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

ARCTIC PATROL

 

 

 

"We'll stop at this iceberg for lunch," the sergeant told me. "But first we do a drive-around, to check for polar bears."

 

This was a routine two-man snowmobile patrol over frozen Baffin Bay—the French-Canadian sergeant and an Inuit constable. They constituted the entire Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment at Pond Inlet, the Inuit village at Baffin Island's northern tip.

 

I was just a visitor, along for the ride, swaddled in a borrowed RCMP parka. My hands had started freezing, so the constable loaned me his spare dog-skin mittens—last winter, distemper killed every sled dog in town, and the Inuits salvaged what they could.

 

After lunch, we roared past more frozen-in icebergs, jutting up like buttes and mesas, blue and green. We headed toward Bylot Island, all that stood between us and Greenland.

 

A glacier covered the island, and we faced a nearly vertical ice wall.

 

"Get a good running start," the constable instructed me.

 

I watched the two Mounties roar up and over. I started up after them, but too slow. Near the top, my snowmobile's treads spun. No traction. I slid backwards, ever faster, toward the rocky scree at the glacier's base.

 

I squeezed between boulders. Lucky. On my second run, I made it over and saw…more ice.

 

I saw lots of ice during my stay on Baffin Island. I ate raw seal blubber at Pond Inlet's annual spring on-the-ice party. My hotel was a large Quonset hut, where the nightly menu consisted of Arctic char. I remember purple evening skies and kids riding tricycles in the midnight sunlight. What I remember most, though, is the Inuit constable.

 

"You might as well call us Eskimos," he told me. "That's what we call ourselves."

 

He'd been born in an igloo, and raised out on the tundra. When Canada decreed all indigenous children must be schooled, his family migrated to Iqaluit, the larger town at the island's southern tip. He befriended the RCMP officers there, and it led to his career in law enforcement.

 

So here we are, the constable and I, in Pond Inlet's town hall, to fax a report to the main RCMP post in Iqaluit, and I hear him muttering to himself: "This baud rate's way too slow!"

 

So complained the man raised in an igloo.

 

Here's another moment: he's describing Pond Inlet's winter, since spring seems frigid enough to me, and he says it's not the cold he minds, but the weeks of darkness.

 

"My wife, my kids, me—every winter we take a vacation," he said. "We fly down to the Caribbean."

 

--Richard     

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SWIMMING WITH MONSTERS

 

 

After he anchored his boat at the reef, the ichthyologist let us choose—Richard opted for aqualung, Joyce for snorkel.

 

Here, not far out from George Town, the Grand Cayman Island capital, we looked down through perfectly clear Caribbean waters at black bat shapes gliding across the white sand bottom.

 

A moment later, we swam among them. They looked like B-2 Spirit strategic stealth bombers.

 

Sting rays.  

 

We should have been frightened of creatures that looked so lethal. In fact, the Australian conservationist and zookeeper, Steve Irwin, died after accidentally disturbing one and receiving a sting to the chest.

 

Yet, we felt no fear. We felt charmed.  

 

As Joyce snorkeled near the surface, rays flew up and swam with her, gently flapping their huge wings. She felt surrounded by friendly dogs.

 

Richard, near the bottom with his aqualung, found himself escorted by a squadron of the black animals, each the size of a dining room table. One swam up from behind and wrapped its wings around him, scuba gear and all.

 

And what Richard would always remember, looking into those brown eyes—sentience.

 

Maybe humanity doesn't need to go as far as the stars.  

 

We can find intelligent alien life here on Earth, and in its waters.

 

—Joyce & Richard

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SIMON SAYS

 

Simon says: "Top O' the Mornin' to you!"

 

He wants everyone to see him in his St. Patrick's Day outfit. Mainly, he just likes everyone to see him. 

 

He's a Pembroke Welsh corgi, not Irish, but he feels that's close enough. 

