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

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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HALL OF FAMER

Eric & Murdock, just awarded a ribbon for winning a race (again!)


In our celebrity obsessed society, where it seems only People Magazine A-listers rate attention, here’s what we see all around us—talent, ability, accomplishment, decency. In this blog, we try to acknowledge what we see.

So, here’s one….

Our friend Eric was just inducted into the Vermont runners’ Hall of Fame, with these words:

“For the better part of three decades, Eric Morse was the most dominant road runner in Vermont.” And this: “Whenever Eric entered a local race, the only question was who would finish in second behind him.”

Six-times the state’s high-school champion in cross country and track. A running scholarship to college. Then, seven times, a member of the U.S.A Mountain Running Team, competing internationally, often racing up Alpine peaks. Who even knew there was such a sport? Not us, until we met Eric.

He’s retired from Team U.S.A., but he still races. He partners with his super-fast West Highland Terrier, Murdock, and he’s still a champ—he and Murdock miss few “six-legged” races in the U.S. northeast.

They win every one.

--Joyce & Richard  Read More 
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Inspirational Dinosaurs


This tableau of dinosaurs partially inspired one of Richard’s fantasy stories, “Last Days of the Cretaceous,” in his anthology, Frankie & Johnny, & Nellie Bly.

It’s set in Atlantis, where aristocratic sportsmen hunt the tyrannosaurus rex.

Yes, dinosaurs disappeared long before humans showed up. We all know that.

Yet, here’s this convivial family, grazing at Florida’s Dinosaur World. It shows the huge reptiles and humans can co-exist, if the dinosaurs are made of concrete.

--Richard & Joyce Read More 
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Murdock Visits Again

Muddy Murdock

When our friend Murdock last visited, it was Green Murdock, because he got wet and rolled in the grass. Here he is again, but now it's Muddy Murdock--

Because a dog's gotta do what a dog's gotta do!

Next visit? Who knows?

--Richard & Joyce
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WILLOW

Willow--a cat? Maybe.
This is Willow, who lives with our friends, Pam and David. She is a rescue from the local animal shelter.

Here she is helping Pam bake cookies.

Willow is more like a dog than a cat. She loves to be around people and her motto is: Attention must be paid!

We like dogs, but who can resist a cat in a bowl?

We decided she is an honorary dog.

--Joyce & Richard  Read More 
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OUR FRIEND MURDOCK, THE RACING DOG

Murdock the Racing Dog



This is a photo of our friend Murdock, who is green because he played with the hose and then rolled in newly mowed grass.

We never know what color Murdock will be when he visits us. We call him “Murdock the Burdock” because he sticks tight to his best pal, Eric Morse. Sometimes, though, Eric’s trips are via airliner, and Murdock can’t go and he stays with us. This time Eric is running across the Grand Canyon, rim to rim.

Eric is a former member of the U.S. Mountain Racing Team. Now he competes in dog-plus-human races, with Murdock, and they always win. Murdock is unofficial Eastern U.S. dog-racing champ.

Murdock’s motto is: “Short legs? Just move ‘em faster.”

He has tons of trophies.

--Richard & Joyce Read More 
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GASPODE, STREET DOG

First of Terry Pratchett's 41 "Discworld" novels, where Gaspode eventually appears



I often think about Gaspode, the terrier-like street dog in Terry Pratchett’s brilliantly funny “Discworld” novels.

It’s because Gaspode is so disreputably clever at making his way in his world, which is similar to our world, except that it is flat and rests on four elephants standing on the shell of a vast turtle, swimming in nothingness. Discworld’s dwarfs and trolls despise each other, and its humans disdain all minorities, especially vampires and werewolves. Slums are super-slummy. And a filthy little dog gets no lunch unless he wangles it.

Gaspode has a wangling edge: one night he slept beside Unseen University’s High Energy Magic building, and magical seepage upped his IQ and enabled him to speak. Nobody suspects a dog can talk, so people believe they’re hearing their own thoughts—“Oh, look at that poor little orphan doggie! I should give him half my sandwich!”

Gaspode appears in seven of Sir Terry’s 41 Discworld novels. He’s a lot like Homer’s hero, Odysseus, the only Greek among Troy’s besiegers who demonstrably has a brain.

Besides, Gaspode looks just like our friend Murdock, the west highland terrier who occasionally stays with us, when his buddy Eric is traveling. Also, whether your world’s round or flat, amusement is good.

–Richard  Read More 
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