Archive for Family

Echo in the Snow

Took this snap on a morning walk, Monday the 4th, after a couple of inches of snow. Photo is a detail with a silvertone filter edited on, via iPhone. Nothing fancy. I just like the way my dog (lower right) disappears into the scene.

 

In Defense of Living in the Past

They say you shouldn’t live in the past.

“Be present in the here and now.”

But the older I get,

the more past there is.

It keeps piling up.

And, of course, that’s the only place

I can go to visit

some of my favorite people.

A favorite photo of my father,

Mr. “It’s five o’clock somewhere.”

Not a big drinker, don’t mean

to give that impression.

But he liked his Scotch.

Sleepless on Long Island: Remembering My First Pitchback

I’m struck by a memory this morning and thought I’d write it down before, you know, it all evaporates into the mist of dementia. I’m not there yet!

One week when I was young — let’s guess that I was six or seven — my elderly grandparents came to watch us while my parents went away on a trip. This was a rare and usual thing for our family. 

At that time, I was infatuated with baseball and “ball games” of any description. I’d fill hours by playing imaginary games, keeping score in notebooks. I’d throw a Spaulding against the back of our house, perfecting my Jerry Koosman-inspired windup. Whap, whap, whap, endlessly against the red shingles.

Well, grandpa was old and he needed his naps. He slept in my oldest brother Neal’s room — who must have been away at Princeton at the time — which was right next to the target for my incoming missiles. 

The poor guy couldn’t sleep a wink. 

Here’s the amazing part. They could have easily forbid me from doing the thing I loved most of all. Entirely reasonable request. Grandpa needs his sleep. But they didn’t. Instead, the next day, my grandparents arrived with a pitchback they’d purchased at a local sports store. “Here you go, slugger, use this as a target. Just, please, no more slamming against the house.”

Wonder of wonders. It was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen.

Man, I loved that pitchback. Sploing, sploing, sploing. We positioned it under our backyard apple tree and I played for hours every day while Grandpa, I hope, got his rest.

That’s called problem-solving, folks. And kindness. I didn’t fully get it at the time, but I do now. 

Camping Photo, John Muir Quote: Two for the Price of None!

“In every walk with nature,

one receives far more

than he seeks.”

John Muir

 

I enjoyed a weekend of camping with my wife and daughter and our incredible dog, Echo. We brought a canoe and two kayaks. And let me tell you, it got cold at night, close to freezing! I felt a twinge of guilt staring at our big roaring fires in the verdant Northeastern woods, while those devastating wildfires out west still burn. My heart goes out to all those people and living creatures that have been displaced, their homes destroyed, landscapes (temporarily) ravaged. My wife had a childhood home burn to the ground. She’d been out at basketball practice, only to return to a worried crowd gathered outside, her father in tears. So many people must be experiencing that same tumult of emotion and loss. 

So, yes, a moment for that.

But also for John Muir, and the value of getting out into nature, feeling it, hearing those owls at night, the coyotes surprisingly close, and the ghostly calls of the loons across the lake. 

 

Like-minded readers might enjoy my middle-grade wilderness survival story about siblings, Grace and Carter, who are lost in the mountains. A 2019 Library Guild Selection.

 

A Dog Leads With Its Nose

Maggie, my daughter, has an eye for photos. Especially when it comes to our sweet Echo.

This remarkable perspective, his glorious snout, brought to mind the dog Sitka in my recent wilderness adventure novel, Blood Mountain

To write about that character, a mutt lost in the mountains with two human siblings, Grace and Carter, I did some research. Though I’ve owned many dogs and have observed them closely over the years, I didn’t feel ready to write about them. I knew that I didn’t want to humanize Sitka, do a Disney treatment; instead, I wanted to honor the sheer dogginess of the creature. And when it comes to dogs, I learned, it all begins with the nose.

What follows are two brief excerpts from the book that hone close to Sitka’s own glorious snout. 

from Chapter 23 . . .

After a time, the dog moves away, climbs down off the rock face, down into the sun-stippled understory beneath the great shade-cooled umbrella of leaves. A hunger gnaws at Sitka’s belly like a twisting, tightening coil of wire. Imagine if everything a human sees — every color, shape, and texture — arrived with a specific odor. The red of that flower’s petals, the deep-rutted bark of a poplar, the light brown of a wren’s chest, the dropped acorns, the pale underside of a leaf, the shimmering sky itself: every pixel that an eye apprehends, for a dog those details come with singular odor, as different as green from red, blue from yellow. When Sitka sniffs, it is the same as Grace opening her eyes. Sitka inhales and her tail sweeps and she knows a man has passed near here some time ago, moving in an easterly direction. A mosaic of smells, each one a discovery. The creatures of this world announce themselves to her nose: I am. The dog goes to the slow-trickling stream. Movement among the ferns. Sitka stealthily moves to investigate, prodded by the ache in her belly. Plunges her nose deep into the living green world, inhales the data points, sniffs out the whiskered, stout rodent. Pounces with front paws outstretched, and again — there! success! — bites down, gulps, gone.

A huntress!

Sweet vole!

And even in that instant, the dog attends to one who lies restless in half sleep; a soft moan, she wakes. Meal in belly — hair and tail and skull — Sitka will be at Grace’s side by the time she opens her eyes. 

And from Chapter 34 . . . 

The dog smells everything, recent past and the acute present, for a mile in all directions, depending on air currents. The data overload is immense. Mind-boggling to process. But one odor comes clearest. Though Sitka has no direct experience of “mountain lion,” that named thing, something in her DNA recognizes the lurking danger, the predator prowling in the dark, unseen and unheard.

But not unsmelled.

Therefore: known.

An old enemy.

Sitka vacuums in the odors, sifts through the information. The creatures with names she cannot know: squirrel, vole, owl, mole, mouse, rabbit, hawk, raccoon. Another faint whiff troubles the dog: man. A desperate man has recently moved through this area, the aroma of stealth and haste.

And another thing: the trees themselves, hosts to so much life. Tree limbs and tree fingers, tree thoughts and tree intentions. The interconnected roots, thirsty and entangled, talking in their ancient tongues, passing along what they know to each other. This is the wild place, the space of time-before, and now the dog forgets recents pleasures of soft cushions and screen doors, fresh water bowls and proffered treats, long drives with the windows down.

Dog recalls wolf.

The time-before.

The snaggletooth. The vicious bite and muzzle shake. The primal memory of ripped flesh and the warm taste of red blood. The fresh kill.

“What do you smell?” Grace asks.

How does the dog answer?

Sitka sits alert, rumbles low, hackles raised, muscles taut. Danger, her body replies.

She senses danger.