Saturday, May 30, 2009

The other shoe has dropped

Well, eight weeks after I was told my time at the paper was ending, the boss finally came by Friday and pulled the plug. It remains disappointing: We were doing good work, but not what management had in mind. But we couldn't both be right about how a newspaper should be run, and owning the business does tend to be a trump card.

At this point, it is mostly a relief. The past two months have been bizarre and stressful, and while it has been nice to continue to have a paycheck coming in, being out of that ridiculous situation has its own appeal. I've got one possibility floating out there which would be ideal, and, if that doesn't happen, I've got enough to get by modestly until something else turns up.

For the moment, I am not simply content but happy to identify with the office boy in this 1911 cartoon from Punch. (Click for larger version)

And Ziwa will be happy to get daily walks. Maybe twice daily!

Friday, May 29, 2009

When did empathy become a bad thing?

Senator: "I'd like to ask you why you want this job?"

SUPREME COURT NOMINEE THOMAS: "I believe, Senator, that I can make a contribution, that I can bring something different to the Court, that I can walk in the shoes of the people who are affected by what the Court does."


The President, nominating him: "He is a delightful and warm, intelligent person who has great empathy and a wonderful sense of humor. He's also a fiercely independent thinker with an excellent legal mind, who believes passionately in equal opportunity for all Americans. "

(Of course, one must not rush into things ...)

From The Christian Science Monitor:

"We will thoroughly examine her record to ensure she understands that the role of a jurist in our democracy is to apply the law evenhandedly, despite their own feelings or personal or political preferences," said Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

"The American people deserve a full and thoughtful debate about the proper role of a judge in the American legal system," added Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee.

Republicans urged the Obama administration and Senate Democrats not to rush the nomination into hearings. They said they want time to undertake a complete investigation.

How much wiser they are today than they were four years ago ...

Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH)

"'There never was a filibuster of a majority-supported judicial nominee until a couple of years ago... It is inconsistent with the Constitution and with the Framers' intent as documented in the Federalist Papers and the notes of James Madison." [Portsmouth Herald, "N.H. voice key on filibusters," 5/19/2005]

"From a constitutional perspective, judicial nominations have the right to an up or down vote in the Senate, and the filibustering of these nominations is inconsistent with over 200 years of tradition in the Senate and distorts our system of checks and balances." [Portsmouth Herald, "N.H. voice key on filibusters," 5/19/2005]

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT)

"All we are asking is the 214-year tradition of the Senate that judicial nominees not be filibustered be followed. That has been the tradition of the Senate up until President Bush became President. All we are asking is that every one of these qualified nominees who have reached the floor receive an up-or-down vote. That is all we are asking." [Senate Floor Speech, 4/27/05]

"...I think we should bind both Democrats and Republicans that presidential nominees for the judiciary deserve an up-and-down vote once they reach the floor..." [NPR, "Orrin Hatch Discusses Debate in Senate," 5/19/05]

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX)

"In all these cases, she had a majority of votes in the Senate for confirmation, but she is not on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals today. Why? Because her nomination is being filibustered by Democrats, and she has been held to a standard of 60 votes instead of 51. That is changing the Constitution of the United States. [...] It is not the rule that is being changed in this debate. It is the precedent of the Senate, for 200 years, that was changed in the 108th Congress, by requiring 60 votes for the confirmation of judges. And we are now looking to reaffirm the will of the Senate to do exactly what the Constitution envisions; and that is, a 51-vote majority for judges. Two hundred years of Senate precedent is being torn apart. Through Democrat majority control and Republican majority control over the years-the filibuster was not used as it was in the last session of Congress." [Senate Floor Speech, 4/27/05]

"They have gotten away with obstructing by exploiting the filibuster and denying Justice Owen a direct vote. Now, unfortunately, we must take action to ensure President Bush's nominees are getting the up-or-down vote they deserve." [San Antonio Express-News, "Senate showdown looms on judges," 4/22/2005]

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Our hearts were touched by fire

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., delivered Memorial Day, 1884, at John Sedgwick Post No. 4, Grand Army of the Republic, Keene, New Hampshire.

