Tam Lin’s Summer, 1

I haven’t posted a Tam update in almost three months. Oops. Fortunately I’ve been steadily posting photos and updates on Facebook, and occasionally on Instagram (#tamlingrowsup). Over the next couple of days I’ll be blogging some highlights from our summer. Everyone who sees Tam comments on how big he is. He is — especially if you last saw him in, say, early June. He’s quite well proportioned, so when he’s sitting, standing, or lying still, he might be mistaken for an adult. When he runs and plays, however, he is most definitely a puppy. He’s now four days shy of six months old.

So, here’s Tam in his crate at the beginning of June, at two and a half months old:

puppy in crate

Tam, June 2, 2019

When I get up from my chair, I often set my laptop and lap desk on the floor.

My studio apartment is un-puppy-proofable. Papers, notebooks, and books everywhere: on eye-level shelves and on the floor.

Tam has become pretty good with all of this. The trick is to notice when he gets bored and starts looking for trouble. His favorite form of trouble is my socks, which are often found on the boot tray tucked into my shoes. (Travvy also had a sock fetish, so I’m used to this.)

However, since he’s also fascinated by toes, I’ve taken to wearing shoes (and socks) indoors. For a while there he’d try to take my socks off while I was putting them on. This was my cue to start teaching him a down stay. It’s working.

So far Tam has been really good with other dogs, most of whom are smaller than he is — though in a couple of cases this was not true when they first met. When Tam met Zena, the eight-year-old schnoodle next door, she was the big one. Six weeks later, this was no longer the case.

Tam and Zena, May 21

Tam and Zena, July 10


Zena was never comfortable with Travvy, maybe because when she arrived as a very small puppy, he was already full-grown and a little overbearing. With Tam, she didn’t hesitate to put him in his place when he got obnoxious, and he learned when enough was enough. She doesn’t always want to play, but when she does, they’re a hoot to watch. She’s fast, compact, and handy. He’s growing and ungainly and sometimes falls over when trying to make a tight turn.

Ziggy, a terrier mix in the neighborhood, is always up for playing. When he and Tam first met, he played a little rough and Tam sometimes seemed a little overwhelmed, but as Tam’s gotten bigger he gives as good as he gets.

Tam and Ziggy, June 19

Tam and Ziggy, Sept. 10

Recently Tam got to play with an adult dog who’s actually a little bigger than he is. They did fine. I’m hoping this continues as Tam moves into adolescence. Travvy learned to be OK with other dogs but he wasn’t all that comfortable with them. When he was Tam’s age, I was heavily involved with horses so he didn’t get nearly as much socialization attention as Tam is getting. Trav taught me so much, and one of the big lessons is that it’s good to start early.

OK, now take another look at the photo of Tam in his crate in early June. Here’s a shot from the same angle in late August. Note that the box and the bar I put in the crate to make it cozier for the little guy have been removed to give the big guy room to stretch out.

Big puppy in his crate, August 25

To be continued soon . . .

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August License Plate Report

Late, late, late — it’s the 12th of September already and I’m just now getting around to the August license plate report. Long story (of course), but if I start telling it I might not finish before next month.

So — two good sightings in August: Idaho and Alabama, both of which usually show up before August. I’ll have to check previous years’ maps to be sure, but this is one of the better ones in recent memory, and while none of the holdouts are exactly common, they aren’t as rare as Mississippi, Hawaii, or North Dakota either.

However — and it’s a big however — the last four months of the year are generally one step above dead when it comes to the license plate game. But not too many years ago I did spot Nebraska about three days before New Year’s Eve, so I’m not about to give up. With North Dakota on the board, there’s actually a chance that I might fill the whole map in this year.

So if you’re on Martha’s Vineyard and you spot Alaska, South Dakota, Nebraska, or Kansas, text, PM, email, or phone me or leave a comment here. With this much at stake, I might drop what I’m doing and go looking.

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July License Plate Report

Oklahoma, Wyoming, and (at last) Michigan!

Early in July I went to hear presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg at the high school’s Performing Arts Center. The parking lot was packed. Like quite a few other relatively late arrivals, I found a non-parking place on the grass — and what should my wondering eyes spot right next to me but Wyoming. It was a more colorful plate than the Wyomings I’ve seen before, but it’s still got the bucking horse and cowboy on it.

On one hand, the map is looking pretty good. The six missing states aren’t exactly common, but they aren’t rare either: I’ve already got North Dakota, Mississippi, and Hawaii, and they’re generally harder to spot than, say, South Dakota, Alabama, or Alaska.