 

He lives with our good friends in Virginia, Clarissa and George, who sent us this photo for him, because Simon has no computer skills. For that kind of thing, he says, "See my people about that." 

 

He also says, "Eat your heart out, poodles--cuter than this it doesn't get!"

 

--Joyce & Richard

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PRESIDENTIAL

 

 

We just read a CNN story so touching we felt a need to share it.

 

In the small nation of North Macedonia, a child experienced bullying on her way to elementary school.

 

They bullied her because she has Down syndrome, a genetic condition that causes learning and health disabilities, and makes you look a little different.

 

President Stevo Pendarovski heard about the 11-year-old girl and took presidential action—he walked Embla to school.

 

Holding her hand, he strode with her, to the school's front door. Then he sat down with Embla's parents, to hear the problems they face every day and to discuss solutions.

 

"They should not only enjoy the rights they deserve," the president said of children like Embla, in a statement to the press. "They should also feel equal and welcome in the school desks and the schoolyard. It is our obligation, as a state, but also as individuals, and the key element of this common mission is empathy."

 

Maybe, in a small, obscure country, empathy is easier to find. 

 

--Joyce and Richard

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WHAT IS YOUR DOG THINKING?

 

 

 

We met a woman today who noticed the t-shirt one of us wore, with a picture of a Pembroke Welsh corgi on the front.

 

Our best friend, we said. He'd been astonishingly bright.

 

So she told us about her dog—also now gone—a Bernese mountain dog, with some collie mixed in.

 

"He was a genius," she said.

 

As evidence, she told us how one of her cats would escape, out to the meadow, where  danger lurked. Coyotes, for instance.

 

So she would tell the Bernese mountain dog: "Go find the cat."

 

Off he'd go, into the meadow, sniffing for cat. When he found her, he had no way to bring her home. So he'd gently place his huge paw on her and press her down.

 

Then he would wait for the lady to come and retrieve her imprisoned cat.

 

Later that day, our friend Eric visited us, with Murdock, a west highland terrier. We told him how impressed we'd been with that Bernese mountain dog's intelligence..

 

Eric looked unimpressed.

 

"Sometimes my cat disappears in the house," he said.

 

He stared down at Murdoch.

 

"Where's kitty?" he said. "Find kitty."

 

Immediately Murdock went hunting her. Is she behind the television? Under the bed? Did she sneak into the pantry?

 

This was our house, with no cat. However, Murdock diligently looked for her. Just like that Bernese mountain dog, he understood—"Find kitty."

 

So, double proof—some dogs know exactly what you're talking about.

 

--Joyce and Richard

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PROTONS, ANTI-PROTONS, AND BISON

 

 

After I left O'Hare, I drove  out of Chicago, then through farmlands and hamlets, until a futuristic skyscraper loomed on the horizon—Fermilab.  

 

Scientists took me down into the buried accelerator, a subterranean ring, 3.9-miles around, where they crashed protons into anti-protons, to study the debris.

 

That's how physicists here discovered the "top quark."

 

I had a day rife with bosons and gravitons, gluons and photons, and chalkboards covered with equations—finally I had spinning head syndrome. So I went outside, taking a break.

 

Sunshine, and a tremendous gabbling of waterbirds.

 

Fermilab's accelerator generated tremendous heat, which went up into a surface pond to radiate off into the atmosphere. Always warm, steaming even in January, that pond became a heaven for ducks and geese.

 

I wandered off to look at the lab's approximately one-thousand acres of reconstituted tall-grass prairie. Something moved behind those thick grasses, tall as a basketball player, and the grasses parted—I gazed at the enormous head of a bison.

 

Fermilab maintains a herd of bison, currently 32, with little bison born annually, aiming to preserve a bit of the ancient prairie.

 

So, under my feet, subatomic bits of energy whizzed and collided. Down there, I suppose, and in the skyscraper, our future understanding of reality's underpinnings is evolving. Up here, I'd stepped back centuries, to when giant grasses covered the prairies, and vast herds of bison roamed.

