July 12th, 1690

Today marks the 327th anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne in County Meath, Ireland. The forces of the deposed and Catholic King James II of England were defeated by those of the Protestant Dutch Prince William of Orange, who with his wife Mary II had acceded to the crowns of England and Scotland.

It’s a vaguely interesting bit of history, but does anyone care enough to hold hundreds of parades? Thousands of Orange Order men and women in Ireland, Scotland and around the world do, and today is their day to march to celebrate the event. Briefly, the Orange Order is pro-Protestant, pro-union with Britain, quite conservative, and to quote their pledge, they “…oppose the fatal errors and doctrines of the Church of Rome and other Non-Reformed faiths…”

In the past, the July 12th parades marched through Catholic neighborhoods, inciting violence between marchers and residents. Today they went through a Catholic neighborhood in the north of Belfast with little attention from the residents and no violence, thanks to ongoing community work on both sides and the 1998 Belfast Peace Agreement.

However, there were too many bonfires burning effigies of the late Martin McGuinness in a mock coffin (an Irish Republican Army officer in his youth, McGuinness became a disciple of Nelson Mandela, a friend of former foe the Rev. Ian Paisley, the founder of the Democratic Unionist Party, and like Paisley, a peacemaker late in life),the Tricolour flag of the Republic of Ireland, and other representations of Republicanism, but there was no violence reported against a living person.

There’s a new element to this story now, and that’s the 1 billion pound bribe UK Prime Minister Teresa May and her Conservative/Tory Party gave to the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party, which won less than 1% of the recent UK election to the Westminster Parliament, but won the most seats in the Northern Irish Parliament, Stormont. The DUP, like the Orange Order, is pro-Union with Britain, pro-Protestantism and very conservative, but the DUP also is anti-climate change, anti-abortion, anti-the 1998 Peace Agreement and anti-same sex marriage (which the Orange Order most likely is as well), the latter in line with the lack of legality and recognition of same sex marriage in Northern Ireland today.

May bribed the DUP to vote with the Tories in Westminster after she called a snap election last month to consolidate her base, only to end up hanging from a trapeze without a net (see my Brexit-themed posts of June 6 and June 14). The 2017 Tory manifesto (a depressing attack on the elderly, small children and their free lunches, immigrants and the National Health Service) does not address climate change at all, and since same-sex marriage is finally legal in Britain, it’s thankfully moot. Many Tories are appalled and exasperated with May’s disastrous strategies and this partnership with the retrograde DUP. British left-wing voters are not happy with the extra funding given to Northern Irish hospitals, while hospitals in the rest of the UK, already under considerable stress, will receive less.

The DUP may be viewed as heroes to some in Northern Ireland after their canny negotiation (should they negotiate Brexit for May?), they certainly hold the purse strings, and since they won Stormont last month, they hold the cards. Aligned as they are with the Orange Order, July 12th, 2018 may not be as peaceful as today was. A parade went through a Catholic neighborhood in North Belfast today, not around it, and there were bonfires all over Northern Ireland now being investigated as hate crimes. How far will the Orange Order push to return to the violence of the past, and how far will the DUP push back, and how can Teresa May and her government push at all, should the return to sectarian violence see the light of day? All parties should sit down and read the Belfast Peace Agreement to understand the benefits to keeping the fragile peace it wrought, and if they burn it up, the penalties to trade, the economies and the quality of life in each country that will result.

A Fourth Grade Friend

My wife Sally has a friend whom she met in the fourth grade. She also still has friends with whom she went to high school and college. Suffice it to say that they met a long time ago, and lost touch in between, but we just spent the fourth of July with them.

I had a friend in the fourth grade named Cathy Lynch, and I don’t think I’ve seen her since the fifth grade. We were skinny and we scratched at violins together, and we didn’t look like the two in the photo above, who are far more competent, confident and fashionably dressed than we were. When we played in our school orchestra, we wore black skirts, white blouses and white anklets with our loafers, or in my case, five eyelet oxfords.

Cathy’s household consisted of a mother, a little brother, and an “uncle” who visited on the weekends; mine held a father and a mother and a beloved dog. Both families lived in apartments in White Plains, neither had much money.

Kids of our generation roamed around a lot on their own, and one afternoon Cathy and I had the brainwave to hide in a car parked in the lot between our two apartment buildings. I think that we knew who the owner was, but I can’t be sure. We got in and we waited. We giggled. It began to get dark and more cars arrived and parked as their owners returned home from work. We hid in the back seat. It got dark and we got bored, then we realized what a mess we’d created and we left the car and walked to Cathy’s apartment. Her mother called my parents.

It was no accident that we gave ourselves up to Cathy’s mother instead of my parents. By doing so, I bought a little time before facing the music.

I think now of how jarring the ring of the phone must have been for my parents, who were beyond worried and thinking the worst. What news would there be from the caller?

My father fetched me and did not say one word as we walked home. He opened the apartment door to reveal my mother, seated and facing the door, Sitting Bull style. My memory tells me that one swift hit on the backside sent me flying to land in front of her and on my feet, but that’s a memory. The harangue that began then lasted for days, weeks. Why did we do it? I don’t know, why on earth did we? It seemed like a funny prank at first, but then the longer we stayed, the more we dug in, even though we became sick of it and scared of the consequences. I have no idea what I said to my parents through my tears of regret, but now I can say this: we were in the fourth grade.

I don’t have more than a Facebook connection with anyone I went to high school or college with, let alone the fourth grade. They gave me up and I gave them up, just as I gave up the violin as a senior in high school. Sally tells me that people resurface over time and some of my friends may, but there has to be a ringleader to pull everyone back together, or a trigger for the reunion, such as a high school or college class reunion, but for the fourth grade? The chances seem slim. Cathy, are you out there?



The Wind Among The Reeds

Among the many writers and poets born in June, W.B. Yeats is the subject of choice for this post. Irish nationalist, Nobel Prize winning poet, Irish Senator, romantic, a founder of the Abbey Theater in Dublin and spiritualist, Yeats’ poetry has spoken to me always.

When I look at a photo of him, young or old, I see a handsome man, one who is perhaps a little prissy (the pince-nez don’t help) or delicate, one with a sensual mouth. When I read about him, I am astounded at the opposition found in the constants of his life: poetry, Irish Nationalism and the occult. Yeats belonged to a spiritual society for decades. He and his wife, Georgie Hyde-Lee, whom he married late in life, practiced “automatic writing,” in which they believed that her hand was guided by a spirit as it wrote, pen to paper.

Through interest in the occult as a young man, he met an ardent young Irish Nationalist, Maud Gonne, an English heiress working in the women’s movement dedicated to the creation of the Irish Republic. She both led and followed Yeats down a tortured path for decades, as she turned down his marriage proposals four times. It was not until late in their unfortunate entanglement that they consummated their affair, although the delay was not caused by innocence or aversion (he had affairs with women throughout his life and she had given birth to two children as a young woman), but the consummation put a merciful end to the affair.

A member of the Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland, Yeats spent much of his life in London, but unlike many fellow members he did not consider himself an Englishman who happened to have been born in Ireland. He maintained a deep connection to the Dublin of his birth, to the Sligo of childhood summers, and to the ideals of Irish Nationalism until his older years, when he bemoaned the decline of Anglo-Irish influence on Irish society and culture, ruining his longstanding reputation as an Irish Republican.

Yeats wrote poetry, essays and plays with great productivity and to the end of his life. Two generations later, fellow Irish Nobel Prize winning poet Seamus Heaney lauded Yeats as a giant of poetry, as well as his willingness and ability to change his style as he aged, to continue to produce poetry of the highest level.

He published The Wind in the Reeds in 1899, the year he met Maud Gonne, with whom he shared anguish for much of their lives. This beautiful poem was published in that collection, and reveals his masterful and creative hand at age twenty-four, as well as the pain he’d already absorbed and could express.

He wishes for the Cloths of Heaven

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,

Enwrought with golden and silver light,

The blue and the dim and the dark cloths

Of night and light and the half-light,

I would spread the cloths under your feet:

But I, being poor, have only my dreams;

I have spread my dreams under your feet;

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.


For more of Yeats’ poetry, the collected works may be found here:


Do not seek the poems on PoemHunter.com, which hosts robots reading poetry!


Arthur, not

We met our dog Arthur in a shelter run by the county sheriff’s office. The place is managed by a wonderful group of people, mostly women, who care for their charges with diligence, intelligence and compassion. Arthur was young and he had issues, as most abandoned dogs do. He’s adorable and they thought we’d be a good fit. We are.

Our dog Arthur does not look like the Airedale Terrier above, except perhaps in his own mind. He’s little, about nineteen pounds, mostly a lustrous black with ginger legs, ginger springing eyebrows and a ginger beard. His fur is a little long and curly. The back legs are a tad bandy. His nose is black, his ears floppy, his countenance noble. Arthur’s eyes are the most beautiful dog eyes ever, and we get lost in them. He was reported to be and he looks like a terrier mix. When asked, the vet and the shelter folks offered Schnauzer mixed with Yorkshire Terrier, and indeed, that is what he looks like.

Still, there is something in the set of his neck and head that looks like an Airedale, writ small. Curious to know what his ancestors were, I sent off some of his swabbed cheek cells to a canine DNA testing company. I chose Embark over the several others because of good reviews. The amount of information that came back was astounding, and far more than I got with my own test (see the post “Origins: Hello Sailor!”). We learned that Arthur is in quarters: Chihuahua, Pekingese, Yorkshire Terrier and Miniature Pinscher. Arthur is taller and weighs more than any of those dogs, and while the looks of the Chihuahua and Pekingese are lost, the Yorkie and the Min Pin come through. We’ve owned a Pekingese, and I don’t see her personality in him. The other breeds are a mystery to us, but I’ve read that the Min Pin are fairly feisty, and so is Arthur.

His mixed relations have given him no propensity for any of the genetic problems purebred dogs tend to have, and his alleles for coat color are evident. I chose not to send a photo of him with the test; some of the physical descriptions resulting were accurate, some not (he is larger than he ought to be). According to his test results, the levels reported for a certain liver test will be low, and should not cause concern.

No, Arthur is not an Airedale, one of the dream dogs of my life, but he is our “terrier mix,” our beloved fellow. We work on his faults and ours with a dog trainer, and one day he may yawn and ignore dogs we meet on the road. He is a ready made watchdog, a charmer for us, for his circle of our human friends, and for his one dog friend, Marcus, an amiable Dachshund. It is enough that Arthur adores us. The feeling is mutual.




Will Ireland Redefine Brexit?

Theresa May kicked her own goal last week, calling an election she didn’t have to call, only to lose enough of her Conservative/Tory party seats to put her own office of Prime Minister in distinct jeopardy. Parliament has no clear majority now, including a Conservative one.

Scrambling to put one together, May is calling on the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party to prop the Tories up in the Westminster Parliament (the DUP won the most seats in the Westminster Parliament election, ten to Sinn Féin’s seven, with no other party winning a seat, and the DUP won one more seat than did Sinn Féin in the NI Parliament, Stormont). The DUP platform is anti-same sex marriage, anti-abortion, climate change denying, anti-special relationship with the Republic of Ireland and anti-EU. The DUP is also the only party in Northern Ireland that did not agree to the groundbreaking treaty known as the Good Friday Agreement, or the Belfast Agreement of 1998, which created the fragile peace that still exists today, and defined the relationships of Northern Ireland to Britain, to the Republic of Ireland and that of Britain to the Republic of Ireland.

Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU in 2016 (56% to 44%), the referendum that May’s predecessor, David Cameron, called needlessly, only to lose and resign. Since that day, a hard Brexit has been on the near horizon for Britain, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The charge was taken up by the new and possibly ex-PM Theresa May.

But now? It seems as though everyone forgot about Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which naturally have a special relationship. The Republic of Ireland has not considered leaving the EU. The Belfast Agreement gave everyone in Northern Ireland an absolute right to Irish citizenship and therefore to EU citizenship. That special relationship is the definition of the “special status” that Sinn Féin hopes will open a back door to a reunited Ireland.

After the UK voted to leave the EU, the EU could do nothing other than offer Northern Ireland a special Brexit, one which is refundable: if Northern Ireland chooses to join the Republic, it may re-enter the EU, which Britain can never do.

The DUP is in favor of tearing up the Belfast Agreement. The treaty is registered with the United Nations, and guaranteed by the EU and the US, including its human rights protections. Will the countries willing to enter into trade deals with Britain post Brexit and post the tearing up of the Belfast Agreement please step forward?

The EU Brexit negotiations are set to start June 19th, and as with all divorces, there will be steep financial and emotional repercussions. By negotiating with the DUP, Theresa May seems poised to kick another goal into her own net, as interest in the UK increases for a second referendum on Brexit, a second look at leaving the EU.

Will Brexit Reunite Ireland?

Brexit, Britain’s exit from the European Union, will drag the rest of the UK kicking and screaming with it. A couple of years away, it is already having effects far and wide, from European footballers on British teams eschewing their salaries in pound sterling for Euros, to Republic of Ireland real estate developers licking their chops at the prospect of European businesses fleeing London for Dublin.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin, the Irish republican party throughout Ireland (the Republic of and Northern), is attempting to secure “special status” for Northern Ireland within the EU, asserting that it should be exempted from paying for the damage that will be caused by Brexit. Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU, and was joined by the opposition party to Sinn Féin, the Ulster Unionist Party, a party that works to keep Northern Ireland in the UK, not in a reunited Ireland. The UUP leader describes the call for special status as an attempt to achieve a reunited Ireland by the “back door.” The leaders of Sinn Féin may smile when they think of that back door.

In April, Theresa May, the Prime Minister of the UK, called for a snap election to take place this Thursday, June 8th. The purpose of the election is to consolidate the power of her party, the Conservative or Tory Party, and undoubtedly to send a message that Brexit will go ahead, via the mechanism in Article 50, no matter what the people of Northern Ireland or Scotland, which also voted to remain in the EU, want. The PM had promised the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, that no such election would take place, but is it possible that Ms. Sturgeon’s letter to Theresa May at the end of March gave birth to the hastily called election? In her politely provocative letter the Scottish First Minister announced her intention to bring another independence referendum forward to the Scottish Parliament (the independence referendum of 2014 brought out 85% of Scottish voters and lost, 55.3% to 44.7% independence seekers).

Theresa May has nothing but problems, having been the PM during the three ghastly terror attacks of the last three months. She has responded by casting blame liberally, forgetting that before her election, she was the Home Secretary for six years under former PM David Cameron. The Home Secretary is in charge of counterterrorism. The Guardian newspaper reports that Theresa May reduced police forces by 21,500 officers, both as Home Secretary and PM, and the counter-terrorism budget, starting in 2010. Her opposition, the Labour Party, is naturally making a meal of the numbers, despite May’s defensive countercharges. However, the voters in London and the rest of the UK are feeling the shock of the terror attacks, and that may not be a good thing for the Conservatives or Theresa May on June 8th.

Brexit also brings up the question of borders in Ireland. A tourism lobby group in Northern Ireland, Hospitality Ulster, contends that any return to a border, hard or soft, between Northern Ireland and the Republic could hurt the North’s economy. More than half of external visitors to Northern Ireland come through Dublin first. After Brexit, will they need a visa? Will they bother to come at all, to wait at the border crossing, or choose to remain in the Republic? Tourists pay a 20% tax on purchases in Northern Ireland, and 9% in the Republic; so, no, they may not bother to go north.

More importantly, a noticeable border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland would bring back memories of the bad old days of The Troubles in the 1970s, a time everyone would like to forget. These days the train from Dublin to Belfast slips across the border, its passengers ignorant of the fact until they see red post boxes instead of green ones, Union Jacks instead of the Irish Tricolour. When the Dublin train nears the station in Belfast, it passes a Guinness factory, and all is well: the two are the one Ireland, after all.

Will Brexit reunite Ireland? It’s a lovely thought; one Sinn Féin will try to make reality. The companion question is: will Brexit blow the United Kingdom apart? Pay attention to the British election results on Thursday: the answers will begin to emerge with those results.

I Felt Bad

Many writers were born in the month of May: Transcendentalists Margaret Fuller and Ralph Waldo Emerson, poet and novelist May Sarton, biologist and environmentalist Rachael Carson, essayist and novelist Jamaica Kincaid, poet Walt Whitman, and Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle.

Nora Ephron was also born in May, and it is to her that my thoughts turn on this last day of the month. Why to her and not to the inspiration of ground-breaking Rachael Carson or to Conan Doyle, who provided me with life-long entertainment?

I’m not entirely sure. Ephron was a journalist first, and probably last, and in between she was many things, including a novelist, playwright, screenwriter, film director, feminist, wit and terrific cook, judging by her recipes. I enjoyed her I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts On Being A Woman and Heartburn and its recipes (and in a Noraesque turn, I’ll get to one recipe in the last paragraph), but I felt her loss very much when she died.

Nora Ephron had suffered from acute myeloid leukemia for six years when she died in 2012, but only her immediate family knew about it. Apparently, her closest friends didn’t know and must have been even more shocked than I was when her death was announced. I don’t go in for creepy fan imaginings, so it wasn’t that I thought I’d lost a friend. We’d all lost a woman who was brilliant and funny and could be relied upon to entertain and inform us with her writing. She was relatively young when she died, but far from young, and she’d had what is cloyingly referred to as a full life. So why did I feel bad, terrible, when I first heard of her death?

Looking back, I find her exit a class act: no appearing on talk shows discussing her illness, no raising millions for acute myeloid leukemia research in public, no last words for total strangers. Why she didn’t include her close friends in her last, closest circle I can’t say, and it certainly must have hurt them, since she let them know how close they were exactly.

Besides the work she left us, she left us some great recipes. If you haven’t read Heartburn, do. It’s an autobiographical novel that’s painful, hilarious and successful in seeking revenge. It also contains Nora’s “instructions” on how to make the perfect peach pie. As we swing into summer and an abundance of delicious peaches, plan to make it. I urge you to read her steps to the perfection of the pie in Heartburn, but if not, this link will take you there: http://www.food.com/recipe/nora-ephrons-peach-pie-440852.

I think that the passing of Nora Ephron felt like a loss for me because of the sum of her parts: the peach pie, her exquisite humor and gimlet eye, and this quote: “Above all, be the heroine of your own life, not the victim.”

Origins: hello sailor!

My umpteenth great-grandpa?

 Most of us are interested in our origins, whether we think we know a lot about our ancestors or not. Our abiding interest supports numerous genealogy search engines, professional genealogists and several versions of a TV show where the host reveals a celebrity’s ancestry on camera (the celebrity often cries in response, but it seems to be real emotion, not bathos).

I mine my love of origins for the fiction I write, and I have pursued my own origins as an amateur genealogist. I thought I knew my family’s origins well: my mother came from Northern Ireland and my father’s family were overwhelmingly English, traced on one side to the 16th century, with only one Polish or German great-grandmother known to me. Still, how could I resist the availability of DNA test kits for genealogical information? I didn’t even try.

