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

IT'S A HOWL

 

 

We heard about a cool incident on an airliner, posted on Facebook by Wendy Battino.
 
You can check out Ms. Battino's first-person account here—  https://www.facebook.com/wendy.battino/posts/pfbid02XBBD8AkYBDrAsPtb7ETN6QgrWSsL82yxC37uToAuQrBt1V7gMoZBVW6eJfoKKd9yl.


We found this story so amusing and touching, we wanted to pass it along, for those who missed the original account. So here's an abbreviated version—

 

After a sojourn in California, Ms. Battino says, she boarded an Alaska Airlines flight back home, with her two Siberian huskies, Artie and Moon, kenneled in the airliner's cargo hold. As she walked back to her seat, from the hold below, she heard a tremendous howling.

 

It meant: "Where are you, Wendy Battino?" Knowing the howling would continue unless she howled back, Ms. Battino knelt in the aisle and prepared to howl.

 

First, though, a flight attendant asked her to hold off, while the attendant used the PA system to alert the other passengers.

 

After that, Ms. Battino howled.

 

Down in the hold, Artie and Moon went silent.

 

Everyone on the plane laughed.

 

Then the flight attendant made a further announcement: "Would anyone else like to join in one more howl to let these dogs in the hold know that we care?"

 

Just about every passenger on that plane howled. 

 

After that, says Ms. Battino, it was an upbeat flight home.

 

--Joyce and Richard

 

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ON THE PASSING OF A DOG

ANOTHER RACE, ANOTHER WIN

 

 

A good friend e-mailed us—

 

"Murdock went peacefully on his bed at home yesterday."

 

We know that heaviness.

 

You dread summoning the vet, with her vials and needles. You hold that furry body—once so warm—as it goes limp.

  

You wanted to stop the suffering, but now there's guilt—"I killed my dog!" You're lonely. Your companion is gone. You feel hollow inside. Silently, you mourn.

 

A dog is a consciousness, like us, only with a better nose. How did these creatures—progeny of wolves—become so entwined in our hearts and homes?

   

Maybe it's simple: your dog worships you. It's not coy about it. It'll happily lick your fingers. Dogs like fun: let's chase that ball! Tell your dog your fears or worries. Those ears will listen.

 

What better friend than that?

 

Yet, we've seen dogs wandering streets from Cairo to Newark, homeless, hungry.

 

Maybe dogs evolved to test us. Maybe how we treat them measures our humanity.

 

Our friend's West Highland Terrier died of leukemia, after a glorious life—Murdock knew the bliss of being a player on the A-team, beloved.

    

Lucky dog.

Lucky friend of dog.

 

--Joyce and Richard

 

But here's Eric Morse with the last word about his best friend, Murdock—

 

"He had an amazing life of running, covering over 25,000 miles with me, more than the circumference of the Earth. We teamed together in over 200 races in 9 different states.

 

"He continued to run every day with me up until the final weeks. I'm convinced his fitness and continued running extended his life.

 

"I'd like to thank each and every one of you for the thoughtful remarks and reactions to Murdock's passing. They all brought tears to my eyes, knowing so many people cared.

 

"Farewell our friends. It was the best times."

 

--Eric

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LITTLE COWBOY

 

 

 

My husband recently asked if I remembered which Dakota my Uncle Wayne came from, North or South?

 

It was the North, a ranch.

 

His father died when Wayne was a toddler, and his mother carried on until she cut her finger. Out on the plains, far from hospitals and doctors, before the discovery of antibiotics, a cut finger could be fatal, and it was—she died of blood poisoning.

 

So five-year-old Wayne, my eventual uncle by marriage, got dropped on his grandmother's ranch, expected to earn his keep. 

 

One day his grandmother demanded he harness the work horses to a wagon, a four-horse-hitch, to do heavy hauling around the ranch. Those huge Belgians got away from the child, leading to temporary havoc.

 

Wayne's grandmother apparently decided: this kid's more trouble than he's worth. So she shipped him east, to his other grandmother.

 

I picture that little boy, at a prairie train station. He's wearing his Stetson, with a note pinned to his shirt, saying where he's supposed go, a thousand miles away. He's got a bag with what clothes he has, and he's carrying his .22 rifle.

 

He's alone.

 

My aunt, who one day married Wayne, told me: "One of those grandmas was just as mean as the other."

 

Wayne served as a marine, in World War II, on Iwo Jima. I suppose that wartime stint must have stuck in his mind as his greatest adventure, but I think he had an even more telling adventure—I sometimes think of a small boy, alone, on the plank platform of a prairie train station, with his Stetson and his rifle.

 

Pinned to his shirt: his ultimate destination.

 

—Joyce 

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COMPASSION

 

 

 

When I was in sixth grade, a kid my age confronted my father, at the town's bowling alley.

 

"I'm going to get your son," he said.

 

My father warned me, watch out for Flick.

 

Several weeks passed and one evening my father spoke to me before supper.