Not long ago I heard a young man ask why people still kept up Memorial Day, and it set me thinking of the answer. Not the answer that you and I should give to each other -- not the expression of those feelings that, so long as you live, will make this day sacred to memories of love and grief and heroic youth -- but an answer which should command the assent of those who do not share our memories, and in which we of the North and our brethren of the South could join in perfect accord.

So far as this last is concerned, to be sure, there is no trouble. The soldiers who were doing their best to kill one another felt less of personal hostility, I am very certain, than some who were not imperilled by their mutual endeavors. I have heard more than one of those who had been gallant and distinguished officers on the Confederate side say that they had had no such feeling. I know that I and those whom I knew best had not.

We believed that it was most desirable that the North should win; we believed in the principle that the Union is indissoluble; we, or many of us at least, also believed that the conflict was inevitable, and that slavery had lasted long enough.

But we equally believed that those who stood against us held just as sacred conviction that were the opposite of ours, and we respected them as every man with a heart must respect those who give all for their belief. The experience of battle soon taught its lesson even to those who came into the field more bitterly disposed.

You could not stand up day after day in those indecisive contests where overwhelming victory was impossible because neither side would run as they ought when beaten, without getting at least something of the same brotherhood for the enemy that the north pole of a magnet has for the south -- each working in an opposite sense to the other, but each unable to get along without the other.

As it was then, it is now. The soldiers of the war need no explanations; they can join in commemorating a soldier's death with feelings not different in kind, whether he fell toward them or by their side.

But Memorial Day may and ought to have a meaning also for those who do not share our memories.

When men have instinctively agreed to celebrate an anniversary, it will be found that there is some thought of feeling behind it which is too large to be dependent upon associations alone.

The Fourth of July, for instance, has still its serious aspect, although we no longer should think of rejoicing like children that we have escaped from an outgrown control, although we have achieved not only our national but our moral independence and know it far too profoundly to make a talk about it, and although an Englishman can join in the celebration without a scruple. For, stripped of the temporary associations which gives rise to it, it is now the moment when by common consent we pause to become conscious of our national life and to rejoice in it, to recall what our country has done for each of us, and to ask ourselves what we can do for the country in return.

So to the indifferent inquirer who asks why Memorial Day is still kept up we may answer, it celebrates and solemnly reaffirms from year to year a national act of enthusiasm and faith. It embodies in the most impressive form our belief that to act with enthusiasm and faith is the condition of acting greatly.

To fight out a war, you must believe something and want something with all your might. So must you do to carry anything else to an end worth reaching. More than that, you must be willing to commit yourself to a course, perhaps a long and hard one, without being able to foresee exactly where you will come out. All that is required of you is that you should go somewhither as hard as ever you can. The rest belongs to fate. One may fall -- at the beginning of the charge or at the top of the earthworks -- but in no other way can he reach the rewards of victory.

When it was felt so deeply as it was on both sides that a man ought to take part in the war unless some conscientious scruple or strong practical reason made it impossible, was that feeling simply the requirement of a local majority that their neighbors should agree with them? I think not: I think the feeling was right -- in the South as in the North.

I think that, as life is action and passion, it is required of a man that he should share the passion and action of his time at peril of being judged not to have lived.

If this be so, the use of this day is obvious. It is true that I cannot argue a man into a desire. If he says to me, Why should I seek to know the secrets of philosophy? Why seek to decipher the hidden laws of creation that are graven upon the tablets of the rocks, or to unravel the history of civilization that is woven in the tissue of our jurisprudence, or to do any great work, either of speculation or of practical affairs? I cannot answer him; or at least my answer is as little worth making for any effect it will have upon his wishes if he asked why I should eat this, or drink that.

You must begin by wanting to. But although desire cannot be imparted by argument, it can be by contagion.

