Reub's journey

15 August 2016

First lines in August

How do you choose a book? Perhaps a friend recommends it, or you've read a review. Maybe it's a series that you're reading one by one, or an author you've liked before. I know somebody who refuses to read books in which bad/sad things happen, another who is the opposite and is suspicious of all books with happy endings.  

Me, I read all kinds of stuff but I am a fan of book covers and first lines. I like all of these covers.

 Here are the beginning lines, all of them inviting me into the book:

"This is me when I was 10 years old." (Persepolis, a well-known graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi)

"No one had seen her naked until her death." (The Birth of Venus, historical fiction by trash-writer-I-cannot-put-down Sarah Durant. The opening scene to this book, following that first line, is cinematic.)

"Come along, Bill; we'll have to get there, or we won't hear the first of it." (Bill Brown's Radio, a kids' book from 1929 by Wayne Whipple. An irresistible book from my father-in-law's attic.)

"Ancient mythologies have much to do with modern literature." (Bullfinch's Age of Fable, copyright 1898, the precursor to Edith Hamilton's Mythology. Is his first line still true? I think so.)

"You wouldn't think a boy of six would be excited to get an alarm clock for Christmas."  (This Is Not A Confession, a recent and excellent collection of memoir-essays and "speculative nonfiction" by David Olimpio.)

I have many beloved first lines, but every summer when it turns to August, there is one that stands out. Really, not just the first sentence but the whole first paragraph of Tuck Everlasting, by Natalie Babbit:

The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning

The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless and hot.

It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too  much color.

Often at night there is lightening, but it quivers all alone. There is no thunder, no relieving rain.

These are strange and breathless days, when people are led to do things they are sure to be sorry for after.

A beautiful, eerie book for young adults, Tuck Everlasting concerns the threat and curse of immortal life. A story for the ending weeks of summer, I first read it when my kids were 12 or 13, drawn in by it's beginning lines. Every year, right about now it is worth a visit.

26 July 2016


There is so much awful spectacle in the wider world right now that I dread looking at the news in the morning. The tiny drama of nearby life is a different matter though.

The littlest things are riveting. Like this handful of dead grass that I imagine is a fallen nest near the front door three days ago.

I walk over to pick it up.

But just when I reach down, a small bird scrambles out.

Chit, chit, chit...this little bird, an Oregon junco, energetically scolds me. There is, after all, no neglected and fallen nest, but a home built on the ground and inhabited, thank you very much. Back off.

For the next 24 hours I try unsuccessfully to catch a glimpse of what is inside that nest, but it is always covered by its funny bird-made grass tarp.

And then yesterday, mama left the nest slightly uncovered. Three perfect little speckled eggs.
  All the bad headlines in the world can't destroy my delight.

But quickly I am gripped with fear.
What were they thinking anyway? Are these inexperienced bird parents? Situated on top of shallow green ground cover, this is not the well-disguised nest described in the bird book. It screams NEST NEST NEST to any hungry predator. There is a growing brood of crow babies down the street and I fear that they will soon feast upon junco eggs. My junco eggs. So John puts up a screen, sort of, to allay my fears. He says it is inspired by architect Frank Gehry, and I suppose it is.

This afternoon there is news. And again it is the very best kind of news: three tiny babies. They are little more than naked beating hearts lying in a bed of soft grass and moss. They are the most vulnerable thing I have ever seen. Will they survive? I don't know. But they are now 12 hours old, and in this world that is a victory all by itself.

02 July 2016


Love is as powerful as death.
Solomon 8:6

What a week it has been, filled with beauty so deep that it is hard to find words.

It was a spectacular Saturday in Boston, perfect weather on the day that my son married his best friend.

  A wedding is one of life's great celebrations, and so when asked if I cried during the ceremony, I have to say no, I only smiled and smiled.

 It was a day of supreme joy.

Afterwards we visited friends in Vermont, and then as we headed back home we learned that John's father passed away.

John's dad has been a wise, kind, and patient patriarch of the family, a role model for all of us. This is a picture of him two years ago, dancing at age 96 with our daughter at her wedding.

Here is a pic from 5 years ago at age 93, working on one of the 200 houses he helped to build with Habitat for Humanity. Ninety eight years is a long time to grace the planet with good will.  I am filled with gratitude that this beautiful person was part of my life for nearly half that time.

