Lone Wolf by Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult’s books are often the victim of some snobbery. They are seen as the cupcakes in the literary patisserie; light, airy, and fun, but hardly serious. However, there are times when what you fancy is a cupcake and you don’t want anything too serious or fancy. These are perfect for a ‘by the pool on holiday‘ or ‘last thing at night to get to sleep’ read.

This one follows the usual formula –take a moral dilemma, populate it with some stereotypes, and join it together with a narrative thread. In Lone Wolf the dilemma is turning off life support in the setting of brain injury. To be fair it does air the conflicts that exist and does show the impossibility of being dogmatic. If it had stopped at this it would have been a respectable, workmanlike, novel but it unfortunately had to include a side story of a man who went to live in the wolf pack.

This part of the book was wildly inaccurate and exaggerated and did not serve to amplify any of the points of the main story. Indeed, if anything, it made the reader think ‘if she can be as gullible on this, how accurate are her other views? ‘. Rather like finding something hard, crunchy, and out of place in your cupcake.

If you are packing a bathing suit and heading abroad this book might be a good choice, but if you are packing an overnight bag for a hospital visit perhaps not.

A dog in the distance.

A dog in the distance.

The last lines of Thomas Gray’s poem, “Ode on a distant prospect of Eton College” have now the status of a proverb:-

“Where ignorance is bliss,
Tis folly to be wise”

Though I have often used this idiom I must, in truth, say that I have always doubted its accuracy. I am aware of the arguments of Eden and the fall and the occasional utility of the white lie, but there have been very few times in my life when I have thought ‘I wish I hadn’t known that‘. Extremely few times when, with hindsight, I have said I would have preferred to remain in the dark about those issues. However, recent events with Cadi our dog have changed all of that.

A few weeks ago we noticed that she had a breast lump on the right hand side. After a visit to the vets surgery was scheduled and she underwent a lumpectomy and was spayed. A week later the biopsy results confirmed that she has cancer and that it has started to invade local tissues. This was bad news but we were hopeful that, with the interventions already done, we might have a reasonable prognosis. This all took a knock last week when another lump appeared, this time in her left side, and we have now booked for the first of two mammary strip operations (If radiology before this does not reveal widespread metastases).

The emotional upheaval through all of this has been difficult to weather. The worries about two major surgical procedures rob us of sleep at night. Whenever I look at Cadi, especially as she wears her protective collar, I feel sad and down knowing that she is only a young dog but she may not have a lot of time ahead of her. In general, my wife and I feel as if we have been through the wringer.

However, Cadi, who has had to undergo all the unpleasantness so far, is quite unconcerned. She lives her life as fully as she did before the start of these events. It is possible that she may in fact be a little happier as she now gets more treats. We are now much less strict about the rules, which now seem petty, and quite happy if she wants to sleep on the bottom of the bed for as long as we have her.

We humans know our mortality. We might prefer to ignore this, and can do so easily, while we think our end is some considerable time away. When we receive notification, usually through a diagnosis with a bad prognosis, we feel robbed of our innocence and distressed and unhappy as a consequence; our end was ever nigh but we liked to pretend otherwise.

Cadi has never had a future, she has always lived for ‘now’ and she will continue to do so. She will not be troubled by thoughts of time she never thought she might have. She also has nothing to make up; dogs always give you their best, they don’t work on the basis that ‘in the long run I was a good companion’, they give their best all the time. So, she can have no possibility of regret, unlike us.

Looking at Cadi, living well despite the terrible news, I now truly understand Gray’s words.


 

To each his suff’rings: all are men,
         Condemn’d alike to groan,
The tender for another’s pain;
         Th’ unfeeling for his own.
Yet ah! why should they know their fate?
Since sorrow never comes too late,
         And happiness too swiftly flies.
Thought would destroy their paradise.
No more; where ignorance is bliss,
       ‘Tis folly to be wise.

Turn, Turn, Turn.

It was really rather unsettling. The coincidence seemed too unlikely to be simply chance. I was clearing a path between the house and the lower meadow where the goats graze. To make the rather monotonous work a little more enjoyable I was wearing headphones and listening to a random mix of the music I stored on my phone. I was enjoying listening to old favourites and realising that, if I was not careful, I could be mistaken for an old hippy. As I worked in the dark undergrowth The Byrds’ version of “Turn, Turn, Turn” was chosen. This Pete Seager song is one of my favourites, it was on his “The Bitter and the Sweet” LP and this is perhaps why enjoy it so. It is bitter-sweet. There is a deep melancholy in the music, but it is balanced by equally strong feelings of hope. There must be death if we are going to be able to have births, like the seasons, life is a circle, and everything has its appropriate time. The lyrics are directly from the Bible and the only words Pete Seager added were the final “It’s not too late” and the three words “turn, turn, turn”.

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Like many people I feel that the opening guitar work evokes thoughts of 1968 and the Summer of Love, Woodstock and the Hippy movement. But in addition, I always think of this as the farmer, or smallholders, song. I know that the guidance is suitable for everyone (we all need to know that our lives will change, that we will grow up, have children, grow old and then die) but I feel that it is resonates especially strongly with those who work on the land where these seasons are even more obvious.

So what was the coincidence that happened with this song that caught me unawares? Just after the song had started I was clearing below a very bushy aralia shrub. As I cleared the brambles and nettles a small clump of white caught my eye. It was a small patch of cyclamen, shining brightly now the sun could penetrate the gloom below the bushes. It was cyclamen, coum f. albissimum (Ashwood Snowflake) to be more precise, and its name should help explain the reason for my surprise. This cyclamen is named because of its white colour but also due to its flowering season. Usually this plant flowers in mid- to late-winter, from January to March. It really is not the right season to catch sight of its delicate flowers. Here was another reminder this year that we are clearly messing up our seasons. We have had heat and drought such as we have not seem for two generations, the hay crops have failed to grow as there has been inadequate rain (In North Wales!), insects which should have died in the winter survived through and plants that we never expect to flower in this region start to show their colours. I was aware we had some large spiky evergreens as they attacked me each day as I tried to get past them on the way to the greenhouse or chicken sheds. I was in two minds as to whether I should trim these or root them out. I knew the goats liked the leaves but could see no other reason to keep them, particularly as they regularly stabbed at my legs. Then suddenly this year, never seen in this garden for at least a generation, they suddenly bloomed revealing themselves as Adam’s Needle (Yucca Filamentosa). This is a plant that like a dry soil and open sun, things that should be scarce in this reason.

The song is correct; “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose”. Our agriculture and lives depend on this working together of the seasons and the knowledge of man. But now it seems we have potentially damaged our seasons and our usual skills can’t just be applied as before. When I saw this little white flower, peeking out 6 months early, and listening to The Byrds, the melancholy of the song was suddenly amplified. Perhaps it is too late, maybe we have damaged the gifts we were given, perhaps our season is drawing to a close. But, then again, perhaps, hopefully Pete Seager’s words will hold true :-

“It’s not too late.”