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

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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FOX IN WINTER

 

 

Get yourselves to Florida, an old friend e-mailed. It's 77 degrees here, and the breeze off the Gulf is balmy.

 

Tempting, no question. Northern New England winters are tough. Cold, snow, ice, and winds that freeze your nose.  

 

With our friend's admonition on my mind, I went out this morning for fresh air and to check the  icy path to our oil tank, not wanting the fuel-truck driver to slip. On the way back to our entryway, to get salt to sprinkle, I saw tracks.

 

They came from our pinewoods, passed near our front door, and then angled off across the snow.

 

Fox.

 

An expert tracker once told us dog tracks zigzag, because of attention-deficit disorder, but a fox walks straight and purposeful.  

 

I come out every day to see what news is printed on the snow. Red squirrel, down from a tree, bits of its spruce-cone breakfast littering the snow. Fisher, bounding across the white meadow. Deer everywhere. Tiny tracks, the passage of a white-footed mouse. Meanwhile, no matter how cold, chickadees cheerfully flit in the balsams. Overhead, ravens exchange raucous messages.  

 

We've been particularly mesmerized by the fox. It's mysterious. No tracks in new snow. Then, a half-hour later, tracks. Passing in front of a window, but never seen.

 

Today, though, at lunch, Joyce suddenly stood up, pointing out the window: "Look!"

 

Fox.

 

She trotted, that fox, just on the other side of the pond. A redhead so gorgeous—with an enormous fluffy tail—we wanted to run down and pet her, which would not have succeeded. She's a wild thing, hunting mice.

 

She turned her head and looked up at us, in the window, eyes dark and sharp. Then she vanished into the pinewoods, on pressing business.

 

Her beauty, though, lingered in the January air.

 

Does that make bearable a long winter in this climate? I'm not sure.

 

A little, though, it helps.   

 

--Richard

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CREATURE IN OUR CLOSET

We've had a trying week with nature.

 

Snowstorms. Single-digit temperatures.

 

Meanwhile, a deer mouse cached food in our car's heating system, requiring a visit to the dealer for an expensive fix. It's not our thing, but this time we set traps, because mice can severely damage a car. Also, a house's wiring. We caught four mice, and after that the influx stopped.

 

Then we saw what looked to be a tiny, dark-furred mouse racing across our living room carpet. This visitor—it's practically a pet by this point—didn't act mouse-like, because it regards us resident giants with contempt, practically running over our feet.

 

It turned out to be no mouse at all. It's a short-tailed shrew. It weighs about the same as a dime (we looked it up), but it's our smallest, yet fiercest, mammal. It's a predator. It will attack prey several times its own size. Luckily, we're bigger than dragonflies or mice. Shrews may fight each other to the death, with the victor eating the loser. Daily they must eat their own weight.

 

We tried a mousetrap baited with peanut butter. No dice. We tried a plastic pail with a bit of smoked salmon on the bottom and a ramp offering an easy way up, theorizing that once the shrew dove off the pail's rim to get at the salmon, it would be trapped.

 

No dice.

 

We'll be getting a Havahart humane trap, hoping for a speedy capture and release, far out in our woods.

 

Also, we've installed netting around our hemlock shrubbery to keep our neighbors, white-tailed deer, from decimating it this winter.

 

We watch them, on these frigid mornings, hoofing the snow to find plants to eat. We imagine living out there, as they do, and it horrifies us.

 

Once upon a time, animals had these forested hills to themselves, including the black bears who occasionally lumber across our lawn and the red fox that patrols our pinewoods and the wild turkeys marching across the snow, down by the pond, and the two resident woodchucks, currently snoozing for the winter in their burrows.

 

Now we're here, and we're trying for détente.    

 

--Joyce & Richard

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WHAT DOES A DOG MEAN?




A friend asked me—why, in most of your husband’s novels, is one character a Pembroke Welsh corgi?

And the answer is: “It’s personal.”

Sometimes that dog character is Henry. Sometimes he’s Tobi. But his real name—he was a real dog—was Nosmo.

“Nosmo King,” in full, chosen by his previous family because they quit smoking and named him for a “No Smoking” sign. Not a name we liked.

Then we realized Nosmo could be a Hobbit name, like Frodo or Bilbo. So he became Nosmo the Hobbit.

He was preternaturally bright. Read More 

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APPARITION


Joyce awoke in the night and looked out the window. She saw a full moon, shining on fresh snow.

I lay half-asleep. Then Joyce gasped. I bolted out of bed to see what alarmed her.

“Something’s out there,” she said.

I saw only snow. Then, behind the pond, I saw a shape, indistinct in the moon-cast shadows, but something huge.

Massive shoulders hunched, it glided across the snow.  Read More 

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MURDOCK WISHES YOU HIS HOLIDAY BEST

Our good friend and frequent visitor, Murdock Morse, sends his holiday greetings to all.

Go romp in the snow, he says. It feels good!

--Joyce & Richard

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GRACIE WEIGHS IN TOO!

Gracie Duke--another good friend of ours--wants to second her pal Murdock's message: celebrate!

It's the darkest days of the year, she says. So get out there and bark! Bark for the return of the light!. Bark loud! It'll come!

Joyce & Richard

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