Dream of the Dragon

In the mouth of madness.

by Justin

I wish I was cool enough to write about the Sam Neill movie.

Before I begin the tale, I want to clarify one thing. A note on responsibility: I erred in a dozen ways in the course of the following events. I was reckless and irresponsible, naïve, and altogether an idiot. While the animals acted according to instinct and, therefore, cannot be faulted, I was brazen enough to create a situation riddled with potential hazards. I believe I learned several lessons. And I feel incredibly lucky for escaping largely unscathed.

Long Island, NY – A large square field, some 50 yards on each side, marks the end point of most every morning walk. It affords not only ample space for reckless running, but clean sight lines in every direction until either forest or buildings reclaim the landscape. From dusk until dawn, the field belongs to the deer. They graze and lounge, cluster on the edge of panic, and do whatever else deer do under the cover of night.

Icarus (my whippet, newcomers) and I typically conclude our walks with an inspection of the entire perimeter of this field. The purpose here is to check the whereabouts of deer – most nights they sleep in the open spaces, and then retreat into the woods just after sunrise. More often than not, however, a few will linger along the edges, dragging their hooves and nibbling at tall grass. So the dog and I secure the perimeter every morning: I whistle loudly to announce our presence; Icarus bounds along with occasional high jumps so any creatures can catch his scent and steer clear.

The deer in these parts lack a healthy fear of canines. Whether from lack of exposure or a cultivated feeling of security, the instinct to fly in terror from just the rumor of a dog has been dulled. In an attempt to dull my dog’s opposite inclination to chase, I have walked him within 10 feet of the bravest beauties. So long as they stand their ground, curiosity tends to trump madness. Should they run, however, his world goes red. And so we secure the perimeter.

Once I am confident that the wild is aware of us, I let the pup off leash so he can stretch his legs and do what he was born to do. Most mornings, this means a raucous round of Frisbee. A German neighbor named Icarus “the most sporting hound around” after seeing these daily exploits. After nearly a month of these routine frolics, the system of deer-dodging has proven successful.

Yesterday morning, I cut a few corners – or rather one specific corner of the field entirely. The sun was high in the sky, the land featureless and flat, and I deemed the field secure. I let Icarus loose. Read the rest of this entry »

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Suspending disbelief.

by Justin

Biking beside Icarus affords me the rare opportunity of seeing a perfect design accelerate into motion.

When he jogs, Icarus looks much like other dogs – clumsier, maybe, but the mechanics are the same. His legs hit the ground in close sequence, but staggered and uneven. You can tell he’s waiting for the party to start.

But when I begin to push past 20 mph, pedaling into muscle pain, the dog transforms. He’s off the ground longer, he stops looking at me between strides, and the horse-hoof patter quickens.

Whippets are double-suspension runners. All four feet are off the ground twice per stride: first, curled up beneath the body; second, extended out in a Superman pose. They fly. From standing, it’s amazing and insane to watch an animal break into that kind of speed. But riding beside that pup is a whole other experience. It’s like seeing an elegant machine, each part working in fluid concert.

Tonight, as we crossed a field, Icarus spotted several deer at the tree-line and reminded me that his top speed is upwards of 30 mph. He cut in front of the bike and threw me off balance. When I squeezed the brakes the stop was so sudden that the back wheel lifted at least a foot off the ground. I slammed back down, the chain popped off, and Icarus caught his prey-drive breath.

Skipping heartbeats.

by Justin

Does resonance diminish over time? More often that not, probably.

An EKG revealed that I have striking respiratory sinus arrhythmia, as indicated by digital scribbles that looked quite a bit like polygraph readouts. I suspect this is part of the natural progression of my relationship with my dog, who has a clear and beautiful arrhythmic resting heart rate. Whippet hearts are like John Bonham drums in muffled miniature.

I sat on a black stool in a tiny white room, sealed and soundproofed, observed through glass by a nurse. From inside the booth, only her black, center-parted hair was visible, draped over a notepad. It felt a bit like Peter Venkman’s ESP tests, and a bit like an army screening room untouched since 1940. The latter may not be inaccurate. I was in there for a hearing test, though, and it lacked the excitement of either.

But, in the end, my hearing proved to be nearly perfect, and well beyond most humans in catching both high and low frequencies. Again, this is a product of Icarus and efforts to hear a deer before he does.

An old physicist – a caricature of the unkempt, graying, and slightly rotund scientist– stood in an academic hallway talking to a student as I walked past. “The inside word is that they’ve seen promising glimmers of a dark matter particle,” he said.

Two broken branches, no thicker than a thumb, had been broken and twisted by the wind. They hung from hardier branches, swaying just inches off the ground, forming an unmistakable ‘4’.

And I came to appreciate the softer side of the Demon Princess of Pomerania – often the life of the party, but seldom the belle of the ball. She’s a real heartbreaker.

Helena Bonham Carter, somehow mistaken for Helen Mirren.