Big News!!!

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Pete and Moses are getting a baby brother. He is due to be born on January 11th, and we hope to pick him up in early March.

Oh, and there’s this book thing. Also a third of its kind: Book Three in the North of the Tension Line series. It’s still gestating. But it, too, is due in 2017.

Puppy might be cuter, but the book won’t require a bigger car.

Sunshine and Rain

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We went for a very long walk today, and I took these photos. These are the days I dream about all year.

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Now I am sitting outside to write because it is so perfectly splendid that it would be a waste to be indoors. The dogs, having had their multiple walks, are content to sit quietly on the grass (Moses) and at my feet (Pete). The sun is streaming from the west and casting a golden light through the leaves that still hang onto the birch and maple trees nearby. All is tranquil and warm, and lovely.

But it is raining. There must be one cloud drifting overhead in the crystalline deep blue sky, and the drops are hitting Moses on the head, making him flick his long ears with irritation. I am happy to sit on the porch with the roof protecting the computer–and me–and to be aware of the sunset while I write.

Meanwhile, in book three, Elisabeth is working on something new, and Fiona is chafing at all the public meetings she has to attend.  Peter Landry is being his usual enigmatic self, and that is causing some problems. Many new developments in the works. Stay tuned.

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Look carefully to discover dogs.

 

 

News From North of the Tension Line

Greetings from Washington Island:

Life has been moving at a screaming pace, and I have not been keeping up. We (Pete, Moses, and I) are on the Island this week, cloistered for the purposes of writing Book Three in the North of the Tension Line series. I do the writing. They take me for walks and keep me from sitting for twelve hours straight. Meanwhile, the books have been gaining quite a bit of media attention, and if you haven’t heard about it here first, I apologize.

Now that we are here on the Island, there have been a few setbacks, including some extremely nasty chigger bites (I am not used to coming here when the temperatures are above freezing), but I am otherwise making progress. This is the fast part of writing, when everything is fresh, and the ideas are pushing themselves out onto paper (computer). The slow part comes later, when the plot needs to be knit together, and the loose ends keep popping out.

But I interrupt this time of retreat to mention that I do have a new website, www.jfriordan.com. This blog will continue to exist here, but you will also be able to access it from the website.

You will be able to find details about my next public appearances, to read, watch, and listen to media events, to hear interviews and readings from the books, and to buy the books, as well. In a day or two, my half hour television interview will become public, and you will be able to see it there. (As an aside, if you want incentive to stick to your weight loss plans, watch yourself on television. It’s a kind of horrifying reality check.)

The stats here at North of the Tension Line: Reflections on a Life in Exile have been rising steadily, and I am deeply grateful to my readers. Thank you, and I hope you will stay with me as the story continues.

Please take a moment to check out the website, and, if you would be so kind, to pass it on.

Delayed Gratification

 

Pete and Baby Moses

We are expecting a new puppy: a companion for Moses, and a respite–and new pupil–for Pete. My husband has misgivings about a third dog, and–although I generally keep it to myself–so do I. But, sadly, we won’t have three forever, and I want Pete, the elder statesman, to help train the puppy.

The puppy will be a special one, like Moses, carefully bred to be healthy, smart, even-tempered, gentle, and sweet. Also long-lived. These German Shepherds often live to be 13 or 14 years old, which is long for a big dog. Every day I check the breeder’s website, to see the current puppies, and look for news of the coming event. But today I found out it won’t be late fall, but early spring.

I am a little disappointed, but it gives me time to continue my ruminations on names. Leading contenders for now are Marcus Aurelius (guess why); St. Augustine (remember Augie Doggie?); Herodotus (I know); and George.

Official dog names are usually kind of pompous, with the kennel name in the possessive first, followed by the particular dog’s name.  Still, it’s always possible to have fun with the form. With Peter and Moses we have New Testament and Old Testament represented. But the truth is that Moses’ name, although he is officially Moses, Prince of Egypt, was actually the result of my watching The Ten Commandments too frequently in my youth. I wanted to be able to shake my head sorrowfully and say, “Moses, Moses, Moses.”

I’m kind of leaning toward George. But I am open to suggestions. Drop me a line if you have a perfect name for a big, beautiful, new German Shepherd puppy. Did I mention that he’s expected to be 150 pounds? He’ll need something he can grow into.

If I pick your suggestion, I’ll send you a copy of my latest book.

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Moses, left, and Pete on Washington Island.

 

For the Love of Pete

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No, not that Pete. But yes, the love interest in my novels is named Pete. I was half-way through writing the first book before it struck me that my character and my dog shared a name, so it was completely unconscious.  Pete, the dog, however, is not quite as suave or subtle as the novel’s Pete, and he rarely quotes poetry.  But he’s every bit as good at getting his own way.  We’re not quite sure what breeds went into his creation, but we call him an Indiana Spotted Dog because he’s from a kill shelter in Indiana, and because he’s, well, spotted.

So, sometimes the quieter members of the family get a bit lost in the shuffle. Moses is big, and young, and boisterous, and he can easily put himself between Pete and a hug from one of us. We have to make an extra effort to make sure he gets his share of attention. Pete, himself, makes sure he gets his share of food. Nothing gets between Pete and food.

