A Nose Like Riley’s
Grandpa’s stately golden retriever, Riley, stood on the edge of the pier with his face pointed into the wind: a rusty statue of canine majesty.
“What do you smell, fella?” Grandpa asked as he watched the dog’s dreamy, far-away gaze and actively twitching nose.
His grandson, Thomas, guessed the answer. “Fish?”
“Not sure. Maybe he’ll tell us.”
“But dogs can’t talk, Grandpa!”
“Are you sure of that?”
“Of course.” Thomas reeled in his fishing line, checked to see that his limp night crawler was still attached to the hook, and threw it out again. The bobber plopped into position and danced on the surface of the choppy water.
“Then why does Riley understand when you say ‘fetch’ or ‘sit’?” Grandpa asked. “Maybe he understands more than we think, but just doesn’t speak or respond in the same way you or I do.”
Thomas thought about this as he watched the choreography of the red and white bobber treading water. “But how can WE understand HIM?” Thomas was tempted to doubt his grandfather, a seasoned veterinarian.
Grandpa nodded his head as if to acknowledge the question. “By paying attention. People who aren’t able to speak find unique ways to interact, don’t they?”
Thomas sighed. “He’s still sniffing, Grandpa.”
“Yes, son, he is. Do you know dogs smell up to 10,000 times better than humans? Our noses only have small postage stamp-sized receptors, but Riley’s is huge! If we could spread out his ‘smeller,’ it would be this big.” Grandpa pulled his red bandana handkerchief from his hip pocket, folded it in half, and pressed out the wrinkles until it became a smooth rectangle. “He also has a special chamber – a Jacobson’s organ – above the roof of his mouth that has even more scent receptors.”
“But why does he sniff like that?”
Grandpa stroked his chin as if deep in thought. “He doesn’t want to miss anything – not a single thing. Sniffing is a way for him to widen his nostrils and pull in more air; more scents. Sniffs also allow odors to go deeper into his nose.”
As Thomas’ bobber continued to dip up and down in the ripples of water, he turned to lock eyes with Grandpa. “So what’s he smelling now, do you think?”
Grandpa’s face grew thoughtful and he leaned over with his elbows on his knees until his face nearly paralleled Riley’s. “Like I said, you have to pay attention and be willing to catch clues. Knowing Riley as I do, I think he smells fish, seaweed, newly cut grass, charcoaled hamburgers, and probably many scents we don’t recognize since we can’t smell them ourselves.” Grandpa nodded to himself and chuckled. “I think he even smells the possibility of a playful swim before dinner or a leisurely walk along the road when the evening cools down.” Grandpa paused. “Maybe he smells what we all want.”
“What’s that, Grandpa?”
The old man whispered his answer as if it were a guarded secret. “Contentment.”
Sunshine sparkled on the lake’s lapping tongues like little fires as the two sat in silence and Thomas thought about Grandpa’s reply. “I wish I could smell like that,” Thomas finally said.
Grandpa gazed into the cloudless sky overhead and stroked Riley’s back. “We can catch whiffs, son. When God compels us - when He ignites a passion in us - it’s almost like He strikes a match. There’s a burst of sulfurous flame that requires oxygenation ...”
Thomas frowned. “What? I don’t get it.”
“God has given us many receptors in the form of His Spirit. That’s how He shows us many things.”
“Like what kinds of things?” Thomas still didn’t understand.
“Endurance. Hope. Understanding. We detect His inspiration, almost like smells, and absorb them.”
Riley’s nose continued to wiggle expectantly – almost urgently – as if to illustrate Grandpa’s point. “Like His grace,” he went on. “God’s Spirit within us is like a giant receptor, drawing in more and more grace …”
Thomas sucked the balmy lake air into his lungs and imagined what it would be like to smell Riley’s mysterious scents and Grandpa’s subliminal ones. “What can I sniff out, Grandpa?”
The old man clasped his hands as if in a prayerful gesture. “God breathed life into you; He alone knows you. Today the fish aren’t even nibbling, so it seems He’s giving you a chance to inhale patience, self-control, and vision for another day.”
Grandpa always had a way of saying things that made perfect sense.
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