Dog Rescue

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Malcolm in the Mud

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Cute, right?

A dog rescue was not part of the plan when two of my daughters and I took a bike ride along the dirt road at the back of our property. Just the day before a neighbor  hung a FREE sign on a retro-styled Huffy and I had to have it–my old bike having been stolen years ago in NJ. I rode the Ford pick-up back to the bike (the tires were too soft to ride on) and after my husband spruced it up I snapped this pic:

As we took the turn on the dirt road two of our neighbors’ Labrador Retrievers ran into the road to bark at us covered in mud. We’re dog people so we had to pet them and coax them back to their fenced in yard since the neighbors, who we affectionately call “the girls”  were obviously not home. After closing the gate we heard plaintive whining from the woods.

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The other lab re-escaped from the yard to help his friend.

My daughter Amanda and I live for this stuff and our new tag along daughter-to-be fed off our excitement. Poison Ivy be damned, we were going in! At the bottom of a deep ravine we saw what looked like a fat bear with a white nose (dried mud). We went to Malcolm at once, noting his hindquarters were weak. He had completely given up trying to climb out of the six inch deep mud. We later learned Malcolm weighed 100lbs which explained our trouble trying to hoist him to dry ground. Amanda raced home and came back with supplies–leashes, collars and iPhone–and the rescue began in earnest.

Malcolm’s weight and our laughter made it tough going for a while and if we hadn’t finally summoned all our strength the construction workers banging away in a nearby field would have been called in. Upper arm strength being in short supply, we still somehow managed to finally right the muddy ship of flesh and drag him out of the woods.

Amanda and foster kid (who for now has to remain anonymous) found the loose plank on the picket fence, ran for a hammer and nails and repaired the fence while I watered the dogs and wrote a note explaining why the girls’ dogs were covered in mud.

I’d planned a short bike ride and a bit of editing for the afternoon, but laughing in the woods with muddy dogs got the better of the day.

Writing, especially in the summer when animals and bicycles beckon, is especially tricky!

NANCY CHRISTIE at One on One–Insights into the Writer’s Life talked to me recently and the first part of a four part interview is featured here: ONE ON ONE WITH AUTHOR ADRIENNE MORRIS.

I hope you take a moment to read it!

Happy 4th of July!

Adrienne

 

Books I’ve Known and Loved

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The Witching Hour, The Huntington Museum

EVIL: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty by Roy F. Baumeister, Ph. D.

Do you want to get inside the mind of a serial killer or an executioner? You need go no further than your own mind. Well, you have to go a little further, but not much. Turns out people who do evil things are a lot like you and me.

Have you ever noticed when arguing with a spouse that you’re always right–until you’ve had a few quiet moments to think about the part you played in flooding the basement? Have you noticed too that when you drink the argument about how well the basement was cleaned after the flood gets more heated than it really needs to be ( you’ve been harboring the grudge about the ruined Christmas ornaments for a week now).

The first time we had to execute a rooster my husband sent me indoors because my crying was a distraction. The next time a rooster punctured my leg with his filthy spur when we had no health coverage I quite happily ordered him dead (and he was my favorite rooster).

Imagine a post-Civil War scene down south. A group of bored young veterans on the losing side of the war with no job prospects and stung egos get together for drinks. Someone comes up with the idea to dress up like ghosts to spook the newly freed and uneducated ex-slaves in their neighborhood. Just a boyhood prank, is all. They scare a black man the first time and off he runs, but the next time they do it the man is wise to their humor and waves them off with a laugh. The game is no longer fun. Putting a little fear into a man who used to be subordinate but now is equal was fun (and each young man is holding a grudge against the powers that be and the freed slaves). The mission becomes to scare the black man–a little more and a little more. Each time the black man sees through their pranks–they raise the stakes.