On the other hand — it’s August already, and after July the license-plate pickin’s drop way, way off. There’ve been years where I spot nothing new in the last four months of the year.

However, Vineyard roads are crawling with vehicles these days, and not all of them are from the New England states, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, or Virginia.

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June License Plate Report

map of U.S.

Utah, Iowa, and Louisiana are now on the map! Alaska was spotted in Edgartown a few days ago but not by me, so it doesn’t count. But if it’s on the island — hey!

It’s way past time for Michigan to stop playing hard to get.

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Tam Lin Goes to a Selectmen’s Meeting

How is writing about Martha’s Vineyard like a puppy chasing its own tail?

Real life inspires fiction and fiction starts looking like real life and pretty soon you’ve forgotten which came first. Round and round and round . . .

Tam meets goats, May 22, 2019

Not long after Tam’s arrival on the Vineyard, we went to visit my friend the mystery writer Cynthia Riggs. Cynthia wanted to meet the puppy — she met Travvy for the first time when he was about nine weeks old — and I wanted Tam to meet Cynthia’s menagerie, which includes goats, ducks, guinea hens, and chickens. Need I say that many photos were taken, not only by me and Cynthia but by Lynn Christoffers, a bona fide photographer who showed up at the right moment.

I’m in Cynthia’s Sunday night writers’ group, and since Tam is only beginning to develop the internal fortitude to stay home alone, he’s been coming with me — and behaving / amusing himself pretty well for two hours while we all talk writing.

Now comes the tail-chasing part. The title character of Wolfie, my novel in progress, is based on the late Travvy but with a different backstory. In the early chapters he barely escapes being shot for trying to get into a sheep pasture. He’s also accused of killing several hens. This leads to a board of selectmen’s meeting at which the hen owner’s desire for restitution and maybe revenge is thwarted by Glory, my 11-year-old co-protagonist, who makes an eloquent case for “reasonable doubt.” Wolfie gets a pass.

So the week before last, in the early afternoon of a very rainy Thursday when no one was home, thirteen of Cynthia flock — three Pekin ducks, two mallards, four guinea hens, three laying hens, and a rooster — were massacred by dog or dogs unknown. There were no eyewitnesses and no obvious perps, just a few pawprints found in the mud.

Word spread quickly by word of mouth, email, and — once the Martha’s Vineyard Times story was shared on Facebook — social media. Naturally everyone had an opinion, from “it must have been the coyote” (the presence of a coyote on the Vineyard was recently confirmed after years of unconfirmed sightings) to “%@$# irresponsible dog owners!” to “why don’t chicken owners have to keep their chickens under control?”

As you might guess, since I’ve made dogs vs. livestock a theme in my novel, I’ve got some thoughts on the subject. In the novel, Wolfie gets off — but it’s highly likely that he did what he’s accused of, and some other things besides. What’s more, Glory and her co-protagonist, 50-something Shannon, are concealing evidence that might have nullified that “reasonable doubt.” As the writer, I want readers to be uneasy about this but to realize that this might be the best course for nearly all concerned — excepting, of course, the owner of the dead hens.


Adorable fluffball, looking up

So I’m raising this cute little fluffball, variously known as Tam Lin, Tam, Tam-Tam, and Tommy, who already has a sizable fan club, all of whose members think he’s adorable.

Travvy had an even bigger fan club. Many of those who mourned his passing last March called him “sweet.” I bit my tongue. Trav was quite capable of doing everything that Wolfie is suspected of doing, even though he never did. It helped that around the time he arrived on the island, mismanaged northern-breed dogs were involved in some high-profile attacks on fowl and other livestock. Fear of winding up on the front page was a good incentive for learning how to manage my dog better.

Travvy was an Alaskan malamute. So is Tam. Rhodry, Trav’s predecessor, was half malamute. Mals tend to have high prey drives. They are no one’s idea of the ideal Vineyard dog. There are good reasons why mals and other northern-breed dogs (Siberian huskies, Samoyeds, Akitas, etc.) are far outnumbered here by labs, goldens, border collies, Australian shepherds, and myriad poodle mixes.

horses and dog in snowy pasture

Rhodry could be trusted loose around horses. Travvy could not.

Between Rhodry’s lifetime (1994–2008) and Travvy’s (2008–2019) more people started keeping “free-range chickens” not on multi-acre farms but on house lots of three acres or less. Quite a few of these people were urbanites and suburbanites seeking a “rural lifestyle.” The aggrieved hen owner in Wolfie is one of this ilk. I don’t much like him or his type, but neither Shannon nor I is totally unsympathetic to his plight.