Feeling begets feeling, and great feeling begets great feeling. We can hardly share the emotions that make this day to us the most sacred day of the year, and embody them in ceremonial pomp, without in some degree imparting them to those who come after us.

I believe from the bottom of my heart that our memorial halls and statues and tablets, the tattered flags of our regiments gathered in the Statehouses, are worth more to our young men by way of chastening and inspiration than the monuments of another hundred years of peaceful life could be.

But even if I am wrong, even if those who come after us are to forget all that we hold dear, and the future is to teach and kindle its children in ways as yet unrevealed, it is enough for us that this day is dear and sacred.

Accidents may call up the events of the war.

You see a battery of guns go by at a trot, and for a moment you are back at White Oak Swamp, or Antietam, or on the Jerusalem Road. You hear a few shots fired in the distance, and for an instant your heart stops as you say to yourself, "The skirmishers are at it," and listen for the long roll of fire from the main line. You meet an old comrade after many years of absence; he recalls the moment that you were nearly surrounded by the enemy, and again there comes up to you that swift and cunning thinking on which once hung life and freedom -- "Shall I stand the best chance if I try the pistol or the sabre on that man who means to stop me? Will he get his carbine free before I reach him, or can I kill him first?"

These and the thousand other events we have known are called up, I say, by accident, and, apart from accident, they lie forgotten.

But as surely as this day comes round we are in the presence of the dead. For one hour, twice a year at least -- at the regimental dinner, where the ghosts sit at table more numerous than the living, and on this day when we decorate their graves -- the dead come back and live with us.

I see them now, more than I can number, as once I saw them on this earth. They are the same bright figures, or their counterparts, that come also before your eyes; and when I speak of those who were my brothers, the same words describe yours.

I see a fair-haired lad, a lieutenant, and a captain on whom life had begun somewhat to tell, but still young, sitting by the long mess-table in camp before the regiment left the State, and wondering how many of those who gathered in our tent could hope to see the end of what was then beginning. For neither of them was that destiny reserved.

I remember, as I awoke from my first long stupor in the hospital after the battle of Ball's Bluff, I heard the doctor say, "He was a beautiful boy", and I knew that one of those two speakers was no more. The other, after passing through all the previous battles, went into Fredericksburg with strange premonition of the end, and there met his fate.

I see another youthful lieutenant as I saw him in the Seven Days, when I looked down the line at Glendale. The officers were at the head of their companies. The advance was beginning. We caught each other's eye and saluted. When next I looked, he was gone.

I see the brother of the last -- the flame of genius and daring on his face -- as he rode before us into the wood of Antietam, out of which came only dead and deadly wounded men. So, a little later, he rode to his death at the head of his cavalry in the Valley.

In the portraits of some of those who fell in the civil wars of England, Vandyke has fixed on canvas the type who stand before my memory. Young and gracious faces, somewhat remote and proud, but with a melancholy and sweet kindness. There is upon their faces the shadow of approaching fate, and the glory of generous acceptance of it.

I may say of them , as I once heard it said of two Frenchmen, relics of the ancien regime, "They were very gentle. They cared nothing for their lives." High breeding, romantic chivalry -- we who have seen these men can never believe that the power of money or the enervation of pleasure has put an end to them. We know that life may still be lifted into poetry and lit with spiritual charm.

But the men, not less, perhaps even more, characteristic of New England, were the Puritans of our day. For the Puritan still lives in New England, thank God! and will live there so long as New England lives and keeps her old renown. New England is not dead yet. She still is mother of a race of conquerors -- stern men, little given to the expression of their feelings, sometimes careless of their graces, but fertile, tenacious, and knowing only duty. Each of you, as I do, thinks of a hundred such that he has known.

I see one -- grandson of a hard rider of the Revolution and bearer of his historic name -- who was with us at Fair Oaks, and afterwards for five days and nights in front of the enemy the only sleep that he would take was what he could snatch sitting erect in his uniform and resting his back against a hut. He fell at Gettysburg.