Pete is eleven-ish, and he has been with us since he was about ten months old. We’re not sure what happened to him before we met, but it was something that has scarred him forever. When we first brought him home, he would flinch if you moved your hand suddenly, and roll over fearfully and subserviently if you tried to reach for him. Occasionally, under stress or commotion, he still will. Oddly enough, he is not shy with other dogs. On the contrary, his injured leg came when he attacked Moses, and in the scuffle, Moses landed on him. In our house, even though he is only 70 pounds, Pete is the Alpha Dog. Moses is the follower.

I started out obedience training with him, as I do with all our dogs, but once he had learned to sit, and lie down, and stay, and come, I left him alone. The whistles, the shouted commands to drop, the wheelchairs, and the sudden noises that are part of the training left him shaking and slinking away. It wasn’t worth it.

So Pete isn’t a Canine Good Citizen. He is afraid of children, and of people with hats. He will not go outside in the rain, and does not delight in our new dog shower, no matter how necessary. He used to be afraid of cameras, and for that reason, until the advent of the I-Phone, we had very few pictures of him. The camera would come out, and Pete would disappear. My husband says that someone must have once taken an unflattering picture of him, but I think it might have been the high-pitched whine of the electronic flash. A friend has commented that the expression on Pete’s face often looks as if he’s in a hostage situation. Unless he’s around food. He smiles around food.

We didn’t teach him to sit up and beg, or to respect the plastic flags of an invisible fence. He came pre-programmed. But we never hit him, either, and he came pre-programmed to expect that, too. For the first few months after we got him, I would wake up in the night worrying about what had happened to his reported ten brothers and sisters. But Pete, no matter what had happened to him before, had won the dog lottery.

On the other hand, Pete is a survivor, and he has learned the survivor’s skill of how to quickly ingratiate himself once he knows you are not dangerous. He has a sort of Eddie Haskel quality that he uses to great advantage, even–or perhaps, especially–on us. He also has the survivor’s knack of knowing exactly what he wants: yes, it’s usually food–he must have a lot of hound in him–but often just his own space.

We got a new big bed last year for our new bedroom, and it’s pretty high. Even 120 pound Moses contemplates the leap before attempting it, but for Pete, who is about half that size, it’s a bit of a reach. Now, Pete is a snuggler. Lying in bed is what he does. Many times in the past, I have awoken to Pete’s face lying against my face, cheek to cheek. But with the new bed, he simply wouldn’t come up. Maybe it hurt the leg he once injured. Maybe it was better to be away from that nuisance, Moses. But he wouldn’t come.

We felt bad about it, and called him, and tried to lure him with treats. Pete is always lured by treats. But it wouldn’t work.

One day, our friends and general contractors were over. They were at our house every day during our almost two years of remodeling, and our dogs love them like family.  Pete was pressing earnestly against their legs, begging for love and attention.

I watched him, and shook my head sadly. “Poor Pete,” I said. “He thinks no one loves him. He can’t get up on the bed anymore, and he’s sleeping all by himself.”

My friends exchanged glances while rubbing Pete’s ears. They were silent for a moment, and then Patti said: “You know, as soon as you leave every morning, he’s on that bed. He stays there all day.”

She sent me the photo later to prove it. There he was, comfortably ensconced on the pillows of my cream colored bedding.

He is mostly trained, and pretty well-mannered, but not perfect, and I don’t demand of him the same things I demand of Moses. There’s no margin of error for Big Scary Dogs, but for Pete, well, we let some of the details slide.  Pete does things pretty much the way he wants. And in the end, that’s ok, because we love him, and after everything he’s been through, he deserves it.

But I do wish he wouldn’t leave quite so much black hair on my pillows.

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Pete, above, snuggling.                                 Pete, in a hostage situation.

 

 

 

 

Dog Joy

Whenever I can, I like to take our dogs for a walk in a particular woods. We have to drive there, and the dogs know the place by sight. They also know the difference between when we are actually going there, and when we are only driving past. Even if I haven’t said anything, when the turn signal goes on at a particular intersection, they know we are going to the woods. But usually, just to give them the pleasure of anticipation, I say to them: “Do you want to go to the woods?” and they immediately begin to sing with joy.

Moses, who until recently had been the least vocal of the two, is the most expressive where the woods are concerned. It’s his favorite place. He starts with warbles in a rich baritone, but as we get closer he switches to yipes in an increasingly higher tessitura, until he reaches soprano range, in keeping with his rising excitement. Pete joins in with his characteristic alto.  By the time I can get around to open the door, they are tumbling over one another to get out and run, barking as if they were on the hunt. Sometimes there are deer, or squirrels, and the dogs tear after them, disappearing into the hills out of sight. If I am patient–meaning: not too cold–I let them come back when they want to. But if I whistle they always come. I can hear them coming usually before I see them, and they arrive at my feet bustling with joy and pride.

Their happiness delights me, and is often the best part of the day.

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Star-crossed Love

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I had to stop at a store yesterday to return something, a task I detest, but which you might think was among my very favorite activities, given how often I find myself doing it.

The clerk and I started chatting, and one thing leading to another, I mentioned my two dogs in the car. “What kind of dogs?” she asked. I gave my standard answer: Pete, an Indiana Spotted Dog (Pete is a rescue from a kill shelter in Indiana, and of indeterminate breed, but with a speckled coat that looks like granite), and Moses, a German Shepherd.

Her attention was instantly riveted by the words “German Shepherd.”

“I had a German Shepherd,” she said. “But I had to put him down.” I felt a wave of sympathy. The shortness of dogs’ lives is a looming loss for those of us who love them, and the thought of it can shatter me if I linger on it.

She knew what I have learned: that there is something different about German Shepherd Dogs, no matter what other kinds of dogs you have had or how much you have loved them. I told her what the vet told me when Moses was a tiny puppy: “Nothing and no one on earth will ever love you as much as a German Shepherd will.”

Her eyes filled with tears, and mine did, too. She told me how true that was, and how smart her dog had been, and what a clever jailbreak artist he was. She told me that even when his hip dysplasia had made it impossible for him to walk she had cared for him until his pain became too much.

She seemed so sad. When I suggested that somewhere in the world there was a dog who desperately needed someone like her to love him she shook her head. No. She could never endure that loss again. It was too much.

The store was busy, and people were waiting for her attention, but I wished I could have taken her out for a cup of coffee, and brought her over to meet Moses and Pete, waiting patiently, if a bit odoriferously, in the car.

I have writing to do, and I have to go to Washington for work tomorrow, and I don’t know how I’m going to get everything done before I leave the house at 5:30 in the morning.

But Moses and Pete and I are going for a ramble. Life is all about priorities.

Last Day North of the Tension Line

January sunset

Today is my last day on Washington Island. The ferry leaves tomorrow at 8 am and we’ll be on it.

Normally I like to walk the deck and chat with the crew, but the dogs are with me, and there’s something about the ferry ride that scares them. So we sit together in the car, and I talk and sing to them. They like that, and they usually sing along. Pete, who is undoubtedly the coward in the family, is mostly unbothered by the motion, but that is enough for Moses. When we hit the ice fields the noise frightens them both and they tremble. It seems to get worse each trip.

Last night I walked home from a dinner party in the dark with the wind screaming from the lake. Its noise and power were awesome–in the old fashioned sense of the word. The dogs leapt with joy to see me, and we went out again to hear the wind and look at the moon and the clouds. They ran ahead of me through the snow, sniffing at deer tracks. The wild remoteness of the Island is oddly comforting to me, and I feel safer here than anywhere else on earth, even when the wind leaps and howls as if it would tear us off the ground and spin us into space.

I like to say I live in exile from Washington Island, and most people think it’s a joke. But leaving this place tears at me, and even though I will be happy to be home again, a part of myself will be missing.

The Most Beautiful Day in the World

One of my favorite writers, the melancholy anthropologist Loren Eiseley, wrote an essay called “The Most Perfect Day in the World”. In it, he describes a day when, utterly impoverished and riding freight trains across the country, he and a friend stopped in a small town on a sunny day, pooled their resources to buy a case of grape soda, and lay on the grass in the shade of a big tree all day, drinking soda and watching the clouds. This notion of perfection would not suit everyone, but it strikes me as a fine expression of the pure enjoyment of living: when time stops and you can live in this one moment, freed from fear and worry.

Today I am home from the office, ostensibly to proof my manuscript. But I have not done much work.  It is a delightfully cool, breezy June morning, the first time that sunshine has combined with the full fresh bloom of early summer. The dogs and I lolled on the grass before attacking the long list of procrastination–I mean errands–on my list. I walked in the garden where the irises are an edible deep purple, the pink roses are in bud, and the peonies are tight balls waiting to burst. I rambled out to the garage to find the loppers to prune the dead branches from the climbing rose on the arbor, and wrestled them to the ground without too many thorn pricks.  It is impossible to breathe in the air on day like this without experiencing a deep sense of wonder and gratitude. This is how I would like to spend my mornings forever.

But the day’s beauty makes a hard contrast to the suffering happening in this moment in other parts of the world, of the people who are terrified, in pain, in fear of horrible deaths, in an agony of despair for their futures. Marcus Aurelius counsels the practice of these contrasts as a method of valuing each moment of life and of inuring the soul against too much dependence on the vagaries of fortune. I read his teachings, and I have tried to absorb them. And I believe that we must all do what we can to make what we touch better, and to broaden our reach to others. But I think that modern angst is the result of our knowing too much about the suffering we cannot control. We are bombarded by war and poverty and natural disasters in every corner of the world, by the sufferings of people and the sufferings of animals. There is no doubt that we are meant to endure the suffering around us. But the suffering of the whole world is not a burden a human being can bear.

And so, Pete, and Moses and I will go out into the orchard and play ball in the sunshine, grateful for our blessings. But I will also offer my prayers for the souls in the dark, knowing that I am helpless to give them any relief. For us, it is the most beautiful day in the world. And that is how it has to be.