My perspective changed, or maybe “broadened” is the better word, when a friend was the aggrieved hen owner and the carnage was visible. Cynthia decided to go to last Wednesday’s selectmen’s meeting. I decided to go too, partly in support and partly because — well, that dog-chasing-tail thing: a scene in my novel takes place at a selectmen’s meeting, it concerns dogs and livestock, and I figured I could learn something.

Tam came along. He wasn’t ready to stay home alone at that point, I’m constantly on the lookout for new socialization experiences, and besides maybe he could learn something too. He settled on my lap in the back row.

Cynthia read into the record a letter detailing what had happened and then asked that a letter be sent to all licensed dog owners in town reminding them of the town bylaw requiring dogs to be under control at all times. The selectmen agreed to this. I did learn something new (and may revise my fictional scene as a result): that the town is authorized to compensate citizens for the loss of livestock when a perpetrator can’t be identified.

You can find the June 19 West Tisbury board of selectmen’s meeting on MVTV, the local-access cable station. Cynthia is the first item on the agenda, and if you hang in to about 12:00 you’ll get a glimpse of Tam and me. (You can hear his brief commentary on the proceedings a bit earlier.) I spoke in support of the letter and noted that dog owners often aren’t aware of what their dogs are capable of when they’re out and about. Here’s the Martha’s Vineyard Times story.

Times have changed. Everyone’s rights are limited by the rights of their neighbors, by convention if not by law. Dogs are predators; hens, ducks, and other livestock are not. Free-ranging dogs can do serious damage when they cross property lines, and penned-up fowl have been attacked by dogs and wild critters who dig or gnaw their way in. It’s up to dog owners to keep our dogs under control, even though it means admitting that things aren’t the way they were 20 or 30 years ago.

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The Solar System Is Growing

Tam and I went out yesterday in the early evening to see what progress had been made on the planets. The answer was “A lot!” For one thing, a sun has risen at the head of the solar system.

puppy on the sun

Tam Lin stands on the sun and looks toward the inner planets.

Mercury and Venus weren’t noticeably different than they had been a few days earlier, but the earth has developed a dramatic cloud cover.

The earth on June 14 (seen from other side)

The earth on June 10


The freeform splotch on Mars seems to be evolving into something more regular. The color of Mars has also changed, but the Red Planet isn’t looking very red yet.

Tam visits Mars on June 14

Mars on June 10






Beyond Mars serious progress was in evidence: Jupiter and Saturn are now much more than white rings on the asphalt.

Tam studies Jupiter

That yellow band across the middle might be the beginning of Saturn’s rings.

What was going on with the outermost planets, Uranus and Neptune? I couldn’t see that far from Saturn, and even at this scale that’s quite a hike for puppy with short (but lengthening) legs, so we decided to leave them for another day.

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The Planets Are Coming Back

Trav checks out Mercury, July 2016

From mid-2016 till almost the end of 2018, the late Travvy and I walked the planets on the bike path across from the West Tisbury School. They were the creation of fifth-graders and their teachers, a blending of science and art.

You can see them here and here.

Last fall in a much-needed infrastructure improvement — notice the crack that bisects Mercury in the photo — that section of the bike path was repaved.

The planets disappeared under a new layer of asphalt. My requiem for the vanished planets was published in the Vineyard Gazette last November 8 — and it elicited a comment from Sue Miller, the teacher behind the project, with the great news that the planets would be coming back in the spring!

Tam Lin exits the the circle that I think will eventually become Uranus.

Trav is gone, but little Tam Lin is now sturdy enough to reach the bike path on our walks, which is how a few days ago we came across the tell-tale signs of planets in the making. We were in the outer reaches of the solar system, so I think the white circles we found are destined to be Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune — unless poor Pluto gets to be included this time?

A couple of days later we set out to investigate the inner planets. Wow! Serious progress has been made. They’re probably not finished, but they’re well on the way. So far there’s no sign of the sun. Last time the sun was a fiery circle of red, orange, and yellow. Space constraints made it not much bigger than the planets (each of which has the diameter of the bike path). If it had been closer to scale, it would have taken up the whole trailhead, and the parking area would have been unavailable till the paint dried.

I can’t wait to see what it looks like this time around. In fact, I think it would be very cool if murals of various kinds appeared on other sections of the bike path, created not just by school classes but by individual artists and others.





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Tam Goes to Puppy School

The late Travvy got me into dog training: when he hit adolescence, I knew I needed help. This opened a whole new world for both of us and gradually turned us into a damn good team. What if we’d started earlier? