dead rat illustration

  THERE’S A RAT lying dead beneath the back porch. He announces himself as I’m sitting on the steps taking a moment of sun with a cup of tea, when that morbid little waft of him sours the ambience. And there he lies, down by my feet in the dark beneath the stairs, stretched out…

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homeless man and his dog

  A FEW DAYS AGO I was driving along a frontage road near a busy intersection, when I passed a woman and her dog sitting on the curb. The woman was holding a cardboard sign, hand-scrawled with the message that’s become all too common around town these days: “Please help.” I took a u-turn and…

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Sunrise over sea

This year’s winter solstice started auspiciously, behind clouds. A few minutes before dawn, on December 21, a bank of gray on the southeastern horizon was dousing any hopes of my greeting the first rays of sun on its shortest flight of the year. My custom here is to honor this day from its beginning, with…

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Merlin in flight

THE BIRD IS PERCHED atop the spire of a towering Norfolk pine. Normally I wouldn’t raise my binoculars. But there is something odd about this bird, something suggesting a departure from the neighborhood’s cast of usual suspects. The head and body are too big and stout for a dove or a shrike or a mockingbird,…

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  Last summer, once it had become abundantly clear that covid was not the harmless little brushfire we had naively hoped, but a global inferno raging to no end, Kathy and I decided to start rescuing dogs again. We would take them in—those collateral victims of the virus who’d been abandoned or surrendered by families…

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Letters to the Revolution

  FOUR YEARS AGO this month, in the aftermath of the soul-crushing election that had just delivered the meanest and most morally bankrupt of humans to the highest seat of power in the world, I contributed to an anthology seeking words of hope. At the time, I decided my best hope was to counter this…

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  For a few days this past October, it seemed like everybody in the world stopped to watch those six minutes in hell, when a 26-year-old trail runner, Kyle Burgess, met a mother cougar in a canyon outside Provo, Utah. Burgess had come upon what he first believed were bobcat kittens gamboling in the trail,…

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Jim Abernethy and Emma the tiger shark

For a couple years as a kid I lived on the island of Key West, a bohemian U.S. outlier ninety miles north of Cuba. Key West by that time had become a sportfishing mecca, and come five o’clock a boy with time and no money could entertain himself by walking the docks as the charter…

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watercolor by Mason Ellsworth

Twelve years ago, not long after our move to West Virginia, Kathy and I spent a special evening hanging with our new friends, Brian and Sylvia Ellsworth. That night we met their teenaged son, Mason, an angelic, baby-faced, happy-go-lucky musician who politely schooled us rock-and-roll dinosaurs on the current music scene, and led songs around the campfire after dinner. Two days later, Mason suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car accident.

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It’s been a few weeks now since our weary COVID gaze was momentarily enlivened by the sighting of a cat. For two days in mid-June we tuned in as a wild mountain lion walked the streets of San Francisco. We followed him by way of citizen smartphones and security cameras, popping up in the city…

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