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

ERIC AND MURDOCK

 

This photograph shows our friends Eric Morse and Murdoch, the West Highland Terrier, just after they won yet another "six-legged race," meaning one human and one dog.

 

We think this photograph speaks for itself.

 

--Joyce

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B-52

 

 

We roared up mountainsides, then down the opposite slopes, just above the white pines' tops.

 

This B-52 flew out of the Griffiss Air Force Base, in Rome, New York, a practice bombing run over Maine—we hugged the ground to elude enemy radar.

 

A senior officer, evaluating the crew's performance, checked on me, too, strapped into a jump seat behind the pilot—was this wild ride making me sick? No, my real difficulty, as the plane gyrated, was trying to jot notes for the article I'd been assigned.

 

Then, ahead, a black-cloud wall, lit by lightning flashes—a massive unpredicted storm. It blocked our way back to Griffiss.

 

We diverted over the Great Lakes, to a B-52 base in Michigan.

  

Problem: not much fuel.

 

Fuel weighs a lot, and so does a B-52. It doesn't take off easily. So we'd lumbered into the air from Griffiss with only the fuel we needed to get airborne. A tanker plane refueled us in midair, just enough for our mission to Maine and back.

 

 Distance to Michigan: much farther than to Griffiss.

 

To save fuel, we flew up into the stratosphere, where the thinner air offered less resistance, but we needed oxygen.

 

I'd had oxygen training in an evacuated chamber before the flight. I'd paid more attention to jotting article notes, though, than learning to turn the oxygen system's handles just so.

 

By sheer luck, I got the oxygen flowing into my mask.

 

Fuel nearly gone.

 

"We may ditch," the pilot announced over the intercom.

 

Below us, one of the Great Lakes.

 

I'd need to climb downstairs and drop from a belly hatch.

 

I'd had no parachute training. Above a certain altitude, I'd need to pull a certain handle. Below that altitude, pull a different handle. However the altimeter revolved crazily. I couldn't read it.

  

It didn't matter. I didn't know how to shed a parachute harness, especially in icy water.

 

Let's cut to the chase: we landed in Michigan on fumes.

 

Griffiss Air Force Base closed years ago, but two moments from that flight stick in my memory.

 

First, as the pilot made decision after decision, I heard him radio the home base—

"Our  passenger's wife's at a motel," he said. "Somebody tell her we've been diverted, and don't know when we'll be back."

  

Late that night, as the copilot drove me to Joyce's motel in a Jeep, he struggled to say something, but the words wouldn't come. We stopped at the motel and he sat looking out the windshield, still struggling.

 

Suddenly, in a burst of emotion, he ripped off one of his uniform's service patches. He handed it to me.

 

--Richard

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REEVE IN MAY

  

Reeve, pictured above, is sending us all a message.

 

We told Reeve's story five blog posts back—

 

Bad situation in her native Louisiana, then adopted by Ben Power, a Broadway musician, who gave her such a warm new home that people ask us: "Who is that man who's so wonderful with that dog?"

 

Ben's been traveling back and forth to the city—his show, Come From Away, is due to revive from covid dormancy in September, with practice sessions already underway. His friend Maggie has watched over Reeve while he's away, and she took this photo.

 

She says: "Doesn't this picture speak volumes about the simple pleasures in life?"

 

It does, and Reeve can add to that message—In springtime, to lie in new green grass and sniff the violets brings peace.    

 

--Joyce & Richard

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ESCAPE GENIUS

 

We called him the Houdini of the Dog World.

 

Sam looked goofy.

 

Black, because of a Labrador retriever among his ancestors. Otherwise, a beagle, except with ears so long he often tripped over them. His sister, and admirer, Sasha, looked like a beagle, white and brown and pretty, with appropriately sized ears.

 

Crack open the kitchen door and Sam squeezed out, with Sasha following. Two hours or so and Sasha would be back, clearly pleased with her forbidden run in the woods. Sam? Maybe that night. Maybe tomorrow.

 

We'll skip the time Sam got shot, or toppled over our waterfall, or got a face full of porcupine quills (three times for that). We'll tell you about Sam's greatest escape of all.

 

We built the dogs a backyard pen, for when we had to spend an afternoon away. Routinely, as if by magic, we came home to find Sam gone from the pen. So we made its wire-mesh walls higher, then higher, then higher still.

 

Nothing daunted the dog Houdini.

 

Finally, we hid behind an upstairs window's curtain to watch.

 

Sam sat looking out through the pen's mesh, making sure nobody watched. Satisfied, he got up on his hind legs, stretching his front legs as far up the mesh as possible. Then he used his front paws to pull himself up, giving his rear paws a purchase on the mesh. And so he strenuously ascended, his tail pinwheeling, to give him lift, like a helicopter's rotor.

