Yesterday I lost a dog leash in the woods. What’s the big deal?

I took my friend Kevin who was visiting, on one of my specialty semi brutal hikes, a near 7 mile bushwack, up the top of the mountain we see from my house. We were working our way around a steep section, the quote/unquote trail a long time gone, following elk tracks and my best guess for a route upward.

I realized than I had put Felix’s leash down somewhere and did not pick it up. Up here in the woods, he gets to run free.

It’s just a leash. Not worth going back for.

Well, not any leash. It was the one I had from my last dog, Mickey, a labrador retriever who left this world in 2004. The dog that was my icon everywhere, later tattooed on my arm, the one named for my Dad who was dying from cancer they year I got him. The one who broke my heart when it turned out he was violently aggressive towards small dogs.

Not just any leash…

The caption on this photo, from January 28, 2014 is a bit prophetic:

The speculations could go on about why I keep a least from the dog I put down more than 10 years ago. How can I forget the last time he wore it?

It’s in good shape. It is suitable for another dog.

I was pretty sure I set it down at our first stop, the place where the small jeep track split off from a slightly different one. I walked there today… and did not find the leash. I went further up the steep track, thinking it was at the second spot I remember us stopping.

No leash.

I had to admit defeat for today.

It’s just a leash. But objects are strong memory triggers. I spend more than enough time taking photos and writing stories of the objects I own, some from my parents, Dad’s level, Mom’s clowns, my grandfather’s chess set.

These things have signficant meaning to me.

But obviously, there’s no meaning in the objects themselves. A leash in the woods is just a leash in the woods. It’s we who give, share, tell, retell the stories of of the objects, we give it meaning. Or try to.

The objects, my dog’s leash, has no story without me.

But… without the object, I still have my story. I have other objects, storied too, like Mickey’s collar.

I have many photos.

All of this is weaving a connection to the new Networked Narratives course I am teaching (web site updates soon) (like very very soon). The overall arching theme is asking everyone to think about, create about, and know about “This Digital Life”.

So do digital objects convey the same dynamic as these physical ones?

Just asking.

Featured Image: Leash Not Found flickr photo by cogdogblog shared into the public domain using Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication (CC0)

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An early 90s builder of web stuff and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person. And he is 100% into the Fediverse (or tells himself so) Tooting as


  1. A couple thoughts…

    My early experiences with networked culture were largely on BITNET and Usenet. That’s where I learned a little tiny bit about how the networks worked, and substantially more about the “nettiquette” that kept the human relationships working within the digital network. And in some way, even now, when I think about “digital citizenship” or various versions of online ethics and community, I picture a “space” that’s all orange text on a black background.

    I don’t know if that’s really a digital object or just a memory, but maybe it says a little about the way digital information and sense memories do relate. It’s a little like remembering the classroom in which you learned a concept, who sat where and what the colors of the walls were.

    (if this were my blog, there would be a picture of a VAX terminal here.)

    A perhaps more talismanic example is an MP3 file I have of a German church choir singing the song I know as “Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel.” (Of course, they sing it in German, which I don’t speak.) It’s a field recording my wife made during her dissertation research, and her voice, while indistinguishable, is in that choir. And wrapped up in that sound of the small choir in a big church are all the memories of all the feelings of that winter she was in Berlin and I was in Ohio.

    It’s just a bunch of 1s and 0s. It’s a lot more than a bunch of 1s and 0s.

    Songs can be time machines, of course, evoking highly specific memories. But this digital file is a little different. It’s near unique; we may be the only 2 people who’ve ever heard it (or maybe she shared it with the other members of the choir or dissertation advisors). It’s a piece of that fieldwork experience which she gave me, a point of contact with an experience I could only share at Skype’s length. It’s hard for me to find the right words, but when that digital object comes up in my Christmas playlists, it’s a very different liminality than the highly specific connections I get from some mass-produced music. A commercial song can give me a flashbulb memory, but this one tells a story which spans years.

    I hope the leash shows up.

  2. In theory I have every email I’ve sent (but in so many dead formats I’ve basically storified myself)

    I wonder if the objects have memories due to a different take on mortality?

    I have the collar Blake come home from the stray kennels in (it was his 2nd gotcha on sunday)

    1. I have a bunch of mbox files from my first domain in the 1990s but lost all work stuff for first 30 years because they were institutional and I never archived them.

      Don’t digital objects have mortality?

  3. This piece reminds me of the keychain exercise .. and I have some something similar with my young students and digital storytelling, called Memory Objects, where they bring in and write and produce a short piece about an object that has emotional connections. It’s powerful to tell stories this way. By the way, I use the picture book by Mem Fox called Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge as our story hook. It’s a beautiful story of memories, lost and found.

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