Posts Tagged ‘Hal Borland’

The naturalist Hal Borland wrote a memoir called The Dog Who Came to Stay. You can tell from the title how that story turned out. This story is not that story.

In September we promoted a promising new player to our family: a 10-week-old corgi. We named her Xena, Warrior Puppy.

debate prep
Xena listens to another Republican presidential debate.

Soon we were all in love, despite having to rush her outside in the middle of the night and the accidents on unlucky carpets. We were all planning to live happily ever after.


Long-term readers of this blog know I’m about to say Wrong!

We lived happily ever after for approximately two months while Xena grew from a 6-pound puff ball into an actual canine. Then she got scared. We don’t know what the trigger was, but I blame the folks on the next block who are addicted to inflatable Disney crap. One night right before Halloween, Xena and I encountered the huge gaseous Minions these style masters had staked to the grass (and the side of the house, and the roof). Xena immediately turned and rushed me homeward. I figured she had good taste.


Over the next three months, Xena conceived a theory of the world as being about as safe as the set of The Walking Dead. She became afraid of cars, trucks, bikes, scooters, and joggers. True to her name, she wanted to fight them. It took me an hour to negotiate a truce between her and our exercise cycle. Xena was suffering from what’s called “reactivity.” It’s uncommon. We were stuck with it.

We read the research. We hired experts. We tried various fixes. We despaired. We couldn’t walk Xena in our own neighborhood. On Tuesdays, when the Trucks of Terror came for our garbage and recycling, my wife and our dog had to be somewhere far away – one of Saturn’s moons, for example. We had to smuggle her into parks, waiting in the car until we had a clear run for the trees. It was like living in O. Henry’s “The Ransom of Red Chief,” where the desperate kidnappers pay the father to take his brat back.

Few things in life are as unsettling as a dog erupting two feet from your head at 4 in the morning because she wants to chase down and kill a freight train trying to sneak past her – a mile away. In all the years we’ve lived with corgis, only one ever reacted to a moving train, and that was because she’d spotted a man standing in the open door of a boxcar. Emma knew that was a safety violation.

No one here at the Bureau was thriving.

Special D finally called the breeder, who said she’d never had a litter like this and that two other people had already returned their pups. We said, we’re returning ours.

It was an emotional decision, made even more emotional by the lengthy drive to the mountain town Xena came from. Now we’d lost three dogs in three years, but this one was still alive. And ready to attack.

Xena was quiet most of the trip (we could only give her breaks in secluded areas off the highway), but when we got within 15 miles of her ancestral home, she started to bark. She knew where she was.

We arrived after dark. Xena almost flew out of the back of the car. I put her in the breeder’s arms. Xena wiggled with joy and licked the woman’s face – and then she turned and licked mine.

She’s saying goodbye, I thought, and she’s pierced my heart. No, of course not, I told myself; humans think that way, not dogs. We endow our dogs with human personalities. We speak for them. But we are not dogs and dogs are not us.

I realized that I couldn’t go through life thinking that I had failed this dog and yet she still had the decency to wish me well.

So I changed my thinking.

Xena is back at the breeder’s, with her mother and two of her siblings, in a rural area with little traffic. She’ll eventually go to a home with a lower threat level than our place. She’ll feel safe. She’ll thrive.

Xena wasn’t saying goodbye on that cold, disturbing night. She was saying thank you.

That was a month ago. Yesterday we brought home a new dog. We’ve named him Lucky. We hope this one will stay.


Write every day

I subscribed to The Writer when I was in high school. I remember reading about a writing couple, Borden Deal and Babs Deal. (They don’t make names like that anymore. Can’t get the stuff.) They always said to each other, “Well, I’ve hit 50 pages, looks like I’m writing a novel.”

Well, I’ve hit 50 pages. Actually, 56. Looks like I’m writing a novel. I’ve put together a notebook of reference material and I even have a vague sense of where I’m going. I hope to show some real progress by the time this marathon ends on August 2. I’ll report in every day on what I’m up to.

Today Special D and I went to some garage sales, met some interesting people with interesting junk in their garages, and then I wrote a cover letter and answered three essay questions for a job I want. This is one of the weirdest forms of writing, making yourself sound like the greatest thing since Kim Kardashian met Kanye West. After a creative nap to rinse my brain, I worked on my book for an hour and a half. I hope my 300 fellow Write-a-thonners had good luck as well!

My thanks again to the three people who have pledged actual money to support Clarion West and see me through this thing:

Karen G. Anderson
Mitch Katz
Laurel Sercombe

My book is set in the summer of 1947 in what’s called the Intermountain West. I’ve been reading books from that era and earlier to help put me in the right frame of mind. I didn’t get far with John Steinbeck’s East of Eden (his descriptions of the Salinas Valley are beautiful, but his characters are like sermons). Right now I’m reading Hal Borland’s Country Editor’s Boy, a memoir set in Colorado in the teens and ’20s. The writing can be kind of earnest, but this is a man who even in middle age could recall his boyhood and put it in words. Like Ray Bradbury, without the airborne prose.

Borland wrote When the Legends Die, which was made into a film with Richard Widmark. He also wrote a memoir called The Dog Who Came to Stay. The title sums up that book so perfectly that I probably don’t have to read it.

BTW, Special D has also entered the Write-a-thon, but we refuse to be called Babs and Bord.

See you tomorrow!

Not-So-Random Pick of the Day
Boston, Boston (1976)
I am not Boston’s fan, but today is Accused of Lurking’s birthday and he definitely is. Lurk holds a special spot in my life, and so out of friendship and love I listened to all of Boston for the first time since the Normans invaded New England.

I am still not their fan, but I credit computer wiz Tom Scholz with creating not just one of the best-selling albums of all time, but a debut album that could easily stand in for his greatest hits. Scholz had all the talent he needed from the first note of the first track, and how many musicians can make that claim? In fact, in the beginning Boston was solely Tom Scholz. The only person I can think of who made a similar splash all by himself was Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails, Pretty Hate Machine, 1989).

But there’s more to Boston than the music. In the summer and fall of 1976, I could not go to a party without hearing this album. Thus the songs on Boston will always conjure for me my old joie de vivre, my youthful hopes, and the geometry of certain females.

Random Pan of the Day
3OH!3, Omens (2013)
Boston may not be my style but it beats the brains out of this thing. Not only did these derivative snore masters from the 303 area code choose a name as stupid as Fun., !!!, Toad the Wet Sprocket, and Portugal. The Man, they’re responsible for Kei$ha. Tom Scholz never did any of that to us.

R.I.P.: Slim Whitman, multi-octave country yodeler, who wanted to be remembered as a nice guy. “I don’t think you’ve ever heard anything bad about me, and I’d like to keep it that way. I’d like my son to remember me as a good dad. I’d like the people to remember me as having a good voice and a clean suit.”