Finding the glow, and basking in it

They’re sitting there, silent and dark, in the boxes and crates that I put them in last January. I’m sitting here, quiet and tired, wondering if this is the year that  they stay where they are; inanimate objects gathering dust in a place that nobody goes. I see in my mind the things I could do with those things, bushes illuminated, doorways made festive, windows lit with a soft glow from a candle bought in a different time, in a different home.

Back when Christmastime was truly magical it was up to me to make sure all of the candles were lit in all of our windows. The bulbs were orange then, the electric candles ivory with plastic wax dripping down the sides. They were placed between the real windows and the storm windows, the heat they produced enough to melt the frost and sometimes ice that lived between the glass, creating a halo of orange light surrounded by white.

I couldn’t wait for sunset most days, and as the last traces of light receded to darkness I would begin my work, first downstairs, plugging the ends of the electric cords into the outlets that turned them on. There were five windows on the ground floor of the colonial, and it didn’t take long for me to plug all five in. The effect was okay, but lost with the everyday lighting and the racket from my brother and sisters, and the noise in the kitchen from my mother’s meal preparations.

It was upstairs where the true Christmas Spirit resided, in the bedrooms. Only during Christmastime was I allowed access into my parents room without an invite, and my sister’s room without being chased into it. It wascandle quiet up there, nobody but me, and I took my time, basking in the orange glow in each room before moving on to the next. I saved me and my brother’s room for last, and after the final candle was lit would lie in my bunk bed and let the serenity I created fill me with happiness. I wouldn’t spend long up there, didn’t want to miss what was happening downstairs, some treat to gobble or game to play, but for perhaps five minutes I would lie there feeling connected to something far bigger than myself, or anything I could imagine.

I close my eyes and feel it, and before long I’m off the chair, coat on, hat and gloves in the pocket and out the door, into the garage and up the ladder. The boxes are right where I left them last year. A few candles wouldn’t hurt, I think, and before long every last snowman, elf, Santa and wreath is on the garage floor, waiting for me to create something magnificent.

 

 

Magic?

Rainy afternoon, November, 2015, I’m sitting in a comfortable chair in a library that was built some 200 years ago. The smell of paper, and people, and the passage of time is nearly overwhelming. A little girl invades my space, and looks at me, unafraid, and asks if I like kittycats.

“I do like kittycats, how about you?”

“I love them,” she says and walks away.

An old man and his daughter, I presume take a seat near me, and begin reading. Every now and then they stop, long enough to acknowledge each other’s presence, then go back to their little worlds that are being created by the words on the pages they read.

Symbols on a page, translated by our brains into pictures, emotions, ideas and wordshistories, much like the ones I am creating at this very instant astound me, and give me pause, and I look at my keyboard and can’t help but be touched by a moment of grace.

Is this magic? Or is it science? I don’t know what it is, but by god I plan on using these letters, these words, sentences and paragraphs to the very best of my ability as I spend a quiet afternoon creating something that was not here when I sat down to write.

City Life Dedication

My newest book, City Life went live this week, sales seem pretty good, so far, very City Life_eBookCoverappreciative of everybody who took the time to buy a copy, or download it, not quite sure the terminology these days.

I told my grandchildren about the dedication yesterday;

“For Lilliana Elizabeth, Kinsley Victoria, and Jaxon Chase

Here’s to the future!

(Sorry, Jaxon, it’s ladies before gentlemen in this house.)”

The conversation went something like this:

GrandkidsGrampa: Guess what? I dedicated my new book to you guys!

Lilly: Woohoo! That’s the funniest thing I heard all day!

Kinsley: Very interesting!

Jaxon: You expect me to believe that you wrote a book?

 

 

 

The Language of Dogs

Learning the language of dogs “It’s just no fun arguing with somebody whose only reason for living is to live.”

By Michael Morse

 

  • From ConvergenceRI.com

 

WHY IS THIS STORY IMPORTANT?

 

Author Michael Morse shares a few lessons in communicating that he learned from his dog, Mr. Wilson, including the importance of living, not arguing, and living in the moment.