 

"Did Flick give you trouble?" he asked

.

"Yeah," I said.

 

"What happened?" my father asked, looking grim.

 

"I knocked him down and that was the end of it," I said.

 

I'd never seen my father looking so pleased, and relieved, and so proud of me.

 

I hadn't thought much of it. Even as a sixth grader I somehow knew this was Flick's sad attempt to get my father's attention. He came from the shacks down by the river, and I suppose he envied me having the father I did, a man well-liked by everyone in our small town.

 

I'm not sure what I learned from that non-episode, but I do still remember it after all these years. Maybe it's to have some compassion, because a person may be nasty out of unhappiness. Maybe it's that some are doomed from birth, by mean parents, or squalor, or bad luck.

 

Not many years later Flick died miserably, apparently drowned in not much more than a puddle, in the parking lot of a run-down resort, up in the Catskill Mountains.

 

--Richard

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HERE'S THE NEW COOPER NORTH MYSTERY

Order hardbacks, paperbacks, or e-books at Amazon.com

 

Order Print Books at Barnes & Noble

 

 

Just published, When the Wasp Stings—it's the latest Cooper North mystery novel.

 

Cooper's a rarity among fictional women investigators. For one thing, she isn't young. She's 69 years old. She's formidable. She's tall, almost gaunt, with a falcon's penetrating gaze. She sees you, and she sees into you. On the hunt, she's relentless.

 

Cooper's summoned from retirement, back into the prosecutor's office. Her police colleagues need her, because only she can handle the bizarre events suddenly besetting this patch of the Green Mountains, from an alligator scaring shoppers on Main Street to Ninja-costumed psychopaths, rampaging with commando knives. It begins with a maple-syrup entrepreneur's murder, via wasp stings.  

 

Somehow—Cooper isn't sure exactly how—it all fits. Even the Ninjas fit, targeting people Cooper cares about, including a little boy. 

 

Cooper has fans of all ages, but for older readers she's a special delight—here's a strong woman who's been around. She knows some things.

 

I don't know where Cooper came from. She just sprang out of my mind, fully grown and seasoned. I admire her. I wish I could be more like her. I may be her biggest fan.

 

--Richard

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I'M THAT GUY

 

 

You get to thinking about your life, when you're on your back in a hospital bed, leg in agony, waiting for the surgeon to do her thing.

 

I thought, who am I?

 

Here's what I learned as an idiot child, along with a townful of other idiot children.

 

We'd climb the side of the abandoned pocketbook factory, brick by brick, to stand on the roof, looking down four stories at the Hudson River. I already dreaded the climb back down. Braver souls among us felt life's pull—the thrill of being—and they leapt.

 

I stayed back. 

 

So, I knew already, I'm no hero. I'm not that guy.

 

Later, I was the writer guy.

 

I'd put bits of the world into words, for magazine readers to consume. Maybe a physics Nobelist's discoveries, or what the pilots of a terrain-following B-52 bomber experience, roaring inches over mountaintops.

 

Etc.

 

Okay, I thought, whoever I used to be, I'm not that guy now. 

 

I got to listening to my hospital roommate, a newspaper columnist and the host of a public-tv show. He'd go into the New England outdoors, with camera crews, via kayak or canoe or dogsled, if need be. Willem Lange is celebrated hereabouts. He had an infected foot, but told the medical staff he needed to be out by next week---he had shoots scheduled. Also, there was an upcoming trip to Portugal. Willem spent lots of time on his phone, talking to his girlfriend in another state. He called his cane "John McCain."

 

Willem is pushing ninety.

 

He's had six falls this year, he told me. Most recently, in the wee hours. He lay on the floor unable to get up. He had a phone handy, and his daughter and son-in-law live nearby, but he lay on the floor two hours, until they awoke, to call and ask his son-in-law to help him get up, on the younger man's way to work.

 

That's what struck me.

 

I thought about Joyce, back home, worried about me, but carrying on with her own work, which included editing my latest novel, and arranging to visit me every day, and handling most everything in our life together, all our finances and social contacts and just about all else.

 

I thought: have I been appreciating this?

 

So now I know who I aim to be—I'm the guy who looks out for Joyce.

 

I want to be the guy who'll lie two hours on the floor, so people who matter get their sleep.

 

--Richard  

 

 

 

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A LITTLE LOVE STORY

 

 

 

When the national and international news becomes too scary and mean, we look out our window.

 

We see a little park, with a pond and pathways, and a meadow, and a mountain range beyond. Down in the park we see people, but not just people.

 

Yesterday, we saw one of our favorites, Ella Bella Socks, on one of her walks. She is a medium-sized dog of indeterminate ancestry, black, with white feet and stockings, a pretty sight.

 

Also, farther down the path, we saw our friend Ryan, on his ride-on lawnmower. He is a member of the maintenance team here, and another of our favorites…but not just ours.  