 

He teetered at the top, looking down at the ground, far below, getting up his courage.

 

Then he jumped.

 

Sasha, still in the pen, virtually applauded her brother's amazing feat, watching him rocket off into the woods for another adventure, going where his beagle nose led him.

 

Sam—the bad dog—outlived his sister. When he died, peacefully, at an exceptionally advanced age, he looked thoroughly pleased with himself.

 

--Joyce & Richard

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THE CHAMP

 

 

This photo shows our friends Eric Morse (the human) and Murdoch (the West Highland Terrier) after their most recent race together, the PAWS run, on April 10, 2021, in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

 

Of course, Eric and Murdoch won. They always do.

 

Eric, a state-champion runner in high school, continued running as a member of the U.S. Mountain Running Team, competing against teams from other countries, in foot races up all sorts of daunting mountains, like the Alps.

 

After retiring, Eric began entering "six-legged races" with Murdoch, who has proved as winning a runner as he is.

 

We decided to post this photo because it tickles us to see the Olympics-style podium, with our friend Murdoch honored as "Top Dog." He's won so many first-place prizes that he's one of the few dogs with his own bank account.

 

--Joyce & Richard

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JALOPY

 

 

Just one rental car remained on the island—A 1950 Citroen 2cv.

 

It looked its age, olive-green, battered, seemingly made of tin cans, with what looked like a lawnmower engine.

 

Take it or leave it.

 

Well, hadn't we flown to St. Maarten for a mid-winter refresher? New experiences? Without wheels, we'd be stuck on the coast, amidst high-rise resorts and time-shares.

 

Where was the adventure in that?  

 

So we rented the 70-year-old zombie car. We headed  inland—ignoring the car's hiccups—to see what we might see.

 

What we saw, miles into the island's interior, was smoke billowing from under the Citroen's hood. Then the engine died.

 

Silence.

 

Empty hills to the horizon. No cell phone service.

 

One hill back, we'd passed an isolated tavern. Joyce stayed in the car, while Richard trudged back along the road, to find help.

 

Inside the dark tavern, a big man stood behind the bar. More large men occupied the seats. When Richard walked in, all eyes focused on the interloper. Richard asked the bartender if there was a telephone he could use.

 

A silent stare. Then a slow head shake, no. Richard sensed that, even if there was a phone, the answer was no.

 

He explained about the comatose Citroen. Any garage nearby?

 

Another head shake.  

 

Trudging back down the hill, Richard tried to guess how many miles they'd need to walk, back to the coast. And when it would be night.  

 

He glanced back—two of the tavern's biggest patrons followed him down the hill. He walked to the car, thinking hard.

 

His only idea: tell Joyce to lock the doors. But the Citroen's doors had no locks. And then the two men from the tavern stood looking down at him.   

 

After a silent moment, one man unlatched the Citroen's hood and peered inside. He reached in a hand. Finally, head still under the hood, he spoke: "Shoelace."

 

It would be best, Richard decided, to offer up the sacrificial shoelace. Under the hood, the man did something mysterious with the shoelace. Then he stuck out  his arm and twisted his hand, the message clear: turn the ignition key. Richard got in. He turned the key.

 

A sputter, and the Citroen started.

 

A moment later, both men were walking up the hill. Richard ran after them, pulling out his wallet.

 

"Wait," he said.

 

They looked back, saw the offered bills, and shook their heads. No.

 

"Please," Richard said.

 

Shrugging, they accepted the bills. Then they turned and trudged on up the hill, back to the tavern.

 

--Richard and Joyce

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LET'S THINK

 

 

I'd spent all morning on the telephone—for an article, I interviewed an eminent physicist, whose theory is stunning: consciousness, he told me, is a fundamental force, like gravity. Our thoughts help shape the universe.

 

It fogged my head.

 

So I escaped outside, to breathe frigid January air, hoping to clear my brain.

 

In our meadow, tracks crisscrossed the snow, white-tailed deer, red foxes, fishers….I imagined myself one of these creatures, in the oncoming sub-zero night. I'd shiver in a thicket, gazing up at a black sky, and icy stars.

 

Then I heard a cheerful "Chick-a-dee-dee-dee."

 

It perched in a nearby bush. Turning its head, the chickadee aimed one tiny obsidian eye at me. It turned its head again, to study me with its other eye. What to make of this lumbering beast, in Arctic boots and a silvery parka? 

 

I had a feeling about this atom of feathered fluff—for right now, at least, it was a friend.

 

Impulsively, I reached out my arm and extended my index finger. Now the chickadee contemplated my finger, turning its head to give each eye a view. Decision made, it fluttered off its twig, hovered, then landed, its feet curling around my finger like tiny hands. Its black-dot eyes gazed into mine, curious.

 

It rested on my finger for what seemed forever. Then the bird repeated its message. 