 

THE QUESTIONS THAT NEED TO BE ASKED

 

What is it about pets that they often enable humans to learn how to express their emotions in a more healthy, loving manner? Is there a potential for Rhode Island to become designated as a dog-friendly place to travel, as part of an overall tourism campaign? What are the different ways that dogs have become part of a larger working tradition – beyond herding, police and rescue work – to include therapy and support?

 

UNDER THE RADAR SCREEN

 

Our own personal stories are the most prize possessions we carry with us; telling them quilts us together in a tenuous, human fashion. The relationship between humans and dogs [and pets] creates its own special language of shared emotional connection and companionship. The constancy of that relationship recalls the Josh Billings line, quoted at the beginning of Disney’s epic dog movie, “Lady and the Tramp”: “In the whole history of the world there is but one thing that money can not buy, the wag of a dog’s tail.” Perhaps the most important thing that dogs teach us is how to wag our own tails.

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WARWICK – I had just met Mr. Wilson when I wrote a book about the wonderful relationship that I saw forming between us. I felt the emotional connection the second I touched him, a rescue dog fresh off the bus from Arkadelphia, Arkansas.

 

I don’t know if it was because I had learned a little more about the mysteries of life since saying good-bye to the dogs that shared my life prior to Mr. Wilson, or if he was simply very good at letting me know his thoughts.

 

I do know that he has a way of communicating that is not all that difficult to decipher – once I learned what to look for.

 

Great communicators

All dogs are great communicators. Their every waking second is spent sending signals to the other living creatures in their lives. They do not waste time on idle chatter; there is purpose in nearly every movement, snort, yelp, growl and smile. Most of their waking hours are spent testing the people and animals they have allowed into their pack.

 

“Who is in charge?” is the most important game that Mr. Wilson plays.

 

Every day he tests me, and tries to usurp my status as king. A paw on my chest to wake me is actually, in his mind, a great start to the revolution.

 

By marking me high on my body with his scent he establishes dominance.

 

The cats that share our home must understand this ancient secret as well, because my sleeping form is a great target for a number of different paws.

 

Demanding breakfast is not just bad behavior from an unruly dog, it’s a clear signal that his needs need to be met before anybody else’s, or else.

 

Dashing out of the door when I open it tells me that he is in charge, and I had better follow.

 

It’s not that he thinks he would be a better king; rather he needs to know that the person he has trusted to be the leader of the pack is worthy. Once we have established the proper order, he can relax, and get on with his very important schedule.

 

Small things matter greatly when communicating with Mr. Wilson. He can complain all day long about not being fed first, it is up to me to handle his demands. He eats when we are through, period. He has learned that begging for scraps is beneath him, mostly because no scraps ever appear no matter how pathetic he chooses to act. He sits, and waits at an open door, overcoming his instinct to be the first one through.

 

Good behavior

These behaviors did not come naturally, they had to be taught. A good teacher tends to be a good leader in a dog’s eyes. When he has been rewarded for acting properly, his anxiety levels subside considerably, and he decides that I have passed his tests, and will be allowed to be the leader of the pack, for now. Any sign of weakness from me is an invitation for him to start the revolution all over.

 

A good leader does not rule with an iron fist. Learning from the creatures who inhabit the kingdom is essential to maintaining order. Only when everybody is in their proper place, or as Mr. Wilson sees it, in “pack order,” can any meaningful experiences be shared. My natural proclivity to go with the flow needed to be tweaked so that I could enjoy all of the wisdom that a seemingly simple, yet amazingly complex creature has to offer.

 

Cloudy memories

“The exuberance that he shows is remarkable, but it is not for everybody. Something happened in his past that keeps him from fully trusting everybody on sight,” I wrote in Mr. Wilson Makes it Home [Skyhorse Publishing, 2015].

 

“There must be some cloudy memories of pain in that little head of his, and in some way, certain people, through no fault of their own or no sinister, deep dark meanness hidden with friendly smiles and handshakes, bring those emotions to the forefront, but he doesn’t lash out at people who intimidate him, rather he cowers, and worries, but ultimately gets close enough for them to be touched by him.

 

“There is something everlasting about the spirit that accompanies a dog, something that as smart as we are we will never fully understand. We have the brains and reasoning ability to know everything, but what do we really know?

 

“Perhaps there is a completely different way of communicating that we cannot comprehend, something that far surpasses our ability to understand the world around us and the people in our lives.

