Yesterday evening, a brilliant orange-pink sunset shone through the trembling aspen stands that frame our pastures and gardens. I managed to steal a glimpse between swatting the fierce evening mosquitoes and digging a bit frantically into one of our long rows of potato plants. I was pulling up some All Reds - red skinned and red fleshed, delicate in flavour, and certainly worth growing ten billion pounds.
You know, for our family of two.
You might laugh outright, or you might laugh in commiseration - depending on whether or not you have a garden. Everyone I know, no matter how small their garden, grows too many potatoes... every year. (And do not get me started on the dreaded zucchini). Thinking about our annual overindulgence in the starchy-tuber-of-all-things-delicious, I asked myself, "why do we do this every year? We're relatively smart humans with giant brains and the capacity to plan. Weeding a billion potato plants is ghastly, takes time from stuff I actually like to do, and harvesting and storing them is a huge waste of energy. Why, brain? Why?" But of course, I get a kick out of looking at the neat rows of potatoes, and an almost embarrassing sense of pride when I catalogue the crates tucked into our root cellar in the fall.
My thinking, of course, turned to dogs. Many a client has asked me blandly why does my dog do that? Usually the behaviour is something which, long ago, helped the dog's canid ancestors make it through another day in the rather brutal wilderness. Sometimes the behaviour has become a bit odd, perhaps as a result of the genetic tinkering - domestication - humans have carried out for the last few thousand years. The dog might bury, or "cache," food or strange and wonderfully inedible items. The dog might ferociously guard food or strange and wonderfully inedible items (Kleenex, anyone?).
Some behaviours that dogs have inherited – either in the normal form or in a modified form – from their ancestors
Dislike of being handled
Chasing small animals
My own ancestors were, by all accounts, peasant stock. We faced periods with no food, as starvation has plagued humanity for all but the most recent decades. Even now, plentiful food is only found in some parts of the world. I quite naturally enjoy growing too much food and storing it just in case, an instinct which would have served my great-great-great¹² grandmother very well.
So I'll say potayto, and my dog, digging nearby and burying one of many dead frogs she'll never ever eat, says potahto.