I flipped the wall calendar's page today, a few days into the month already. The word of the month is "celebrate." Celebrating a marriage is obvious and easy, but you know, celebrating my father-in-law's good life is an equally profound pleasure.

Anything you lose comes around in another form.

13 June 2016

Reub these days

 I need to post about Reuben.
It is a bit taboo to talk about an aggressive pet.

The truth is that this blog would probably not continue to exist were it not for the mental imbalance of Reub, who became dangerously unglued about five years ago, causing me to write about his medication. Prozac.

"My Dog on Prozac" continues to get hundreds of hits every month, but now Blogger can no longer support the number of comments there. If you visit that post you will see that I religiously respond to people's concerns, and that it has become an odd little forum all by itself. People who wanted to leave comments there may try leaving them here, and for as long as this blog exists, I will respond.

It's amazing, the number of cases that are worse than Reub's. Only rarely am I harsh with a commenter. Like the time a person said their dog deserved "a second chance" and would therefore re-home him before putting him down. No.

When you commit to an animal it is forever. Don't pass him off to somebody else. That isn't going to magically fix him and you are not doing anybody a favor. If you have an aggressive dog and are not willing to do what it takes to address the issues, then you might as well put him down. Don't leave him at a shelter, where they may not catch the problem, and then he becomes somebody else's bad situation.

Reub is an old boy now, turning white in the face. His mental health is much better, but with a dog who has bitten somebody, well, you must never ever trust them completely again, never.


Even though  there have been no signs of aggression for a very long time, except perhaps towards the UPS guy who rings the doorbell, this old fellow will always be carefully managed. Managed and loved to the end.

17 May 2016


The day we go in search of wild horses on Steens Mountain is clear and cool, a perfect morning for a hike even if we never come across anything more than hoof prints in the hard, volcanic,  high desert dirt. 

Scanning the hills, at first it looks like it might be a herd of cattle out there: little dots of slowly moving color in the distance.

Some of them are cattle, but mostly it's wild horses. Leaving our dusty car at the side of the gravel road, we walk slowly towards the group.

We pass near a mare with a very young foal. I doubt this baby is more than a day or two old.

The protective father makes sure we come no closer. At the same time he remains very alert to the movement of the herd on the hillside. It's likely that he is a banished young stallion beginning his own family, watchful of everybody. With no one to comb and bathe him, he still shines like copper.

They move near one another, hide their baby in the sage brush,  and decide we are no threat.

Meanwhile the herd on the hillside is aware of us, bands together, and heads away. It is the cattle, recently branded, who seem most fearful. The horses put the cows between us.

This band of mustangs is named after the lead stallion, Atlas. That's Atlas on the far left, with a map-shaped white patch on his side. The other horse in a leadership position is the pinto on the far right, maybe a mare. She probably has a name, but I couldn't locate it on the Facebook pages devoted to the 200-plus horses on Steens Mountain.

They stream over the ridge, Atlas the last to disappear into the 127,000 acres of high country where they roam. They were like a vivid dream, evaporating with time and distance... I won't see them again but can't forget what they were like.

07 May 2016


Freshly returned from a late-spring trip to Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in central Oregon, I've been looking at the photos. It seems that things come in twos this time of year.

We were told that there are more deaths from owl attacks than rattlesnakes, which I do not believe, but's true that they are well-armed and defensive, so I stayed a good distance away when taking this shot of a mama great horned owl. There was no way of knowing about the owlet until the pictures could be seen on a big screen. Nice surprise!

These two wild mustangs are calmly grazing in one of the most beautiful places anywhere, South Steens Mountain, Oregon. They were so unconcerned and robust that I thought they must be a rancher's open-range grazing livestock. But no. Soon afterwards we saw many other wild horses and I took a zillion pictures, which I may share later.

A wild stallion and his mare.

I love prairie dogs. Those feet were made for diggin' and that's just what they'll do. After taking 10 minutes to edge closer and closer to these two, we got a pretty good look at one another.

Without prairie dogs, what would burrowing owls do? These little owls take over the abandoned burrows of ground squirrels and badgers, which seems very esoteric, and so no wonder their population is dwindling? At Malheur we found them more than once, though. The male is a little smaller and he works quite hard, bringing food to the Mrs while she takes care of the brood.

Traveling in Malheur is a dusty affair, and the VW needs a good hosing. But first check out the synchronicity between an old juniper and our back window, a matching twosome.


There's never been a better reason to put off washing the car.