Why Dichotomy?
Issue # 3
By Rich Wilhelm
April 3, 2000

If I were to stumble onto a website called Wilma Flintstone’s Right Ear or Granola Bars: A Menace to Society, I would naturally want to find out where the site got such an odd name. With this in mind, I will now tell the tale of The Dichotomy of the Dog, which is really just a tiny part of a bigger story, as you’ll see.

Step into the Wayback Machine with me. We’re headed back to October 1996. Donna and I had returned to Bar Harbor, Maine, where we’d spent our honeymoon four years earlier, as well as a long weekend in May 1995. We were there to celebrate our anniversary and, though we didn’t know this when we left for Maine, to say goodbye to the first, introductory phase of our marriage.

The first full day we were in Bar Harbor was our anniversary and we decided to celebrate at the Opera House, a restaurant where the waiters and waitresses occasionally burst into arias. While it is not the only restaurant we’ve visited that features singing servers (Victor Café in South Philadelphia being the other one), it is, as a rule, the only place on earth where I drink brandy. Our dinners were delicious, the wine was flowing freely and we were thoroughly enjoying being in such a great place with such great company that night. At some point during the meal, we became aware of a conversation the middle-aged couple dining near us was having. The woman was telling her husband about the family dog. She said something about how sometimes the dog was lazy and sometimes the dog was active. And then she declared, in a loud voice,


Donna and I, having been made silly by the wine, thought that was the absolutely the funniest thing we’d ever heard, although I think we managed to suitably suppress our giggles. It was certainly a “you had to be there” moment, but the phrase “That’s the dichotomy of the dog” has become part of our secret language (though I guess the dog is now officially out of the bag). Anytime something strange would happen, whether it had anything to do with dichotomies or dogs, one of us would inevitably say to each other, “Well, that’s the dichotomy of the dog.”

The funny thing is, neither one of us have any memory at all of the conversation we were having that night at the Opera House.

It recently occurred to me that if I ever wrote a book, it would have to be called The Dichotomy of the Dog, no matter what it was about. I just love the way the words fit together and the fact that they could mean everything or nothing. Wherever the dog that inspired the phrase is, I hope it’s still being dichotomous.

I want to tell you more about this trip and how it served as the closing chapter in the very early days of our marriage, but first you need to know that Bar Harbor is a town on Mount Desert Island, just off the coast of Maine. In addition to Bar Harbor, the island is home to Acadia National Park, which is, without any doubt at all, the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. I would try to describe it, but you really just need to experience Acadia for yourself.

When you visit Acadia National Park, you can get a feel for what it’s like by driving along the Park Loop Road, which will allow you to see all the highlights of the park without venturing too deeply into it. The park also contains over 50 miles of carriage roads designed and built by John Rockefeller. These roads (on which cars are forbidden) are relatively easy for novice hikers, yet will take you deep into the park, far from the more “touristy” areas.

On our previous two trips to Acadia, Donna and I stuck to the Park Loop Road, venturing off it occasionally, but only getting a cursory view of this magnificent part of the world. We were determined to go deeper into the heart of the park on our third trip, so early on Saturday morning, we parked in a lot near a carriage road and simply started walking, with no real plan in mind other than getting to the Jordan Pond house, which we thought was a mile or two away.

Jordan Pond turned out to be about four miles down the carriage road, which took us through deep, quiet forests and up steep hills from which we could see the Atlantic Ocean in the distance. It was a great walk and we rewarded ourselves at Jordan Pond with tea and popovers, which is what people have been eating at Jordan Pond for decades.

Afterwards, instead of heading back to the car like some sensible people might, we decided to complete the circle and set off in the opposite direction from the parking lot. It was another four or five miles and we made it back just as darkness was beginning to fall. We’d walked all day through woods of indescribable beauty and stillness. Sure, we would have been better off had we planned this ten-mile walk (we didn’t have backpacks filled with supplies and rations—it was just us), but for a couple of people who haven’t made long hikes into the wilderness a regular activity of our lives, I think we did OK. I’d have to say that Saturday was one of the five best days of my life.

The next day we walked around Bar Harbor. It was the end of the tourist season and it seemed like every shop we entered was closing for the season that afternoon. It was at this point that I began to make certain connections between this trip and our lives at that time. Upon our return, I’d be going to New Orleans on business and then we’d be spending the month of November preparing to move to our new apartment in Phoenixville. We were hoping that sometime soon Donna would be pregnant (although we’d heard Bar Harbor was a good place to start a family, we’d have to wait a few more months). I realized that our lives would never be the same once we got home and that realization filled me with a weird combination of melancholy, happiness, excitement and fear.

It also occurred to me that I’d never experienced a day, including the days I graduated from high school and college (and even our wedding day), where I’d felt so strongly that one era was ending and a new one was beginning. The analogy that was forming in my head about this was brought absurdly to life when we walked into one closing-down-that-day shop and Barbra Streisand’s “The Way We Were” was playing on the radio. Talk about being clobbered on the head by symbolism! After hearing about the “misty watercolor memories,” we just couldn’t handle being in that town anymore and drove immediately over to the park to experience it one more time before our departure for home (and our new lives) the next morning.

This all might seem to be a bit melodramatic, but looking back now, I realize just how right I was—our lives were not the same after that trip. We moved in December and in February we found out that Donna was pregnant. I had written in my journal during the trip that it seemed like, up to that point, Donna and I had taken the Park Loop Road tour of marriage—we’d looked at the highlights, thought they seemed interesting and worth pursuing some day, but hadn’t really taken much action. After that trip we walked straight down a carriage road and now, with Jimmy here and with us in our new home, we’re still walking.

It seems strange, yet entirely appropriate to me that this stretch of my journey through life began with, “And that’s the dichotomy of the dog.”

(Please feel free to email to others who may be interested or to print hard copy for them but remember: The Dichotomy of the Dog is copyright 2000 by Rich Wilhelm. If you plan on making a bazillion dollars from this piece of writing, please let me know so I can sue you or something.)