 

After all that, heading back to Chicago to catch my plane, I found I'd lost my rental car in the lab's huge parking lot. I had to enlist security guards in a patrol cruiser to drive me around until I found my wheels.

 

There's meaning in all that, I think. Someday, maybe, I'll figure it out.

 

--Richard   

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THANKSGIVING VISITATION

 

 

We woke early this frosty Thanksgiving morning, and looked down from our third-story apartment at our building's little park, with a hillside meadow beyond—we saw a fox.

 

A handsome red fox, healthy and robust, with an extravaganza of a tail. It stalked the mowed meadow, sharp eyes alert for mice, ears pricked.

 

For a moment, it strolled along the park's macadam walking path, just as its twin pranced up, equally handsome and healthy and robust.

 

We thought: the Magnificent Mr. Fox, and the equally Magnificent Mrs. Fox. They brought beauty into our morning, and wild joy.  

 

In a moment they hurried up the knoll, and over, and were gone.

 

We have much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. Right now, though, most of all, perhaps, we're thankful that, in this world, there are foxes.

 

--Richard and Joyce

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JUST PUBLISHED

 

 

My new novel, just published, is The Girl Who Got Her Tiger On (And the Dog Who Had Her Back)—it's a small departure for me, because it's a young-adult thriller.

 

It's not much of a departure since I'm unsure there's much difference between a young-adult novel and an adult novel, except the YA protagonists are youths.

 

In this story, the heroine is a 17-year-old telling about what happened when she was only 12, just after her father's helicopter blew up in Afghanistan, and her mother became deeply depressed. She felt she had "bad weather" in her head. Amidst all that, new neighbors move in, creepy people, she thinks, and she starts watching them—trying to do the right thing, she gets deep into danger.

 

 There's a new boy across the street, who wants to be her friend, but she avoids her classmates. With all her troubles, they seem shallow to her.

 

Virtually all my novels have a corgi character, and this one does, too. He's the heroine's best friend, William, a Pembroke Welsh corgi, who "helps" with her surveillance of what she calls "The House of Evil."

 

Novels are about characters—usually humans—going through difficulties. Maybe they're destroyed. Maybe they're changed. But, on that basic level, I don't think the protagonists' ages matter much.

 

--Richard

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ON THE NILE

 

 

We flew to Egypt to see temples and obelisks, tombs, giant stone pharaohs, and people who died thousands of years ago, wrapped in linen.

 

Our boat, featured in the movie Death on the Nile, reconditioned (sort of), took us upriver toward Sudan, through places where no tourists go.

 

On a hill paralleling the river, a little boy rode a burro, eyeing us—across his lap, a Kalashnikov automatic rifle.

 

Farther on, we foundered on a sandbar, and a farmer and his wife brought basketfuls of dates, gathered from their palms, and pleaded with us on the boat to accept their gift.  

 

We chugged on, until our engines got the vapors, forcing us to dock at a city nobody ever heard of, with perhaps a million residents, and virtually no contact with the larger world.

 

Joyce joined a number of other women from the boat to take a walk through town. Quickly, young men and boys surrounded them, staring and clapping and chanting. Joining arms, the women pushed through the crowd and power-marched back to the boat, and safety.

 

Richard, meanwhile, also took an exploratory walk. Somewhere in that city, a Jeep drove up and pressed its front bumper an inch from the back of his legs. Two men in uniform inside, with suspicious eyes, indicated they needed his passport, which he had no intention of surrendering. With an affable smile, and hand signals, he suggested he'd go back to the boat to fetch it, although it was in his back pocket.

 

All the way that Jeep pressed its bumper against the back of his legs.

 

Finally, repaired, the boat got underway—next stop, the Valley of the Kings.

 

--Joyce & Richard

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ERIC AND MURDOCK

 

This photograph shows our friends Eric Morse and Murdock, 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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