Scruffy longs for ice.
"Call him Scruffy--I do. On several occasions this winter--never mind how many; I've lost count--having no money whatsoever in his purse, and nothing particular (aside from his leash) to interest him in staying on the banks of the Little Arkansas, he thinks on occasion he will suddenly lunge forth when there is ice on the river and visit our small watery-but-frozen part of the world."--from a (very very) false start by Herman Melville.
Now: Scruffy being some sort of terrier mix, you'd think water would be something of an antithesis to his nature. But the elements don't stand in opposition to each other--and, after all, ice is water's version of earth, sort of, if you squint just right and haven't had your coffee yet.
Or maybe one doesn't have to squint too hard after all. Have a look at some more of Melville's (very very) false start on his great whaling book, when the author was uncertain whether to make the narrator the very thing he himself would wind up hunting:
(Supplied by a middle-aged Instructor in English)
"While you take in hand to school others, and to teach them how "Scruffy" is to be called in our tongue, leaving out, through ignorance, the letter C pronounced hard, which almost alone maketh up the signification of the word, you deliver that which is not true." --Middle-aged Instructor in English.
scruff·y (skrŭf'ē) adj. (scruff·i·er, scruff·i·est) 1. Shabby; untidy. 2. Chiefly British Scaly; scabby. [From obsolete scruff, "scurf," variant of scurf; see scurf.]
scurf /skɜrf/ –noun 1. the scales or small shreds of epidermis that are continually exfoliated from the skin. 2. any scaly matter or incrustation on a surface. [Origin: bef. 1000; ME, OE < ON skurfa scurf, crust]
"Any scaly matter or incrustation on a surface," eh? Like ice, perhaps? Scruffy's abrupt strains on the leash are analogous to what Ishmael sees in the "story of Narcissus, who because he could not grasp the tormenting, mild image he saw in the fountain, plunged into it and was drowned. . . . It is the image of the ungraspable phantom of life . . ." Scruffy sees himself (figuratively speaking, of course) in the ice? Crust you are, and to crust you shall return?
The saner among you will think about all this much like Starbuck does as he confronts Ahab on the quarter-deck of the Pequod: you too will think Scruffy "a dumb brute" and thus see this as silliness at best. You'd be entitled, too. All I know is this: This dog is obsessed with river-ice in a way he is not when the water is ice-free. As much time as I spend with this animal, as well as I know him, he remains, in many ways--and perhaps ultimately--as inscrutable as the White Whale.
It's weird, is all I'm saying.
Nay: it tasks me. It is a mask to strike beyond.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Scruffy longs for ice.