I chose the National Geographic test kit, since the results become part of an international research project. While waiting for the results, I was certain that the matches would be completely English/Irish/Scottish, but I hoped for a big surprise: the telltale of a hidden coupling. The National Geographic’s testing also searches for matches with very old genes, back to the Neanderthals. I have long been somewhat obsessed with and heartbroken for the Neanderthals, the hominoid group that failed. I’m thrilled at the result of a higher than average percent Neanderthal match. Plus, it explains a lot.

The matches to my more modern genome sequence were in fact a bit of a surprise: only 56% to Northwestern European, which includes Ireland and the United Kingdom, but a whopping 25% match to Southwestern European (The Iberian Peninsula of Spain and Portugal, and Southwestern France), 11% Eastern European (the graphic of the match hovered over Poland) and 8% Northeastern European (where Russia meets Finland). This set of matches is very close to what the National Geographic labeled a French pattern.

The European-only result was not a surprise (but admittedly, a bit of a disappointment: no secret Native Americans, Africans, Asians, or Jewish Diaspora), unlike my greater match to the French pattern than to the British. Light dawned when I remembered the Norman Invasion of England and Ireland, bringing French blood, as had the mysterious Celts/Gauls much earlier, a migration wave that began in Central Europe and moved west.

As for the Iberian Peninsula match, the Spanish Armada brought Spanish and Portuguese blood to Ireland when the ships crashed on the western Irish coast in 1588, and while most of the crews were killed by Irish lords in cahoots with the English, those who made it to Ulster, not then under English control, were welcomed to stay or helped to safety in Scotland. Bingo. My maternal grandmother’s Scots-Ulster family were “Black Irish” because of their black hair and eyes, and olive complexions, rumored to have sprung from some lucky Spanish Armada sailor.

With my own results in hand, I did some research on Irish genetics and found a Hub post by Marie McKeown https://owlcation.com/stem/Irish-Blood-Genetic-Identity, in which she discusses recent research into Irish DNA, which reveals several waves of migration to Ireland over the millenia. According to the analysis, the early settlers of Ireland were not directly related to the Celts. In fact, analysis of a 5,200 year-old Irish farmer points to Spain and Sardinia, although the farmer had little relation to modern Irish people. Moving forward in time to 4,000 years ago, a heavy dose of Russia and Ukraine was found, and a much closer genetic link to the modern Irish, Scottish and Welsh than the old farmer’s. Analysis of modern Irish people also suggests a close relation with the people of northern Spain, particularly the Basque region.

Bingo again? Maybe. A common theory is that the “Black Irish” are descended from the survivors of the Spanish Armada, but it’s equally possible that the ancestors were Irish traders, sailing between Ireland and Spain, or Spaniards not of the Armada who resettled in Ireland.

I prefer to stay with my sailor, my umpteenth great-grandpa, that dark-haired, fortunate fellow, who found succor in Ulster or Scotland, and ended up in my genes, along with all of the others: pass the pierogies, por favor.


Help me say just the right thing about love


I’m looking for short, suitable poems or prose sections about committed love to read at our friends’ wedding in June. Our friends, who are two young women, have asked for poems and prose by women writers only, knocking Shakespeare right out of contention…or does it? I’ll get back to Shakespeare in the last paragraph.

We’ve agreed that the poem or prose to be read at the wedding should not be long, have explicit sexual content, describe pain or loss, and should gloss over who the lovers are with respect to gender, if not about two women. A lot to ask? Apparently. A few have been found so far (Mary Oliver, Maya Angelou, Moya Cannon, May Sarton), and there are many women poets and writers, thank goodness, so the search continues, but I need help: suggestions will be very welcome for the wedding reading.