Are you that person in a group who stands up when everyone else is going down a bad path? Are you the person who jumps in the swollen spring river to save the young boy from drowning when everyone else waits to see who will get wet. Twice in my life I’ve witnessed someone drowning and both times I watched as if in a dream as someone else jumped in.

In Rwanda a mother of six participated in the clubbing to death of a group of neighborhood children because she thought it would put them out of their misery. A man responsible for killing Jewish children in WWII rationalized his job in the same way.

Why aren’t there more serial killers? The difference between “normal” people and evil doers comes down to a few key things: self-discipline, a sense of being responsible for one’s actions and feelings of guilt (which for normal people kick in often before they even contemplate doing something evil). People who tend to say, “I couldn’t help it” or “It’s because society made me do it” or:

“Guilt? It’s this mechanism we use to control people. It’s an illusion. It’s a kind of social control mechanism–and it’s very unhealthy. It does terrible things to our bodies. And there are much better ways to control our behavior than . . . guilt.”

we need to worry about. The last quote comes from Ted Bundy–the serial killer.

The drugs made me do it, my genes made me do it, this country made me do it . . . I couldn’t help eating all those cookies! But here’s the thing: in order to kill someone with a gun you must think about getting a gun. You must walk towards the gun using the legs you make move, and you must pull the trigger. The gun doesn’t magically cling to you, take over your fingers and shoot someone.

An early 20th century study showed that most soldiers shot above the heads of their enemies. This was a problem to be solved. Another interesting study showed that playing video games did make for more short-term aggression in players, but only people who were already tending toward evil actually used gaming as an excuse for bad actions. Most people play video games and DON’T kill their cats.

Remember when your mother warned you about the slippery slope toward evil? Remember Jesus saying something about cleaning out one demon but letting 7 more in? Evil seems to be like that.The first kill is the toughest–but then the sirens and hand cuffs don’t arrive. Life stays pretty much the same. So you kill again.

Don’t think this book is a thoroughly depressing read. On the contrary if you like gallows humor you’ll love this book. I did. But it is scary how close to evil I can become.

Feeling How God Feels

Judith Slaying Holofernes (1614–20)  Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

Judith Slaying Holofernes (1614–20) by Artemisia Gentileschi  Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

I’m not God, but I play one in my novels. It’s no secret that my books are about flawed people who eventually get their acts together (as I’m an optimist). I think about Calvin’s idea of God choosing who to save. I’ve always hated this idea, but as a writer I find a weird parallel. Almost as soon as I think up a character I know if I’m going to save him or not. I’m not sure if it’s a decision on my part or just a sense, a knowing, that this character will move in the direction of redemption or in the opposite direction. All of my characters are jerks, wimps and selfish asses–so basically human. I love them. I create them. I fret over how they will get to where they need to go to be redeemed (I never know until I join them on the journey).

I fret over the other guys, too. The characters who seem bent on spiritual blindness, who do good things sometimes but for terrible reasons, who suffer abuse and have great excuses for being bad–but choose to stay bad. I root for these people, I do mental gymnastics to turn them around. I want them to change direction, but I’ve never been able to convince them of anything. Never once have I been surprised. I know from the beginning and it’s a sad thing.

I wonder if God is all powerful then why can’t he just change people. On a tiny scale I experiment with the same notion, but the resistance from the character is so strong and my coddling and begging make for a stilted story, an unreal outcome.

My untrained and insignificant brain knows more intelligent thinkers have better answers and impressive theories.

The past is my playground because fate and freewill matter little when looking back. Novel writing forces one to live in the present with predestination standing there at the finish line.

 

 

 

Books I’ve Known And Loved

51ruU2pYgFL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_When Harriet Hanson Robinson explained to her busy (and presumably happy) single friend that she felt sorry for her  because she wasn’t married and could not  be a complete woman there was no hint of bitchiness.

Harriet was a contented creature of her time. In my early feminist days I would have found this hard to believe. I’d have crept around looking for the crumbling facade, the misery, the bitterness of a woman who spent her days washing heavy laundry and sewing for the entire months of May and June each year.

Harriet married a morally upright man who for the life of him could not keep from stepping on toes–landing him often out of work or underpaid. It seems Harriet was drawn to Mr. Robinson by his integrity, but I suspect she loved his ability to make light of life’s trials as well.

Harriet, who mingled with some of the famous families of Concord, Massachusetts (and had strong opinions about them all–she thought HENRY DAVID THOREAU a fake and a hypocrite and guessed his mother kept him well-fed by the pond), was the sort of strong woman who could make something from nothing without complaint. In fact she prided herself on running a household without the help of “an Irish.” She’d experimented with house help briefly when her husband was making some money but found after a few attempts that teaching young Irish girls how to work up to her standards was impossible.

So here’s the thing: I expected this book to be about an exception to the rule. I expected Harriet to be this modern woman in disguise. Maybe the author Claudia L. Bushman had expected that as well for she seems at times baffled by Harriet’s pride and devotion to her dreamer husband,  average children and life of housework.

There is a sense that the author of A GOOD POOR MAN’S WIFE had hoped Harriet in her private diaries might let loose against the order of her times. How is it she remained so cheerful? Why wasn’t she devastated when it became clear she would not be a world famous poet? Her honest appraisal of her rather lackluster children is seen as an ambivalence to motherhood (as a mother I find this a real stretch).

In the year after the death of her beloved son Harriet wrote a bittersweet poem of life and marriage:

My Choice–to William Robinson (her husband)

In shady paths, serene, content I grew,

Nor knew for me what gifts fair life enclosed:

When sudden–with her gilded lyre held forth,

Came Poesy–bright maid, who smiling said:

“Take me, dear child, take me and Heaven espouse”

I struck the lyre, and knew ambition’s joys,–

The praise of men, and all the world’s applause.

The love,–with soft beseeching arms appeared,

And said with low drooped eyes; “Come thou to me!”

In doubt I stayed, in sorrowing tears, I moaned.

But god-like still he waited long and sought.

Till I, forgetting men’s applause, my dreams

of high renown, with cries to him I fled.

And now, serene, content, with him I roam

In sunlit paths. Nor care what life contains.

Since love I keep, which holds embraces all.

Unlike the narrator in Robert Frost’s THE ROAD NOT TAKEN Harriet has taken the trodden road of 19th century womanhood, but like Frost’s narrator she is happy about the choice she’s made even knowing the dreams left behind on the other road. Again the author sees this as a telling sign of Harriet’s possible regrets despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary scrawled across the pages of her journal. I see this poem– in the context of Harriet’s life– as one  about the choices we all make–leaving some good things behind for  things that are better (hopefully). In Harriet’s case there’s no reason to believe she wasn’t quite happy with her choices.

Books I’ve Known And Loved

WARNING: This is not about gay marriage. It’s not about gender politics or more aptly put: gender war. This about history.

Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” Genesis 2:18

For much of recorded history most people looked around and noticed that men and women looked and acted in different ways (with some overlap). They looked at animals. Rams and sheep, bucks and does, ducks and drakes. We don’t have to believe in the Biblical account of creation to understand that most people realized a duck and drake were of the same kind,  but their purposes were complimentary and different.

Let’s march onward to the US Civil War. In THE VACANT CHAIR The Northern Soldier Leaves Home Reid Mitchell devotes a chapter to the need for femininity in  the masculine world of war.

But women are soldiers now you cry. Yes and for a disturbing look at women who kill from thousands of miles away click HERE. Women are strong. They write songs about roaring and not needing men. Go women!!?

I’ve never seen our ducks declare war on our drakes (though occasionally they squabble). Same goes for our sheep and goats. Same goes for the Civil War soldier and the women folk back home. Reid even goes on to say that one of the reasons the southern soldier had it so hard is that he believed in his manly role as much as his northern brethren. Northern women remained safely out of the actual war’s reach. Northern men could at least rest easy on that. They could go fight a war and miss their wives and sweethearts and dream about being nurtured by them at war’s end in the same homes they left.

