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Original Essays | September 17, 2014

Merritt Tierce: IMG Has My Husband Read It?



My first novel, Love Me Back, was published on September 16. Writing the book took seven years, and along the way three chapters were published in... Continue »
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Merle's Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog

by

Merle's Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog Cover

ISBN13: 9780151012701
ISBN10: 0151012709
Condition: Standard
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Excerpt

chapter 1

From the Wild

 

He came out of the night, appearing suddenly in my headlights, a big, golden dog, panting, his front paws tapping the ground in an anxious little dance. Behind him, tall cottonwoods in their April bloom. Behind the grove, the San Juan River, moving quickly, dark and swollen with spring melt.

           It was nearly midnight, and we were looking for a place to throw down our sleeping bags before starting our river trip in the morning. Next to me in the cab of the pickup sat Benj Sinclair, at his feet a midden of road-food wrappers smeared with the scent of corn dogs, onion rings, and burritos. Round-cheeked, Buddha-bellied, thirty-nine years old, Benj had spent his early years in the Peace Corps, in West Africa, and had developed a stomach that could digest anything. Behind him in the jump seat was Kim Reynolds, an Outward Bound instructor from Colorado known for her grace in a kayak and her long braid of brunette hair, which held the faint odor of a healthy, thirty-two-year-old woman who had sweated in the desert and hadnt used deodorant. Like Benj and me, she had eaten a dinner of pizza in Moab, Utah, a hundred miles up the road where wed met her. Like us, she gave off the scents of garlic, onions, tomato sauce, basil, oregano, and anchovies.

           In the car that pulled up next to us were Pam Weiss and Bennett Austin. They had driven from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to Moab in their own car, helped us rig the raft and shop for supplies, joined us for pizza, and, like us, wore neither perfume nor cologne. Pam was thirty-six, an Olympic ski racer, and Bennett, twenty-five, was trying to keep up with her. They had recently fallen in love and exuded a mixture of endorphins and pheromones.

           People almost never describe other people in these terms—noting first their smells—for were primarily visual creatures and rely on our eyes for information. By contrast, the only really important sense-key for the big, golden dog, doing his little dance in the headlights, was our olfactory signatures, wafting to him as we opened the doors.

           It was for this reason—smell—that I think he trotted directly to my door, leaned his head forward cautiously, and sniffed at my bare thigh. What mix of aromas went up his long snout at that very first moment of our meeting? What atavistic memories, what possibilities were triggered in his canine worldview as he untangled the mysteries of my sweat?          

 
           The big dog—now appearing reddish in the interior light of the truck and without a collar—took another reflective breath and studied me with excited consideration. Might it have been what I ate, and the subtle residue it left in my pores, that made him so interested in me? It was the only thing I could see (note my human use of “see” even while describing an olfactory phenomenon) that differentiated me from my friends. Like them, I skied, biked, and climbed, and was single. I had just turned forty-one, a compact man with chestnut hair and bright brown eyes. But when I ate meat, it was that of wild animals, not domestic ones—mostly elk and antelope along with the occasional grouse, duck, goose, and trout mixed in.

           Was it their metabolized essence that intrigued him—some whiff of what our Paleolithic ancestors had shared? Smell is our oldest sense. It was the olfactory tissue at the top of our primeval nerve cords that evolved into our cerebral hemispheres, where thought is lodged. Perhaps the dog—a being who lived by his nose—knew a lot more about our connection than I could possibly imagine.

           His deep brown eyes looked at me with luminous appreciation and said, “You need a dog, and Im it.”

           Unsettled by his uncanny read of me—I had been looking for a dog for over a year—I gave him a cordial pat and replied, “Good dog.”

           His tail beat steadily, and he didnt move, his eyes still saying, “You need a dog.”

           As we got out of the cars and began to unpack our gear, I lost track of him. There was his head, now a tail, there a rufous flank moving among bare legs and sandals.

           I threw my pad and bag down on the sand under a cottonwood, slipped into its silky warmth, turned over, and found him digging a nest by my side. Industriously, he scooped out the sand with his front paws, casting it between his hind legs before turning, turning, turning, and settling to face me. In the starlight, I could see one brow go up, the other down.

           Of course, “brows” isnt really the correct term, since dogs sweat only through their paws and have no need of brows to keep perspiration out of their eyes, as we do. Yet, certain breeds of dogs have darker hair over their eyes, what might be called “brow markings,” and he had them.

           The Hidatsa, a Native American tribe of the northern Great Plains, believe that these sorts of dogs, whom they call “Four-Eyes,” are especially gentle and have magical powers. Stanley Coren, the astute canine psychologist from the University of British Columbia, has also noted that these “four-eyed” dogs obtained their reputation for psychic powers “because their expressions were easier to read than those of other dogs. The contrasting-colored spots make the movements of the muscles over the eye much more visible.”

           In the starlight, the dog lying next to me raised one brow while lowering the other, implying curiosity mixed with concern over whether Id let him stay.

           “Night,” I said, giving him a pat. Then I closed my eyes.

 

When I opened them in the morning, he was still curled in his nest, looking directly at me.

           “Hey,” I said.

           Up went one brow, down went the other.

           “I am yours,” his eyes said.

           I let out a breath, unprepared for how his sweet, faintly hound-dog face—going from happiness to concern—left a cut under my heart. I had been looking at litters of Samoyeds, balls of white fur with bright black mischievous eyes. The perfect breed for a winter person like myself, I thought. But I couldnt quite make myself bring one home. I had also seriously considered Labrador Retrievers, taken by their exuberant personalities and knowing that such a robust, energetic dog could easily share my life in the outdoors as well as be the bird dog I believed I wanted. But no Lab pup had given me that undeniable heart tug that said, “We are a team.”

           The right brow of the dog lying by me went down as he held my eye. His left brow went up, implying, “You delayed with good reason.”

           “Maybe,” I said, feeling my desire for a pedigree dog giving way. “Maybe,” I said once more to the dog whose eyes coasted across mine, returned, and lingered. He did have the looks of a reddish yellow Lab, I thought, at least from certain angles.

           At the sound of my voice, he levered his head under my arm and brought his nose close to mine. Surprisingly, he didnt try to lick me in that effusive gesture that many dogs use with someone they perceive as dominant to them, whether it be a person or another dog—a relic, some believe, of young wolves soliciting food from their parents and other adult wolves. The adults, not having hands to carry provisions, bring back meat in their stomachs. The pups lick their mouths, and the adults regurgitate the partly digested meat. Pups who eventually become alphas abandon subordinate licking. Lower-ranking wolves continue to display the behavior to higher-ranking wolves, as do a great many domestic dogs to people. This dogs self-possession gave me pause. Was he not licking me because he considered us peers? Or did my body language—both of us being at the same level—allow him to feel somewhat of an equal? He circumspectly smelled my breath, and I, in turn, smelled his. His smelled sweet.

           Whatever he smelled on mine, he liked it. “I am yours,” his eyes said again.

           Disconcerted by his certainty about me, I got up and moved off. I didnt want to abandon my plans for finding a pup who was only six to eight weeks old and whom I could shape to my liking. The dog read my energy and didnt follow me. Instead, he went to the others, greeting them with a wagging tail and wide laughs of his toothy mouth. “Good morning, good morning, did you sleep well?” he seemed to be saying.

           But as I organized my gear, I couldnt keep my eyes from him. Despite his ribs showing, he appeared fit and strong, and looked like he had been living outside for quite a while, his hair matted with sprigs of grass and twigs. He was maybe fifty-five pounds, not filled out yet, his fox-colored fur hanging in loose folds, waiting for the adult dog that would be. He had a ridge of darker fur along his spine, short golden plumes on the backs of his legs, and a tuxedo-like bib of raised fur on his chest—just an outline of it—scattered with white flecks. His ears were soft and flannel-like, and hung slightly below the point of his jaw. His nose was lustrous black, he had equally shiny lips, and his teeth gleamed. His tail was large and powerful.

 

Copyright © 2007 by Ted Kerasote

 

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

 

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be submitted online at www.harcourt.com/contact or mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

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Average customer rating based on 10 comments:

mudd.bartlett, January 4, 2011 (view all comments by mudd.bartlett)
this story really opened up my mind just how smart a dog can be if you really take the time to understand how the dog thinks in his/her own way and just how devoted they will become to you if you just let them be them. It greatly moved me I had the kleenex box out a number of times. Im a cat owner but I love dogs and all animals. But the way this story was written, it was like a beautiful love story which in a way it was just that. I have already told many people about this book and how they just have to read it!!! sandy
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Jackie Collins, February 26, 2009 (view all comments by Jackie Collins)
When I was nine, our teacher read us "Where the Red Fern Grows" while we rested after recess. I was so moved by the book, I can still envision the room, and see all of us crying, our teacher included. Not since then have I cried so much over a book, unable to lay it down and walk away. I grew up in the country with animals as my soul-mates, so I know of what Ted Kerasote speaks. It's just that he's been able to put into words a connection with animals I thought indescribable. I finished the book over two weeks ago, and yet, I find my eyes misting every time I think of it. And, I miss Merle and want him back.
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Margie, February 19, 2009 (view all comments by Margie)
As the author found, if you want a true companion in an animal, let the animal come to you instead of searching them out. An animal's sense of rightness in a relationship is often much better than a human's and, yet, we are supposed to be the evolved creatures. Two of my best dogs came purely by chance and I have decided that when Harley, the last of my "chance" dogs, dies I will simply wait for the next one to appear when the time is right. A beautiful story.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780151012701
Subtitle:
Lessons from a Freethinking Dog
Author:
Kerasote, Ted
Author:
Galen, Russell
Publisher:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Subject:
Dogs - General
Subject:
Essays
Subject:
Dogs - Breeds
Subject:
Personal Memoirs
Subject:
Dogs
Subject:
Behavior
Subject:
Outdoor Skills
Subject:
Human-animal relationships
Subject:
Dogs - Wyoming
Subject:
PETS / General
Edition Description:
Trade Cloth
Publication Date:
20070702
Binding:
Hardback
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
One 8-page black-and-white photo insert
Pages:
416
Dimensions:
9.00 x 6.00 in

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Related Subjects


Pets » Dogs » Dogs by Breed
Pets » Dogs » General
Pets » General
Pets » Pet Tales

Merle's Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$9.95 In Stock
Product details 416 pages Harcourt - English 9780151012701 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

Because I love dogs, Merle's Door was my favorite book this year. Merle lives with his owner, Ted, in the Grand Tetons. (He "found" Ted on one of Ted's many hunting explorations.) This book is a beautiful record of the relationship of a true wilderness man with an amazing dog.

"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Humorous, jubilant and touching by turns, this story of the relationship between man and dog is informed by the author's grasp of animal research and his attachment to Merle, a stray dog he adopted. A Labrador mix, Merle first appeared while the author was on a camping trip. Kerasote (Out There: In the Wild in a Wired Age), an award-winning nature writer, decided to take his canine friend home to rural Wyoming. This chronicle of their 13 years together is interspersed with studies by animal behaviorists that strengthened Kerasote's desire to see Merle as a responsible individual rather than a submissive pet. Merle set his own eating schedule (though not without early mishap), refused to hunt birds (although not elks) and, according to the author, possessed a range of emotions and sentiments similar to those of humans. Kerasote tends to anthropomorphize Merle's every look and movement, but this narrative is entertaining and Kerasote's strong love for Merle and enthusiasm for life in the wild will win over many readers. Kerasote's joyous relationship with Merle is balanced by a bittersweet account of a close relationship the author had with Alison, a neighbor and fellow dog owner. Kerasote's last weeks with the dying Merle are beautifully rendered. (July)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review" by , "A thoughtful look at animal intelligence and the human-dog connection."
"Review" by , "It is no exaggeration to say that Merle's Door could be the best book ever written about dogs."
"Review" by , "Kerasote has created a whole new work of art. Merle's Door is the best, the most utterly compelling translation of dog to human I have ever seen. A terrific book, a superb book, I can't think of a single other book that conveys the love of a human for a dog so well."
"Review" by , "Merle's Door is a window into the mind of a dog. You will experience his loyalty, fears, and joys and his true inner self. Everybody who loves dogs must read this book."
"Review" by , "Merle's Door is a love story for grown-ups—an intense reciprocal relationship between a dog and his man, and how we and our dogs genuinely share feelings and emotions."
"Review" by , "Merle's Door is a joyous, sad, gripping, and deeply moving testament to the fulfilling relationship that can grow between human and dog."
"Review" by , "To be entertained and educated at the same time is rare in dog books, which makes this one definitely worth reading."
"Synopsis" by ,
This national bestseller explores the relationship between humans and dogs. How would dogs live if they were free? Would they stay with their human friends?

Merle and Ted found each other in the Utah desert— Merle was living wild and Ted was looking for a pup to keep him company. As their bond grew, Ted taught Merle how to live around wildlife, and Merle taught Ted about the benefits of letting a dog make his own decisions.

Using the latest in wolf research and exploring issues of animal consciousness and leadership and the origins of the human-dog relationship, Ted Kerasote takes us on the journey he and Merle shared. As much a love story as a story of independence and partnership, Merles Door is tender, funny, and ultimately illuminating.

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