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

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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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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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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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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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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