do we need to feel the agony and the ecstasy for ourselves?


enter odysseus (that’s the puppy), loping around with his newly long and awkward legs, hips swaying as he flops each big paw in rhythm across the kitchen, nose twitching at the tiles, tail cocked at an angle somewhere between knowing and not knowing the mission of the body in front of it. in the air, a sudden change. a sweetness, a warmth. the body changes course, nose alternating between floor and air, the new information coming in stronger as he goes. in an instant he is approaching the oven that has just been opened.

“no, odie. HOT.” ashwin firmly explains. no reaction from the pup.

outside the oven door isn’t close enough for a proper investigation. maybe a nose bump or a lick would help. maybe getting inside just for a second to check out the scene, see what’s hanging around in this awesome cave that just appeared out of the wall. man the world is magical. why do they insist on keeping me from it? maybe they can’t smell. that’s probably it. no worries guys, i’ll go in for us and report back.

“odie, NO! HHHHOT,” ashwin explains again, hissing out the H sound and sharply cutting off the T, using every part of the word to help convey its seriousness.

but here’s the thing. not only has odie never heard the word hot before in his life, he has no idea what hot IS. before moving in with us, if he and his siblings got a little too warm in the sun, they moved into the shade. not much more thinking required. and ‘hot,’ unknowingly averted. the word hot means something to us, because we have bumped into the pan fresh off of the stove, or hopped into the shower when the water wasn’t adjusted correctly, or sat on that black leather car seat in midsummer. yes our parents told us don’t touch the stove because it’s hot. but that’s not how we understand hot. we had to experience it. then we could say, holy yes, i agree, too hot can hurt, and i would rather avoid that suffering. and we can, once we know more about words and the world.

odie will probably never know the meaning of the word hot, as it seems, sometimes, that he’ll never know his name, sit, stay, and a host of other useful and experientially accessible words. so, we’ll keep an eye on him whenever the oven is open, and be there to pull him back and keep him safe.

as for ourselves, ‘hot’ is only the tip of the melting iceberg of things we will ultimately truly understand only by doing. here’s hoping that we come out of all the magical caves we discover intact, with loving arms waiting to hold us and scratch us lovingly on the butt.


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