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It's Nelly's World

Dog Star

alec vanderboom

Horoscopes mean nothing. They are utterly implausible; what the heck could some ancient system of attempting to explain the inexplicable, having to do with where the stars were at the moment you were born, predict what might happen on any given day to millions of people, all going different directions? Crimey. We should visit Stonehenge and ask it to vet our grocery list. None of this stops me from being riveted by my horoscope, naturally.

As one does, however, when one does not like the diagnosis given by one doctor, just keep shopping until a more likable one is offered. That's the doctor to choose.

My astrological doctor of choice is in the pages of a local free (read: heavy on ads) progressive magazine. Its readership is determined to be hippie consumers--and if you think that's an oxymoron, you haven't been to Woodstock, New York, recently. Home of the artfully insouciant tie-dyed silk scarf, the million-dollar yurt in the woods. I like the astrology column--nay, I am addicted to it--because he offers the kind of information your beloved shrink does (but for free!): Look deep inside; engage in honesty and consciousness; let things flow; and that "transformation" you've been painfully undergoing for the past three years is about to pay off big. Certainly, I have been expecting my big payoff any minute now, and I like to think it is going to happen this month! Every Sagittarian knows exactly what this refers to--either you are about to meet the person you're going to marry, or else you're going to finally sell your screenplay, or maybe your father is going to come back and apologize for what he did to you. The best horoscopes sound specific but are vague, and the best astrologers combine the qualities of a psychologist with those of the focus group.

Against all sense--for what does sense have to do with anything we do?--I can barely live without reading whatever horoscope falls to hand. So in our local paper I track my rising and falling fortunes and those of my near and sometimes not-so-dear. The fact that it has never yet been correct makes no difference to me (no difference, do you hear!). Tomorrow. Don't worry. Tomorrow's prediction will come true.

Such hopefulness was on my mind when I went walking the other day with two friends and assorted dogs--between us, there were two labs, two pugs, one labradoodle, one terrier mix, and the uncategorizable Nelly--through a ravishing 75-acre slice of Woodstock. It turned out all three of us were Sagittarians, but that's not what I refer to. I'm talking about the faith I have, must have, that Nelly is going to come back. I have walked this particular piece of property now probably a hundred times with Nelly, and she has always obliged in the end. Eventually. (One time she did so only because I pulled her out by the tail from the two-foot hole she had dug under the board walk to a town building there.)

We three wended our way through the woods, six dogs dutifully acting man's-best-friend-like, no farther than twenty feet away at all times. The seventh? Gone with the wind, like some people I know. But no matter. I was in a state of grace: I had faith.

Nothing makes me madder than the absurd, and nothing is more absurd than the Christian claim that you need faith in order to believe. The snake swallows his tail. No, you need proof in order to believe.

But here I was, embraced by the soft, warm, marshmallow of a feeling called faith. It is a feeling devoid of knowledge. But it often came through, providing Nelly's sudden reappearance, tongue lolling out, perhaps her nose and body covered with dirt, or her neck black with something more fragrant. Sometimes I got the feeling that she strayed so far simply because she loved the flat-out race to come all the way back so much (eventually)--here she comes, flying low, white smudge across the land, her lips drawn all the way back to her ears in the biggest dog smile ever.

Faith is what humans concoct when the alternatives are too awful to be borne.

Still, still, I persist in allowing the warm bath of faith to flow over me. (Sometimes I add epsom salts if I am especially achy.) Not just "things will be better," but "I feel something wonderful stirring," perhaps if only, "Sagittarius, the goal you've been striving for all this time is close at hand."

And then, oh my gosh, it occurs to me that maybe the goal I'm about to reach is simply the faith itself. God save me from becoming a Christian. But sometimes you just want to believe. Sometimes you just want to smile.