A series of cold bright days means more walks than usual in the Park. Sometimes Dixie comes too. She is rather less discriminating about Good Things than Trouble is – less fussy, she would probably say. She never met something dead that wasn’t good to roll in, and she’ll eat almost anything. She has no memory of indigestion.
And she’s a Brittany spaniel. Once loose in the park, she is on a mission. Off she goes on her long legs, her ground-eating trot taking her far ahead before she decides to loop back and check on the whereabouts of her Human. Sometimes people ask, “Have you lost a brown and white dog? She’s down…” “at the squirrel feeder,” Human says. She’ll stay there, watching and being watched, till Human arrives. Dixie knows all the squirrel feeders in the park, and plots a route that will take her from one to the next. She’ll point squirrels, or she’ll flush them and chase them. She’s utterly impervious to insults spit at her from branches overhead.
Trouble is less focused. Though squirrels are a Good Thing, she’ll check out anything that looks as if it might be interesting, peanuts spilled from a feeder or crab shells, a stick, a lost ball or a dropped glove. Her searches lead her off trail, into snowbanks and through brambles. Sometimes the brambles are impenetrable, and she has to beat a retreat.
She’s been known to chase crows, until they turn to chase her. Eventually she’ll catch up with Dixie, who’ll be standing motionless at the foot of pine tree, where a head-down squirrel is deciding just how saucy it can safely be.
Human tends to research the way Trouble scouts the park. She enters an archive or a library or an on-line database with a general idea and a hunger to find out everything there is to know about it. The result is boxes and gigabytes of research notes, and a book manuscript which has already reached 100,000 words, and it’s only chapter 3. Find out everything, get it all into shape, and then edit it to manageable size – that’s her preferred modus operandi. Hardly efficient, though it does turn up some fascinating tidbits. (Watch for her article on a one-legged Victorian doctor, coming soon in the Journal of Medical Biography. That was one of those unexpected discoveries, as delicious to Human as blackberries to Trouble.)
It would be better to imitate Dixie. A Dixie researcher is like a trained interviewer, who would never turn up for her appointment with an Important Personage without preparing a list of questions in advance. Where do squirrels like to hang out? Where is the next squirrel feeder? Where else might they be if the feeder is empty? Where else do people leave peanuts and breadcrumbs? Whereas Trouble can be easily – was that a rabbit? – distracted, Dixie ignores anything in the great park that isn’t squirrelsome, even, sometimes, her Human’s voice. A Dixie researcher combs what she finds looking for answers to her questions, disregarding the rest. Of course, she’s not entirely close-minded; if something turns up and proves even better than what she’d anticipated, she’ll shift her focus – but she’s still focused.