 

“Maybe each species is gifted with senses that surpass what we think are the five biggies – sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. Our eyes see, and our ears hear, and our noses smell things. Our tongues taste and our skin feels, but is that all there is?

 

“We feel emotions like love, and fear, and hate, and sense those feelings in others, but how deeply? Is a dog able to sense those emotions as clearly as we can see written words on a page, or hear the crescendo as our favorite songs reach their climactic peak?

 

“I think so. I think they are capable of that, and things that we cannot imagine, and in their bodies that are vastly different from ours, I think that they too know when they are needed most and are able to make their feelings known with absolute clarity, and for those fortunate enough to be on the receiving end of a dog’s attention the result is one of the things that makes the mysteries of living not only bearable, but incredible.”

 

Teaching me how to live

I spend a lot of time teaching Mr. Wilson how to act so that he can enjoy my company. In turn, he spends all of his time teaching me how to live.

 

Lessons like living in the moment cannot be missed when sharing your life with a dog.

 

Their ability to rise to any occasion, and to squeeze every last drop of joy from something as great and adventurous as a walk through the woods, or as mundane as taking a snooze with the king, are infectious.

 

Dogs live life on life’s terms. There are no “what ifs” in their language, only “what is.” Their complete lack of expectations makes everything they do the most important thing that has ever been done.

 

I like to emulate Mr. Wilson’s philosophy whenever I can. Some of my more difficult relationships have become more manageable simply by putting the lessons learned from him into play. It’s just no fun arguing with somebody whose only reason for living, is to live.

 

Michael Morse, a popular columnist and author, lives in Warwick, with his wife, Cheryl, two Maine Coon cats, Lunabelle and Victoria Mae, and Mr. Wilson, their dog.

 

Michael spent 23 years working in Providence as a firefighter/EMT before retiring in 2013 as Captain, Rescue Co. 5.

 

Morse was awarded the prestigious Macoll-Johnson Fellowship from The Rhode Island Foundation in 2012.

 

Morse is the author of two books, in addition to .  They are: Rescuing Providence, and Rescue 1, Providence. His next book, , will be out in December, 2015.

 

Think like your dog

Try as they may, our dogs simply cannot think like we do. We, however, have the ability to think like them. Every now and then it is imperative to do so, if for nothing more than to keep the peace at home.

Our dog, Mr. Wilson is an affable chap by anybody’s standards. He lives with us, know his place, guards our home to the best  his 12 pound fuzziness allows and seems to always be in the right place at the right time. He sits and stays, comes when called and does not hesitate when asked to “go to your crate.”

Those small things, and a few others were easy to achieve, not because I am a great trainer, rather because I

listened, first to my wife, who noticed that Mr. Wilson was miserable whenever I wasn’t around, and then to The Dreadlock Dog Man from Australia, Martin McKenna. 

Our first few days with our new dog were like The Canine Control Olympics. Every thing we did was a contest in Mr. Wilson’s mind. Feeding, barking, peeing, walking-every aspect of his new life was a test. He wanted to win, and do things his way, because that was the only way he knew. Through trial and error, some wins, some losses, he started the journey toward what I call Schnoodle Serenity. He could never have achieved his current relaxed, happy state of being without enduring The Olympics. He had to find out, without a shadow of doubt, exactly who was in charge.

At first, it appeared we had lost. One of the greatest feelings is to have another living, feeling and adorable being shower us with affection. Knowing that our new dog was using those tools to control us was a bitter pill to swallow.  It is my, and most dog owners desire to be liked by our pets-and therein lies a fundamental problem. Dogs “like” us differently than we “like” them. What we perceive as a gesture of affection is to the dog a gesture of dominance. Jumping, barking inappropriately, stealing food et al are all simply means of survival to our dogs. Without proper leaders, our dogs revert to their instinct, which basically is a quest to lead.  When they find a competent leader, then- and only then- do they decide to “like” us.

But the quest for harmony, love and fun with our dogs does not end there. Once leadership has been established it is up to us to maintain it. Our dogs will test us, re-test us, then test us again. It is a daily battle for them, and they need to know that the person in charge of their lives, happiness and comfort is capable and deserving of such trust.

After reading Martin’s book, The Boy who Talked to Dogs,  I decided that somebody who lived rough with a pack of wild dogs as a boy most likely had a far greater understanding of dog behavior and communication than I did. Dogs have subtle ways of communicating that are difficult for humans to comprehend, without being shown. Martin did not read about these signs, he learned from the dogs themselves, and I’m glad he did.

Using our superior intelligence and reasoning capabilities while teaching our dogs the rules of life with us makes training simple. The dogs listen to people they trust. They accept us as their superior. It can be no other way. When we allow our dogs to rule, all under the guise of love and affection, their lives are full of uncertainty, stress, anxiety and destructive behaviors.
It may be difficult to think that our dogs are constantly trying to usurp our leadership. Thinking that they are constantly testing us puts a little damper on that awesome relationship we share with our dogs. But in the big picture, when you stop letting your dog control you by using our instinctual need for acceptance, his life becomes far better for it.

And so will ours. Dogs are good. It is up to us to make them great.

Trucking water in Iraq

an excerpt from “City Life,” available this December. . .

I was watching “Saving Private Ryan” when my phone rang. My brother, Bob, calling from Iraq. I hadn’t heard from him in around two weeks. He was “on a mission.” We talked for a while, pretended things were normal for a few minutes, when that got old we talked about his situation. Grim, he acknowledged. Not much more can be said, but grim. He misses his wife and kids. We miss him. He’s back at his base, the plywood walls of his quarters welcome after two weeks on the road. Baghdad is especially disturbing he said. Two weeks through hell to transport water.

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When I hung up I tried to watch the rest of the movie. When we were kids we would spend Saturday afternoons watching war movies on an old TV in our basement. I must be getting old and soft, I could barely focus on the screen through my blurred vision. I wiped my eyes with my sleeve and turned the TV off.

Without each other we have nothing

There comes a time when every one of us will need somebody. It is unavoidable. No City Life_eBookCovermatter how independent, isolated, or self-sufficient a person wishes to be, there is no escaping that fact. None of us can do it alone. Many have tried, and ultimately failed.
City Life is a book about people needing each other. There is no shame in that; there is no more basic human condition, for without each other, we have nothing.
I began writing accounts of my interactions with people who had called 911 for help when I realized that my position exposed me to worlds that most of us would never experience. Being allowed into a person’s home, or into their lives when away from home, during a moment in time when their need is greatest, is an honor, and not something to be taken lightly.

There is dignity to be found in just about every encounter we experience, and the people I have helped are the root of inspiration for the book. Their stories help unravel the mysteries of the human condition, and by telling them I hope to create a better understanding of the people we share this existence with, and how our differences need not keep us separate, or alone.
Some of the stories in the book are disturbing, others heartfelt, and many will leave you with a grin or scratching your head, much like I would do when responding to people’s emergencies in the city of Providence, Rhode Island. The people at the “other” end of the 911 calls are what matter. I am simply telling their stories.
It is my privilege and honor to have the opportunity to do so. I do not take this honor lightly. Few are fortunate enough to be allowed into the innermost essence of others. Being one of the few has made my experiences more vibrant and my understanding of the people I share this time on earth with far deeper than I would have ever dreamed possible.

Most of us get through our lives sharing ten percent or less of the thoughts that run through our minds. In times of crisis that ten percent expands exponentially; the whole person is exposed. Sharing these experiences with the people who need help, my family, the people I respond with, and even the city itself gives me the opportunity to be a better husband, father, friend and firefighter.
Even now, somewhere somebody is in trouble, a call is being made, a dispatch transmitted, lights flashing, bells tipping, horns blaring . . .

Glorious

It’s a Friday in September. It’s comforting to know that Alpha Dog Transport is on the way home, a truckload of rescued dogs with them. Their first stop is Haggerston, Maryland in the Toys R Us parking lot, where the first bunch of refugees will meet their new families, either foster or forever. On to the Turkey Hill gas station in Harrisburg, PA at two in the morning, where bleary eyed people meet their bright eyed friends for the first time. The pictures on the

Jeff Bringing them Home
Jeff Bringing them Home

internet where most of these previously homeless dogs were seen do them no justice, and the crowd that has formed will attest.