His brother, a surgeon, who rode, as our surgeons so often did, wherever the troops would go, I saw kneeling in ministration to a wounded man just in rear of our line at Antietam, his horse's bridle round his arm -- the next moment his ministrations were ended.

His senior associate survived all the wounds and perils of the war, but, not yet through with duty as he understood it, fell in helping the helpless poor who were dying of cholera in a Western city.

I see another quiet figure, of virtuous life and quiet ways, not much heard of until our left was turned at Petersburg. He was in command of the regiment as he saw our comrades driven in. He threw back our left wing, and the advancing tide of defeat was shattered against his iron wall. He saved an army corps from disaster, and then a round shot ended all for him.

There is one who on this day is always present on my mind. He entered the army at nineteen, a second lieutenant. In the Wilderness, already at the head of his regiment, he fell, using the moment that was left him of life to give all of his little fortune to his soldiers. I saw him in camp, on the march, in action. I crossed debatable land with him when we were rejoining the Army together.

I observed him in every kind of duty, and never in all the time I knew him did I see him fail to choose that alternative of conduct which was most disagreeable to himself. He was indeed a Puritan in all his virtues, without the Puritan austerity; for, when duty was at an end, he who had been the master and leader became the chosen companion in every pleasure that a man might honestly enjoy.

His few surviving companions will never forget the awful spectacle of his advance alone with his company in the streets of Fredericksburg. In less than sixty seconds he would become the focus of a hidden and annihilating fire from a semicircle of houses. His first platoon had vanished under it in an instant, ten men falling dead by his side.

He had quietly turned back to where the other half of his company was waiting, had given the order, "Second Platoon, forward!" and was again moving on, in obedience to superior command, to certain and useless death, when the order he was obeying was countermanded. The end was distant only a few seconds; but if you had seen him with his indifferent carriage, and sword swinging from his finger like a cane, you would never have suspected that he was doing more than conducting a company drill on the camp parade ground.

He was little more than a boy, but the grizzled corps commanders knew and admired him; and for us, who not only admired, but loved, his death seemed to end a portion of our life also.

There is one grave and commanding presence that you all would recognize, for his life has become a part of our common history. Who does not remember the leader of the assault of the mine at Petersburg? The solitary horseman in front of Port Hudson, whom a foeman worthy of him bade his soldiers spare, from love and admiration of such gallant bearing? Who does not still hear the echo of those eloquent lips after the war, teaching reconciliation and peace?

I may not do more than allude to his death, fit ending of his life. All that the world has a right to know has been told by a beloved friend in a book wherein friendship has found no need to exaggerate facts that speak for themselves. I knew him ,and I may even say I knew him well; yet, until that book appeared, I had not known the governing motive of his soul. I had admired him as a hero. When I read, I learned to revere him as a saint. His strength was not in honor alone, but in religion; and those who do not share his creed must see that it was on the wings of religious faith that he mounted above even valiant deeds into an empyrean of ideal life.

I have spoken of some of the men who were near to me among others very near and dear, not because their lives have become historic, but because their lives are the type of what every soldier has known and seen in his own company.

In the great democracy of self-devotion private and general stand side by side. Unmarshalled save by their own deeds, the army of the dead sweep before us, "wearing their wounds like stars." It is not because the men I have mentioned were my friends that I have spoken of them, but, I repeat, because they are types. I speak of those whom I have seen. But you all have known such; you, too, remember!

It is not of the dead alone that we think on this day. There are those still living whose sex forbade them to offer their lives, but who gave instead their happiness. Which of us has not been lifted above himself by the sight of one of those lovely, lonely women, around whom the wand of sorrow has traced its excluding circle -- set apart, even when surrounded by loving friends who would fain bring back joy to their lives?