Not so for the southern men who had the added worry of their women and children directly in the war’s path. Towards the end of the war the Confederacy held back the troops mail for fear of large scale desertion–though not really desertion but an adherence to the manly virtue of protecting one’s family.

Woman Dressing by Anders Zorn

Woman Dressing by Anders Zorn

And what about womanly virtue? Modern culture decries anything that smacks of the Bible–maybe it’s why there is such a hatred for history (especially American) but as a college student being indoctrinated by men haters who blamed Jewish rabbis and Jesus freaks for everything I wish I would have opened up the good book myself and read PROVERBS 31 which describes what a virtuous woman looks like. It would have given me some balance:

10 Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.

11 The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil.

12 She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.

13 She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands.

14 She is like the merchants’ ships; she bringeth her food from afar.

15 She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens.

16 She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard.

17 She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms.

18 She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night.

19 She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff.

20 She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy.

21 She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet.

22 She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple.

23 Her husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the land.

24 She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant.

25 Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come.

26 She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness.

27 She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness.

28 Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her.

29 Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all.

30 Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised.

31 Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.

The soldier of the Civil War even if not a Christian (though most were) lived in a culture saturated by Judeo-Christian values. Sorry, that’s just the way it is. The basic notion of men and women serving complementary yet distinct roles seemed to serve humanity fairly well for thousands of years. Despite Louisa May Alcott’s fictional tomboys and the few hundred women who impersonated men to join the ranks of the Union Army most women played mother or lover to the soldiers. Whether as nurses or homemakers, activists or laundresses most women accepted their feminine side–many actually valued it!

And so did the men. They missed the nurturing, the companionship and the spirit of women. They did not wish for more men. Letters home were filled with talk of home and the women who made it a home. Of course there were some men happy to get away from women and some women relieved when such men left, but the overriding feeling as the war dragged on was one of deep missing, deep lonesomeness for the opposite sex. Other men just couldn’t cut it.

A Rainy Day in Camp by Winslow Homer

A Rainy Day in Camp by Winslow Homer

How does one make sense of this desire in a culture bent on gender fluidity?

When researching for my novels many of you know I “went to war” as a reenactor. My college indoctrination was wearing off as I studied history not through the eyes of embittered leftist college professors, but through the eyes of the men and women of the time writing about their lives in diaries and memoirs.

I still clung to the notion that I had to be the same as men so I convinced my father to buy me an Enfield rifle. We drove to Gettysburg to pick it up. The thing is beautiful, but I immediately realized with sinking heart that there was no way I was going to enjoy carrying it in a wool uniform.

I wrestled with womanhood. First of all I was hardly virtuous. Then came Antietam. A friend let me borrow a corset and hoop skirt. I figured as a researcher it would be interesting to see how the other half lived before getting fitted out to play one of the few hundred women who fought.

And then it happened like magic.

As I walked around owning my feminine side I suddenly understood the power of it. At first I assumed the feeling would go away, but it got stronger each time I slipped into the role. And here’s the equally weird thing: men treated me differently. Now to be fair we were all slipping into what we thought we knew about the 1860’s.

Weren’t people more polite back then? Yes and no. But the part that intrigued me and intrigues me still is that once we played at respecting gender roles we found that we respected the opposite gender more. We behaved better towards each other. (Okay better is relative–I get it, but I don’t care).

Maybe someone smarter than me can explain how playing a virtuous northern woman actually made me respect myself and men more.

Why did men stand a little taller as I walked by? The same men who chatted with me in jeans the day before as we set up our tents. The uniforms we wore as men and women of the 1860’s fit better than the unisex jeans and t-shirts we wore in our real lives. Some will say it’s just a game we played–but it was a game worth playing.