 

Socks saw Ryan, and instantly leaped forward—her human companion dropped Socks' leash, and Socks ran, as fast as a dog can run, full tilt toward Ryan and his tractor.

 

He turned off the machine, waited a second, and then Socks—with a tremendous leap—landed atop the lawnmower and in his lap, clearly ecstatic.

 

Later, we asked Ryan about his relationship with Socks.

 

"She loves me," he said. "Whenever she sees me, her owners just drop her leash and here she comes, fast as she can go."

 

Troubling news, yesterday, on the tv and internet and newspapers. It's always troubling. Out our window, however, the headlines were uplifting—

 

"Dog Loves Man!" "Man Loves Dog!"

 

Go ahead, Socks. Do it again. Make our day!

 

--Joyce and Richard

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PALS

 

 

In case you missed it, we just saw a CNN story that hit a chord, and we want to share it.

 

Cinnamon, a goat, and Felix, a 1-year-old bulldog mix, are totally buddies.

 

They hang out full-time, eating, playing, and sleeping.

 

They came to the Wake County Animal Center, in Raleigh, North Carolina, on March 13, 2023, because they each needed a home, and they found one—together.

 

Now they're BFFs, because a local family, with a history of fostering homeless animals, has taken them in. They now have a small herd of goats, for consorting, pastures for romping, and—of course—each other.

 

Animals, we believe, are sentient, like us, with awareness and emotions, a belief based on really smart and caring dogs we've had in our lives.

 

Plus, a bit of back story—when one of us (Richard) was a child, his dog was an exceptionally bright border collie (mix), who took it upon herself to watch over a boy she considered incapable of looking after himself.

 

Richard had a friend up the street who also had a devoted animal in his life, Clover, a goat. Goat and dog became good friends, and when the two boys played together, so did the animals, fun for all.

 

Only sour note: Richard's mother looked askance at a goat in her house, prancing about on sharp little hooves.

 

--Joyce and Richard 

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WALTER'S WINTER

 

 

Now it is March, which is northern New England's season of impatience.

 

Four months now we've had snow and ice, and slippery roads, and frigid Canadian winds. We're ready for crocuses and incoming robins singing cheerio. But that's not yet.

 

South of here, March is when spring finally opens its eyes. Here in the north, it's when spring gives us an occasional sexy wink, to soften us up, then blows more snow in our face.

 

So, here we are, looking out our west-facing windows at the horizon's mountain range, white all the way up the flanks to the peaks. There's a meadow below our windows, rising to a knoll, all buried under a foot of snow.

 

Gray sky, looming clouds. More snow forecast.

 

We stare out the window glumly. After all these months, winter lies heavy on the mind.

 

But what's that, coming up the meadow knoll? It's a woman, bundled in a parka and heavy mittens, and at her feet prances a small mahogany-furred presence, performing ballet moves in the snow.

 

It's Walter!

 

He's a Pembroke Welsh corgi, with a huge personality, but short legs. Walter can't walk through the snow, with those short legs, so he prances through it, jumping, pirouetting, burrowing, leaping up in a geyser of white—having a blast.

 

Walter's endured the same four frozen months as we have, and now he's out in it with no parka, no mittens, no boots…but he's not glum.

 

Walter is joyfully alive, relishing the white stuff in which he prances, gleefully using his snout as a shovel, to throw up powdery white clouds.  

 

Presumably, we should learn from Walter—take what life gives you, cold or warm, find joy, prance.

 

Yes, it would be nice. However, that's not how it is. Our sky's still gray, our meadow's still  mineral white, it's still gusting cold.

 

We watch Walter prance back down the knoll and out of sight, leaving just a memory of exuberance.

 

We're still staring out the window, looking at another month of winter.

Yet, not quite so glumly as fifteen minutes ago.

 

Thanks, Walter.

 

--Joyce & Richard 

 

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BIRDHOUSE FOREST

 

 

South Hero Island, in Vermont, offers stunning views of Lake Champlain. It also offers "Birdhouse Forest."

 

Driving north, toward Canada, you pass a sign: "White's Beach." Look to your right.

 

Most travelers stop here, where a swamp borders the road, unsure what they're seeing.

 

Every tree sports a birdhouse, each in bright flower colors—rose, lilac, daisy, buttercup….

 

This might be a fairy city.

 

Even a few dinosaurs roam among the trees.

 

All this began when two neighbors learned tree swallows eat huge numbers of mosquitoes. Living beside a swamp, they had mosquitoes. So they decided to craft twenty swallow houses and put them up.

 

Swallows came, and flew through the swamp on mosquito hunts. So the neighbors put up more birdhouses, and more, and more….

 

Twenty years later, Birdhouse Forest is a swallow city, with 800 brightly colored birdhouses. For an added frisson, they installed carved wooden dinosaurs. Probably the reptiles wouldn't scare away mosquitoes, but still, worth a try.

 

Keep a lookout, driving America's back roads—you never know what you might see.

 

--Joyce

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