I think of one whom the poor of a great city know as their benefactress and friend. I think of one who has lived not less greatly in the midst of her children, to whom she has taught such lessons as may not be heard elsewhere from mortal lips. The story of these and her sisters we must pass in reverent silence. All that may be said has been said by one of their own sex---

But when the days of golden dreams had perished,

And even despair was powerless to destroy,
Then did I learn how existence could be cherished,
Strengthened, and fed without the aid of joy.

Then did I check the tears of useless passion,
weaned my young soul from yearning after thine
Sternly denied its burning wish to hasten
Down to that tomb already more than mine.

Comrades, some of the associations of this day are not only triumphant, but joyful. Not all of those with whom we once stood shoulder to shoulder -- not all of those whom we once loved and revered -- are gone.

On this day we still meet our companions in the freezing winter bivouacs and in those dreadful summer marches where every faculty of the soul seemed to depart one after another, leaving only a dumb animal power to set the teeth and to persist -- a blind belief that somewhere and at last there was bread and water.

On this day, at least, we still meet and rejoice in the closest tie which is possible between men -- a tie which suffering has made indissoluble for better, for worse.

When we meet thus, when we do honor to the dead in terms that must sometimes embrace the living, we do not deceive ourselves. We attribute no special merit to a man for having served when all were serving. We know that, if the armies of our war did anything worth remembering, the credit belongs not mainly to the individuals who did it, but to average human nature.

We also know very well that we cannot live in associations with the past alone, and we admit that, if we would be worthy of the past, we must find new fields for action or thought, and make for ourselves new careers.

But, nevertheless, the generation that carried on the war has been set apart by its experience.

Through our great good fortune, in our youth our hearts were touched with fire. It was given to us to learn at the outset that life is a profound and passionate thing. While we are permitted to scorn nothing but indifference, and do not pretend to undervalue the worldly rewards of ambition, we have seen with our own eyes, beyond and above the gold fields, the snowy heights of honor, and it is for us to bear the report to those who come after us.

But, above all, we have learned that whether a man accepts from Fortune her spade, and will look downward and dig, or from Aspiration her axe and cord, and will scale the ice, the one and only success which it is his to command is to bring to his work a mighty heart.

Such hearts -- ah me, how many! -- were stilled twenty years ago; and to us who remain behind is left this day of memories. Every year -- in the full tide of spring, at the height of the symphony of flowers and love and life -- there comes a pause, and through the silence we hear the lonely pipe of death.

Year after year lovers wandering under the apple trees and through the clover and deep grass are surprised with sudden tears as they see black veiled figures stealing through the morning to a soldier's grave.

Year after year the comrades of the dead follow, with public honor, procession and commemorative flags and funeral march -- honor and grief from us who stand almost alone, and have seen the best and noblest of our generation pass away.

But grief is not the end of all.

I seem to hear the funeral march become a paean. I see beyond the forest the moving banners of a hidden column. Our dead brothers still live for us, and bid us think of life, not death -- of life to which in their youth they lent the passion and joy of the spring.

As I listen , the great chorus of life and joy begins again, and amid the awful orchestra of seen and unseen powers and destinies of good and evil our trumpets sound once more a note of daring, hope, and will.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., (1841-1935) served 28 years on the Supreme Court, during which he was known as "The Great Dissenter" for his independence of thought and earned a reputation as one of the greatest legal minds in American history.

Holmes was also a veteran, wounded three times in the Civil War, at the battles of Ball's Bluff, Antietam and Second Fredericksburg, and was active in veterans' affairs. When he died, nearly three-quarters of a century after the war in which he had fought, he was buried according to his wishes in a soldier's grave alongside his comrades at Arlington Cemetery.

The poem he quotes is "Remembrance," by Emily Brontë. The photo is of Memorial Day, 1872, Glens Falls, NY, courtesy Chapman Historical Museum.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Semper Paratus

“Sometimes the public recognition isn’t always expected – or necessarily welcomed. Specialist Zachary Boyd recently was enjoying a well-deserved sleep when his post in eastern Afghanistan came under enemy attack. He immediately grabbed his rifle and rushed into a defensive position clad in his helmet, body armor, and pink boxer shorts that said 'I Love New York.'