BTW, THE VACANT CHAIR by Reid Mitchell offers such valuable insight into the minds of the northern men who went off to war I think every angry man hater (and woman hater) should be forced to read it as penance. Can’t we just love one another?

QUOTE: “. . .the people shake off their state of dependence just long enough to select their master and then relapse into it again.” Alexis de Tocqueville

“I seek to trace the novel features under which despotism may appear in the world.

The first thing that strikes the observation is an innumerable multitude of men, all equal and alike, incessantly endeavoring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives.

Each of them, living apart, is as a stranger to the fate of all the rest; his children and his private friends constitute to him the whole of mankind. As for the rest of his fellow citizens, he is close to them, but he does not see them; he touches them, but he does not feel them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone; and if his kindred still remain to him, he may be said at any rate to have lost his country.

Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications and to watch over their fate.

That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing.

For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?

Landscape by John Francis Murphy

landscape by John Francis Murphy

Thus it every day renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range and gradually robs a man of all the uses of himself. The principle of equality has prepared men for these things;it has predisposed men to endure them and often to look on them as benefits.

After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp and fashioned him at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community.

It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.”

DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA by Alexis de Tocqueville

Landscape by Henry Ward Ranger

Landscape by Henry Ward Ranger

**Featured painting Pastoral by Jerome Thompson

Books I’ve Known And Loved

An explosion at the DuPont Company black powder yard courtesy of Hagley Museum and Library

An explosion at a DuPont Company black powder yard courtesy of
Hagley Museum and Library

“The patriotism of the people who worked in the powder mills during the war was only exceeded by the front line soldiers.”

On the day of the final explosion  Helen remembered her mother at the sink. The tree-lined village with its substantial homes and churches lit by new stained glass sat chilled by a March wind off the river. The men were at the powder mill. Some men worked there because they had to, but some came for the excitement of working a dangerous job. And dangerous it was.

The powder necessary for guns, signalling devices, whaling harpoons and later for movie making filtered into every shirt pocket, every wrinkle of a man’s skin with each tiny particle ready to explode from the smallest spark, the tiniest mistake of a worker. The mill made the town and the town devoted itself to the mill. Children delivered lunch pails to their fathers but only at a safe distance (though no place in town was truly safe when the mills exploded as they occasionally did).

Windows shattered, dishes crashed to the floor and hearts froze when the mill whistles blew signalling danger, yet on most days the townsfolk lived happy, productive lives either at peace with life’s inherent dangers or unable to really imagine that one small spark could take their lives. Other people died young–a man with young children, camaraderie at the mill and lazy evenings spent chatting on the porches of his neighbors’ house in the beautiful Hoosic Valley of New York could fool himself.

Not me. Not mine.

Jump in the river. This was the advice when sparks flew. The amount of powder at the mill, in the crevices, on the window sills, in the men’s hair determined the extent of the damage.

Back to young Helen watching her mother at the sink in their neat kitchen just after breakfast. Some tried to describe the look of a blast–towers of flames through billowing smoke, silhouettes of friends suddenly gone in a flash as the lucky men shivering in the river looked on.

Helen’s mother froze as the whistle droned on and on. Women and children lined the streets waiting, some fainting. When Helen’s father wet and dirty came through the door and collapsed into a chair at the clean table, he wept for his friends–the ones he and his surviving coworkers would have to gather the pieces of in the mill yard–a hand here, a foot with a shoe there. They picked up the pieces in a basket and covered them in a red handkerchief.

Funerals began on St. Patrick’s Day. Helen’s mother had knit her a perfect green sweater for the saint’s special day. But March had remained a lion and winds down Powder Lane where the children sledded in winter spoke the mood of the people. Springtime and green would come again, but for now life was cold and charred.

A retelling of Anne Kelly Lane’s informative and heartbreaking little book dedicated to her mother’s memory The Powder Mill Gates Memories of a Powder Maker’s Daughter.   

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