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Slow Down And Spuddle

Writing On The Wall


I tend to over-explain almost everything. It is a lifelong habit because the problem with words is that they are not as simple as we would like them to be. Putting them together in an attempt to express a precise meaning is a lot harder than we expect. I have lost count of the number of times in my teaching career that I believed I had instructions or questions buttoned up and completely clear, only to find that there were other interpretations that I had not considered.

Similarly, the problem with life is that it is never as simple as we would like it to be. Any attempt to summarize or explain what is happening in the world is complicated. Some people want it boiled down to three bullet points and no more syllables than a haiku, but it just does not work that way.

There is rarely a straight line between cause and effect. It is more like a cluster of interconnected threads that pull each other into a web, making it way too difficult to explain with a haiku.
But then, like an ice cube tumbling into a glass of sweet tea on a hot summer day, a delightful word appears.

Behold, a most perfect word in a vast wasteland of verbiage: spuddling. The verb to spuddle is thought to be from Middle English, originally meaning to loosen or dig up stubble and weeds after a harvest. Like many words, it has more than one obsolete definition according to Wiktionary (which is also a nice word). Another meaning is to make a fuss about trivial things as if they were important, or to work ineffectively and achieve nothing.

One of our latest dog family members is an Aussie mixed breed named Spud, which seemed to suit him instantly, although at the time I had not yet heard the term “spuddling.” He is a delightful little guy who has so much energy at times that he careens around the yard at a full puppy gallop, flopping on the ground so he can roll in the grass, then resumes his impression of a pinball. Finally, exhausted, he collapses and takes a nice long nap. Spuddy is lovable, and hilarious.

He appears to be completely self-aware. His place in the world is the class clown, going out of his way to make sure we see him being funny. He particularly likes socks. When he has found one he wants to play with for a while, he trots across the living room with it dangling out of his mouth, stopping to make eye contact so I can see that it was not hidden well enough. His daily routine does not seem to have much purpose. However, upon closer examination maybe there is much to be learned from my spuddling little buddy. He is very happy. He does not aspire to be the pack leader. He keeps us laughing, and we know that laughter is good for the soul. He has no hidden agenda, unless it involves rooting out socks and carrying them off to his lair. All he wants is love, attention, and time to spuddle.

I tend to spuddle a lot during the day, not running around the yard or playing with socks, but drifting between unfinished tasks and probably appearing to accomplish nothing. Sometimes moving things from one place to another, then back again because I like them better where they were. I wonder if these periods of apparent inefficiency and lack of direction are actually beneficial? Ideas have time to incubate. I stare out of the window a lot. It’s not that I am not doing anything, but more like I’m pondering random things and rolling concepts around in my head while doing something, but at the end of the day I’m not sure what.

In a goal-driven society that seems to be obsessed with being busy and working hard, maybe we need to slow down and wallow in unstructured time more than we do. A daily mental vacation, away from current events, into whimsy or the absurd might just be a critical part of healthy brain function. In fact, perhaps it is the most important thing we can do to maintain sanity.

Life lessons can be anywhere. For some of us, the best teachers seem to appear in the form of dogs. We have a total of nine, and several that are no longer with us. Each one has a special place in the family and a life lesson to share. I’m sure I will write about all of them sooner or later.

I need to go spuddle for a while so I can ponder this further.


Shelley Smith is a retired public school teacher living her best life in rural Stone County with her husband and a pack of rescue dogs. Write to her at shellywritingonthewall@gmail.com.

Published 7-27-22

Stone County Leader, Shelley Smith


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