Parsipany, New Jersey at 4:30 is next, and the dogs feel the excitement in the trailer, and they communicate with one another, tails wagging, hearts pounding, knowing that something great is happening at every stop. For it it truly great, this lonely tractor trailer chugging through the pre-dawn stillness, pulling a cargo of living, feeling creatures who now have a second, or third chance at happiness.

Off to Waterville, Connecticut where even more people eagerly await the arrival. People are kinder somehow, and conversation among them flows freely, some familiar faces from the world of animal rescue joined by those new to this world, where the well-being of others takes precedence. Volunteers are waiting to take the dogs for a walk, give them love and water and make sure they are okay, and ready for the next leg of the journey.

Moosup/Plainfield Connecticut waits, and the people there are making connections, making friends and finding out first hand that there is a well-spring of good will here on earth, and that people are good at heart, and right here, right now is all that matters. When their dogs arrive they go their seperate ways, but the memories of those precious moments will stay with them forever.

The journey continues into Brattleboro, Vermont and the excitement is just as strong here as it was at 0ne in the morning in Haggerston. The weary travelers finish their journey in Kittery Maine, and the last of their passengers are home.

Everybody needs a dog in their lives, and there are thousands waiting to be seen, and heard, and saved. Life goes fast, every moment is ours for the taking, if we choose to live it to the fullest. Even those moments of boring routine that we all must endure is better lived with a faithful companion by our side.

Adopt a dog today, for the experience is truly glorious.

 

Streetlights

Back in the day things were different. We couldn’t get in trouble because we had to be in when the streetlights came on…

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“At least it wasn’t a rock,” I thought when the sting died down. An acorn to the forehead hurts plenty though. One of The Zola’s caught me beside the garage and made me pay, but that’s okay, my brother went inside to get the Daisy. I picked up a small rock, and went hunting. Fat Dean appeared next to a tree, a slingshot in his hand, pulling back, ready to let whatever he had inside the leather ammunition holder rip. It looked like Opey O’brien was the intended target. I reared my arm back, ready to protect my guy, but Crazy Tony broke cover, drew back his string and shot Fat Dean right in the stomach with an arrow. Dean screamed, and blood flew, and her ran away, probably toward home and no doubt a ride to the ER.

Grub Williams sat at a picnic table in the schoolyard, and my brother hid behind the schoolyard fence, gave the Daisy ten pumps, aimed and fired. Instantly Grub shook his head, jumped from the bench, saw blood streaming between his fingers and ran toward us. The Zola’s had us in a crossfire, their acorns now big rocks, and they hurt alot when they struck bone. We broke cover and ran around the house and into a hail of bb fire. Dave Dirt and The Other William’s Boys were staked out in their garage, and opened fire with their guns, mowing us down.

We weren’t quite sure whose side Crazy Tony was on, but hoped it was ours. His bow and arrow set was a little more than a toy, and he had a shitload of arrows in his sling. Darkness descended, but not quickly enough, the streetlights wouldn’t save us, we had to fight, or die. Surrounded by Grub, The Other William’s Boys, and The Zola’s things looked desperate. Even Crazy Tony seemed to be on their side, and started slinging arrows our way.

“Where’s Billy and John when we need them?” I thought as I shook off the sting of a dozen bb’s. Our last neighborhood war ended when Bill ran out of his bulkhead armed with a water extinguisher filled with gasoline. Somehow he managed to get the flamethrower working, and after a little scorched earth and a fence on fire the war ended with no signifigant casualties. John, on the other hand was our munitions expert, and saw nothing wrong with wrapping six bic lighters and six M-80’s with duct tape, atattching a fuse and bombing the enemy. Luckily, only one of his bombs actually worked, and that was thrown into a dumpster a minute before exploding. The dumpster lid flew thirty feet in the air and landed on a cop car, but by then the streetlights were on and we were safely at home, watching Happy Days on TV.

“Surrender or die!” came the shout from The Other William’s garage.

So we surrendered. It wasn’t a big deal, there were lots of acorns left in the trees, and another war would begin tomorrow. I just hoped that Crazy Tony would be on our side this time, and maybe even The Zola’s, they were pretty dumb but could take a lot of BBs and rocks before quitting…

Yup, those streetlights kept us out of a lot of trouble.