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WHAT THE WALRUS SAID--Our Authors' Blog--

THE LUCK OF TUX

Tux When We First Met Him




Tux, the Cardigan Welsh corgi, needed a new home, and that would be iffy.

It would be iffy because, despite being a little charmer, Tux was a little dickens. It also would be difficult because Tux lived with Pam, and she wouldn’t let him go just anywhere.

We first got to know Tux when he was still a puppy—we’d been visiting in Florida that winter and heard about a neighborhood couple with a new corgi. Joyce allows no nearby corgi to go unvisited, if she can help it, so we met Pam and Wayne, and it led to a warm friendship.

Pam and Wayne were Conchs, which is what Key Westers call themselves. They told us wonderful stories about Key West, back in the Hemingway days. They’d brought Tux into their home late in life because Wayne really wanted that dog. Tux turned out to be an imp, super smart, the Energizer Corgi, with a PhD in play and mischief. Read More 

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BEAR-CUB LOVE, UNREQUITED



Just as we looked out Joyce’s home-office window, a large black bear hurried up our lawn.

Behind her, struggling to keep up, waddled a dutiful cub, worried Mom would outdistance him (or her—who knows?).

A moment later, at the lawn’s far end, a second cub burst from the bushes. This one stared in alarm at Mom’s receding back, then scrambled up the lawn after her and the dutiful sibling.

Now, her two cubs closely following, the bear stepped over the stone wall and started down the hill by the waterfall. At that moment, out from the bushes, burst yet a third cub. This latecomer eyed the rapidly disappearing family, then bounced up the lawn after them, jauntily—the naughty cub, the rebel, the I’ll-do-it-my-way cub.

Not that Mom seemed to care. She splashed full tilt across the stream below the waterfall, then disappeared into the pine woods, cubs hurrying behind. Mom, apparently, had an important date, probably with somebody’s birdfeeder, and if the cubs wanted to stay parented, they’d better keep up. No hover parent, this ursine tiger mom dished out tough love.

It brought back a memory: once I worked as a zoo’s bear-cub keeper. My twenty-eight charges lived in a broad round pit, with concrete walls they couldn’t scale. At the circular pit’s hub stood their nighttime cub cave, a stone igloo with an iron door. For climbing, they had a two-story dead tree, rising from the igloo’s top. They also had a little swimming pool, for taking a dip.

One of my responsibilities was warning visitors to stop dangling their toddlers down into the pit to pet the bears, an extremely bad idea, because my cubs were all little swatters. It was how they played and expressed themselves. I also cleaned the pit’s sand floor, but my hardest task was herding all twenty-eight cubs into their cave every night and shutting the door.

I’d get three in, go out for more. Meanwhile, the first three would seize the opportunity for a jailbreak.

Heading home in the evening, I’d stop first at my father’s shop—he tarred roofs and installed forced-air furnaces—where the two guys working with him always sniffed, then proclaimed: “Hey, do I smell bear?”

Here’s how tough my cubs were: once two of them got into a fight on top of their climbing tree, and one got swatted off. He plummeted two stories, bounced off the stone igloo, and sat on the pit’s sand floor, glaring up at his rival and literally shaking his fist, or paw.

I’d get home every night with new scratches on my arms. My cubs did love to swat.
They came in black, brown, and cinnamon, although they were just one species, black bears. They also came in assorted ages and sizes, from halfway to my knee (when standing erect on their hind legs) to just above my knee.

My littler cubs loved me. They’d stand up, throw up their arms (front legs) and beg to be lifted and held. Others regarded me with indifference. However, the biggest cub, whom I called “Gargantua,” hated me. I threatened his alpha-cub position, in his mind, and he wanted me to die.

He’d hide behind the igloo and when I passed by, from around the curve, a paw would flash out to swat.

Eventually I gave up trying to make friends and ignored Gargantua, who’d sit off to the side glaring at me. One evening, though, his glare seemed more thoughtful, as if he’d been pondering the situation. Finally, he made up his mind. I’m sure I saw him nod.

He walked to me and held up his front legs, as he’d seen the littlest cubs do, begging to be lifted up and held.

At last, I thought.

I lifted him up. I looked into his brown eyes, he looked into my blue eyes. His expression turned to triumph.

He gave me a powerful swat, on the cheek.

Then he jumped down and I could almost hear him sniggering.

Here’s what: I love bears, and I especially love bear cubs.

And the one I’ve always loved the most was Gargantua, who never loved me.

--Richard  Read More 
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DUCK INVASION


I’m looking out my home office window and on the far bank of our large pond I see 15 ducks sitting in a row. Clearly they hatched this spring, and now they’re the equivalent of human teenagers, so full of energy they race every which way, on a whim.

They flew in four weeks ago, at first just a few, but more kept coming. The attraction? Our apple trees.

Now, as if they discussed it, they are suddenly waddling towards the apple tree at the bottom of the lawn, near the pond. For a few weeks now it has been dropping its apples.

Our ducks seem to be a mix of wood ducks, black ducks, and mallards, all supposed to swim in the shallows, tails tipped up, heads underwater, munching pond grasses off the bottom. We’ve never seen them tipping at all. For them, it’s all about apples.

At first, the apples puzzled the ducks. How do you eat these things? Eventually, they found the secret—spear the apples with your bill.

Yes, the ducks actually do this. We have watched them, apples stuck on their bills, like clown noses, waddling at great speed towards the pond, to escape their fellow ducks, who have not succeeded in spearing the apples and want the apple-catching ducks to share. They tear off bits of the apples to eat, although many apples end up bobbing in our pond when the ducks try to free the apples from their bills or to snatch another duck’s apple.

Deer, too, like to gather at the apple tree to munch, but the ducks resent these apple rustlers, and they do something about it. One duck, who we call Braveheart, marched right up to two does, with some of her more timid followers lurching behind her. She walked closer and closer to the deer, until she stood defiantly under their noses. Then she speared an apple from between one doe’s hooves and marched away. Once a fawn came to the apple tree with its mother, and when the ducks waddled toward it, the startled fawn jumped backward, and then bolted for the forest.

It’s not always apples. Sometimes, at high speed, the ducks zig and zag all over our large lawn. It’s hard to see why, except that they’re teenagers. That’s why they have so much energy.

At some point, they will fly south. We will miss them.

--Joyce
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