A Message from Missoula
And the Dangling Dog

After sixty years, a college roommate and I reconnected. I received an email from him a couple of weeks ago. After our sophomore year, Jim Caldwell transferred to the University of Montana. As a result, we lost contact with each other until he happened upon a couple of essays I wrote about Norman Maclean’s book and movie, A River Runs Through It. It turns out that the University of Montana is located in Missoula, where Maclean grew up and wrote about those years in that town.

I told Jim that since I saw the movie, I wanted to move to Missoula. We talked about our time in college and what we have done since then. I told him that I collect posters of my favorite movies, one of which is the poster of A River Runs Through It.

River Poster

Watch this trailer for the movie, especially the last part about being haunted by the water.

Jim said he got a psychology degree and worked as a therapist until he retired. I told him that I’m still teaching and love it. Over the past couple of weeks, we caught up with our lives. I told Jim about Ti Ti coming to the States and going to school here next semester.

I asked Jim about the mystic that Missoula has with me. If I had the money, I would still like to move to Missoula. It certainly has a strong emotional pull on me. I wanted to know whether the city had some unique charisma. Since he was into psychotherapy, what was his diagnosis of my dreaming?

My question caught Jim off guard. It took him a moment or two to gather his thoughts. The first comment was that I viewed Missoula as a 21st-century Camelot. He blew off my question until I pressed him again. As much as I would like to build a home near the mountains and the rivers, I couldn’t afford to do that in my twilight years. Nevertheless, there is an allure to Missoula. I sent Jim this photo I found on the Internet of the river and mountains in Missoula.


Downtown Missoula

By this time, Jim realized that Missoula fascinated me. He started by framing his response by saying that he has lived there his entire life after transferring to the University of Montana. Therefore, he hadn’t given it much thought.

Jim mentioned that he has an Irish Red and White Setter, one of the four breeds of setters. I had told him that I had my third Irish Setter. My most recent setter is Ginger, who is six years old. We talked about how affectionate setters are. I told Jim that Ginger had barked a dozen times her entire life. Most of her barking occurs when we play Chuck-It. If I don’t throw the ball quickly, Ginger will bark once to tell me to throw the ball.

Jim’s setter’s name is Charlie, and he behaves like Ginger. Charlie rarely barks and isn’t aggressive. Jim mentioned that when he takes his dog for a walk, the smaller dogs tend to bark all the time when he walks past their homes and are aggressive. I concurred. That happens all the time when Ginger and I go for a walk.

Then Jim provided me with his diagnosis of what he calls barky mutts. His analysis is that dog owners tend to get dogs that reflect the owners personally. This purchasing of a canine that shares the owner’s personality is especially true with owners who feel less secure due to various reasons like being short, less educated, or feeling less than they wish to be. Both the dog’s and owner’s barks are a bluff. It is a warning to either other dogs or people that the one barking is really macho.

Jim stopped for a moment and then said he was walking Charlie one day when a guy drove past him in a black Hummer. The guy had a small dog sitting on the passenger side that started barking. For some reason, the aggressive mutt jumped out the opened window. The guy had his dog on a leash which got caught on something inside the car. The dog wound up dangling on the side of the moving Hummer. It seemed like it took the guy a long time to stop his car, get out, and retrieve his dangling dog.

I asked Jim whether the dog was all right. He said that had the dog not had a leash on, jumping out of a car going 30 mph could have easily killed the dog. Jim said the dog was alive but was sure the owner had taken his dangling mutt to the vet.

I mentioned that Ginger just turned six and is the least aggressive dog I know. She has had several dances with death in the past several years and has been at Purdue Veterinary Hospital three times. However, there is a special bonding between the two of us. When she has a severe problem with inflammatory bowel disease, Ginger knows I will help her through those times of real discomfort. Nevertheless, it is a bonding process for us.

Jim’s response to my comment was to repeat what he had already said several minutes before. Dog owners tend to get dogs that reflect the owner’s personality. Jim’s statement was a subtle way of complimenting his old friend.