 

"Chick-a-dee-dee-dee."

 

Its feet uncurled and it fluttered up, hovered a moment, eyeing me cheerily, then flew out across the meadow snow, until—just a dot—it disappeared among dark maple trees.

 

I thought of that physicist. If he had it right, just now two separate consciousnesses teamed up to make adjustments to the Milky Way. To some tiny extent, we shifted the cosmos.

 

--Richard

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REEVE

 

 

 

We just looked out our new apartment's window—we're up on the third story—and we saw Reeve taking her morning zigzag run, trailed by her human friend, Ben Power, who maintains a more measured pace.

 

This winter morning our building's park is totally white—tamaracks and cedars, pathways, everything frosted. You'd think Reeve, a rescue dog from Louisiana, would object to our northern New England winter. She's small, with short brown hair, definitely not a malemute. But no—she dashes through cold and snow, sniffs, then dashes on, loving every sub-freezing moment.

 

These days, we enjoy other people's dogs, and Joyce lets no dog-owner go unmet.

 

Out our window, before we knew them, she watched Reeve and Ben. She saw Reeve's absolute devotion to her human friend, and her willing obedience, shaped by no more than treats, kind words, and love—when Ben calls, here comes Reeve, fast as she can.

 

I'm out for a run most days, and Joyce told me, if you see that man and that dog, say how much your wife admires their close relationship, and his warmth with that dog.

 

I did, and so we met Ben Power and Reeve, which produced some surprises. Ben, we found, is a Broadway musician, currently on furlough because his show, Come From Away, is on a pandemic hiatus. He's sitting it out in a condo, near our building. He's half British, half American, and he's a skilled performer on the Irish flute and Uillean pipes.

 

We decided to post this story because another couple stopped us in the corridor—"Who," they asked, "is that man who is so wonderful with that dog?"

 

We humans are emotionally complex. Dogs just feel what they feel. A dog is content to be respected and loved. So let's take happy dogs as signs, that this world, so often seeming dark, has light in it, and joy, too, if your morning walk is rich in newsy scents.

 

--Richard

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THE WELCOMING COMMITTEE

 

Here are two dogs with a message for all of us.

 

Pfynn, the German Shepard, and his neighbor, Gracie, are welcoming Gracie's new housemate.

 

Here's the back-story: a friend of ours discovered that a co-worker faced a dilemma. A visa snag had stranded her husband in Spain. For an unknowable length of time, husband and wife must be separated. With everything so iffy, housing became a problem for the co-worker.

 

Our friend stepped in: until the situation with your husband straightens out, she said, stay with me.

 

Pictured above, you see Pfynn and Gracie greeting the new roommate, as she arrived, with matching messages: "Welcome Home, Indre," and "We're So Glad You're Here, Indre!!!"

 

In these unsettling times, we thought this little story, of a friendly hand warmly extended, would be worth sharing.

 

--Joyce and Richard

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STAR NOSE AND NOSMO

 

 

My latest mystery novel, Star Nose, is just out—it's about a child under threat.

 

Killers murdered his mother. Now they're hunting him. He's a troubled seven-year-old who trusts no one…except a Pembroke Welsh corgi.  

 

That's Henry. He's the housemate of the novel's protagonist, Cooper North, just retired as a prosecutor, but still in the game. Here's a confession: in my various novels,  Henry is the only character borrowed from real life.  

 

He's an avatar of our own corgi housemate, Nosmo, who pops up in most of my novels, under various aliases.  

 

Here's why: we both loved Nosmo. Also, maybe Shakespeare or Dickens could invent a character like him, but I couldn't. So much personality in that short-legged body.

 

Preternaturally astute eyes, for one thing. You could see him thinking. And he had extraordinary empathy. He felt what you felt.  

 

At midnight once, I came back from the hospital where Joyce was under treatment for acute myelogenous leukemia. At that point, decades ago, her odds of surviving were four percent. I felt low, and weary. I dropped into bed, instantly unconscious.

 

At three a.m., I jolted awake. Nosmo sat beside the bed, silent, but staring intently at me. Seeing me awake, he virtually nodded, then trotted off to the stairs, looking back to make sure I understood.

 

I did. Wearily, still not wholly awake, I followed him downstairs, then out the back door. While he did his business out in the darkness—that's why he'd summoned me awake—I sat hunched on the deck's steps, head in hands. Gradually, I felt warmth—Nosmo, leaning against my side.

 

I don't know how he soundlessly woke me, just by willing it, or conveyed he needed to go out. What I did know then, and know now, was that Nosmo felt my misery and hopelessness. He leaned his warm body against my hunched body to offer solace.

 

He's still with us. He's in this new novel, Star Nose, under a different name—offering an unhappy child solace.

 

--Richard

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