"Unfortunately – or fortunately, depending on your perspective – an AP photographer was there for a candid shot, a photo which ran shortly thereafter on the front page of the New York Times. Boyd later told his parents that: 'I may not have a job anymore after the president has seen me out of uniform.'

"Well, let me tell you, the next time I visit Afghanistan I want to meet Specialist Boyd and shake his hand. Any soldier who goes into battle against the Taliban in pink boxers and flip-flops has a special kind of courage. And I can only wonder about the impact on the Taliban. Just imagine seeing that – a guy in pink boxers and flip-flops has you in his crosshairs – what an incredible innovation in psychological warfare. I can assure you that Specialist Boyd’s job is very safe indeed.”
-- Sec'y of Defense Robert Gates

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Comedy isn't pretty

A number of years ago, I was invited to speak to a college writing class on the topic of freelancing. I brought along a stack of rejection slips from my novel-writing years and said, "If you decide to go into freelancing, your lives will be punctuated the way my talk today will be punctuated."

Then I proceeded to talk to them about the business of freelancing, but, every five minutes or so, I'd stop and read them another, "While we admire your writing skills, we don't feel this manuscript ..." and, as the lecture went on, I could see them sinking lower and lower in their chairs as the reality began to sink in.

Today, I got to see more or less the same effect at the Maine Comics Arts Festival in Portland.

The above panel is (from left) Corey Pandolph (Barkeater Lake, Toby: Robot Satan, The Elderberries), Norm Feuti (Retail, Gill) and Lincoln Peirce (Big Nate), under the leadership, at far right, of Mike Lynch, who sells cartoons to a variety of magazines. Their topic was "Surviving as a Print Cartoonist," which is right up there with "How To Be A Successful Pontiac Dealer."

It was an interesting group, because Corey is pursuing a mix of print and web, Lincoln has a couple of ventures going in writing for animation and licensing Big Nate to an on-line kids' gaming site, and Norm has just begun dipping a toe into the web world with "Gill," so, while each of them has a syndicated feature, they had a good deal more to talk about than simply "How to get syndicated."

And that's a good thing, because the number of new strips coming out this year is just about none. Universal is launching a strip called "Sticks" that has been in development for several years, and I think there's another somewhere, maybe out of the Washington Post Writers Group, but I forget what it is. That's down from about a dozen a year in the past, which still isn't very good odds but at least it was something.

They weren't trying to discourage people from giving it a try, and Mike, who works with editors regularly as a freelancer, did a nice job of directing the conversation into helpful areas and adding his own advice, but there just isn't that much positive vibe to share, and it was a somewhat grim presentation.

What saved it was this: Towards the end, they got away from nuts-and-bolts and began talking more about how, discouraging as the prospects are, it's still something they want to do. Hard as he scrambles to make a living, Corey said, "I still can't believe I get paid to do this," and both Norm and Lincoln delivered variations on that same theme.

My own take on art-as-a-career is that it's hard to make a living in the creative arts even in the best of times, and that anybody who can be discouraged probably should be, sooner rather than later. If you can walk away from it, go ahead. But then don't talk about what you could have done or should have done or are going to do some day. Scratch the itch so you can put it away and move on.

If somebody in the audience today got discouraged and saved himself some heartache and wasted years, more power to him. On the other hand, the years I tried to be a novelist helped me perfect my craft and led me into some interesting and even mildly profitable areas, though not specifically in novel writing.

And I think their passion and drive was clear, along with the message that, if you want to do this, then you should. Just don't count on making money doing it.

That's a pretty good message for young artists of any medium.

(PS -- don't miss Mike Lynch's more complete report on the gathering.)

Thursday, May 14, 2009


I still seem to be employed. At least, I keep showing up and doing the work and they keep paying me. Nothin' much more to report.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Goodbye to a good friend

Nobody loved kids more than Destry. When I was at the Post-Star in Glens Falls, part of my job was giving tours of the newspaper, and one Saturday, I did a day of tours for Boy Scouts. I didn't feel like leaving Destry home alone on what was going to be a hurry-up-and-wait sort of day, so I brought him along and he would wait in the car while I did a tour, and then I'd let him out during the 20 minutes or so while we waited for the next set of Scouts to show up.

But as they came in dribs and drabs, the earliest would end up playing with the dog, and I kept finding myself holding a leash that disappeared into a ball of Cub Scouts. He was delighted to be surrounded and patted and hugged and loved, and it was the beginning of his identity as a mascot, The Newshound, soon to be joined by Nellie Bly, who also loved kids.

I took him to trade shows where he would go three hours at a crack, gently standing while the tiniest kids all but climbed up on his back, and he'd have likely tolerated that, too.

Destry was the most infuriatingly absent-minded, distractable, foolish dog I have ever owned. But, as frustrating as it was to try to get him to keep up on a walk when he kept finding other things to examine, or to stand on the porch and call him and not even get a head-tilt of acknowledgement, or to try to persuade him to stop whining when he thought it was time to feed the dog and it most certainly was not, there was no way not to love such a kindly, gentle, affectionate knucklehead.

I only saw him lose his temper once. We were walking in a wooded park, when Nellie had first come to live with us. She was, to begin with, only a year old and, moreover, had spent most of her life in kennels as a showdog, surrounded by a half-dozen or more canine buddies, so she was used to a more rambunctious style and needed to be taught to walk off-leash but in control.

She was ranging up a little ahead of us, and we came around a corner and smack into a large German shepherd on a leash with a woman barely in control, shouting "Leash your dog! Leash your dog! He doesn't like other dogs!" The shepherd got away from her and lunged to attack Nell, but Destry was there in a flash, shouldering Nellie aside and taking the charge, then countering just as I caught up and we pulled them apart. He had a couple of puncture wounds, nothing serious, and I have no idea how the shepherd fared because we left. But as soon as the incident ended, he was calm and his old gentle self all over again.

This was striking because I had named him after the Jimmy Stewart character in "Destry Rides Again," the laid-back, calm sheriff who refused to carry guns but, in a memorable scene, demonstrated to some cowboys that he knew how to use a pair of six-guns very well indeed and did not intend to take any nonsense. And then went back to being laid-back and calm.

Nobody ever shied away from Destry, despite his size. Something in his face was so inviting that people naturally felt they could approach him, and he was always pleased to be patted, though he preferred that you not scratch his ears.

Here's how gentle he was: He'd happily play crash-and-dash games with other dogs, slamming into each other and tearing across a field. But the first time I tried to play a wrestling game with him as a pup, he began to cry, and I learned that he simply didn't understand and didn't want to rough house with people. For a breed that is bred to hunt lions, he was remarkably unferocious.

You have noted, of course, that I am speaking of him in the past tense. Friday, I had the privilege of performing a last act of love for this gentle, foolish old dog, whose hips had begun to fail him and who was in real danger of a painful breakdown. He'd have been 12 years old next month, an extraordinary age for a large dog like this, but it was time, and to avoid the decision would have been indulging me, not serving him.

I'll never know a more kindly dog. "Kindly" is an old-fashioned word that doesn't come up much anymore, but he was a kindly dog.

And wherever he goes, I hope there are plenty of kids.

And no dinosaurs. Definitely no dinosaurs.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

This is one of my favorite stories of the series, a bittersweet tale of the impossible marriage between mortal and immortal. Don't look for Tinkerbelle in this Welsh story, which is more like the Scottish tales of selkies. (And after you read my Welsh re-telling, don't miss this story from that Orkney link!)

(Rental suggestion: Filmmaker John Sayles made a memorable movie about selkies, though he moved them to Ireland).