The Mary Sidney Society http://www.marysidneysociety.org/ , John Hudson, a Shakespearian scholar, and The Dark Lady Players of New York https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Dark_Lady_Player are proponents of the theory that the works attributed to Shakespeare were written by a woman (but not the same woman). I haven’t read about these women, but I have read other theories about what Will actually wrote. Were the plays and sonnets credited to Shakespeare actually written by somebody else, whether Christopher Marlow or Mary Sidney or Amelia Bassano Lanier? Have you researched Shakespeare and the authorship question? What do you think?

Don’t miss the wonderful work of Irish poet Moya Cannon:  http://moyacannon.org/  https://wfupress.wfu.edu/poem-of-the-week/poem-week-viola-damore-moya-cannon/

Country Drama

A small fisher cat

Do you live in the country now? Did you grow up in a rural area? If so, you know that if all the world’s a stage, the country is high drama. I awoke early one morning last summer to hear what sounded like someone scraping a metal colander with a fork. A very unique smell accompanied the sound. My wife Sally’s usual early morning activities are making coffee, printing off newspaper crosswords, and putting the dinner dishes away. Colanders don’t feature, usually. Still, I clung to my bed.A voice penetrated my return to the Land of Nod. “Just so you are aware, I think we have a bat. It’s clicking. Arthur was sniffing under the stove with interest. We’re going out for his walk now. I was going to leave you a note, but I thought better of it.” Arthur, a terrier mix, turned on his heels and trotted after her.

Abandoned, I dressed with lightening speed, found the butterfly net we keep handy for such exigencies, and pulled a baseball cap on. I closed off the kitchen as securely as I could, all the while listening to the metallic clicking in the midst of the miasma (did bats smell? I hadn’t remembered that they did). I found the note (and kept it) and waited in another room. Once they returned, we three ventured into the kitchen and followed the sound and Arthur’s twitching nose to a little cabinet next to the washing machine. We pulled the cabinet out. Sally peered in and I held the butterfly net at the ready.

“Do bats have necks?”

Necks?” Did they? I’d never fainted, but I thought about it.

“It’s like a pencil. It’s shaped like a pencil.” Sally raised her index finger in demonstration.

Craning my neck around in order to see the critter, I saw its little face. “It’s a weasel, I think.” Consultation later with a nature book led us to conclude that she was an ermine wearing her brown summer outfit. We imagined her gender due to her delicacy.

At this point, it’s only fair to confess that we are both city born and bred (although I suspect that the real country people have guessed), only removed to the country life in maturity. I won’t pretend that we came up with a successful plan immediately, but eventually, Sally took Arthur into another room and I opened the back door in the hopes that the weasel would see her chance. Within seconds, the clicking stopped and the smell evaporated. I’d had my back to the door, pouring coffee (well, really, there’s only so much stress I can take first thing without coffee), and it must have zoomed outside to freedom.

Looking out our country kitchen window one morning last month, I saw a fisher cat, possibly rabid, running erratically and too close to the house. Sally and the dog had driven off in the car for the usual morning walk. While watching the cat run around, bucking like a bronco, I watched for her car to return, so  I could warn her. When she pulled in, I checked for the cat and finding its absence, ran to the car, dressed in pajamas, robe, and tall LL Bean rubber boots (ever the fashion plate, even in a crisis).

By the way, if you’re thinking “kitty cat,” in response to the phrase “fisher cat,” think again: at 30 inches and 9 pounds (although ours looked much, much bigger), the fisher cat is the largest weasel in the Northeastern U.S., one which has the ability to deftly flip porcupines to attack their spineless bellies. Death is never far away in the country, and the fisher cat, which can run, swim, and climb trees, is the memo that makes your spine shiver.

For another and wonderful take on things weasel, read Mary Bonina’s poem “Wild” at http://www.marybonina.com/poems-from-living-proof.html. Be sure to enjoy her other poems under “Excerpts” while there.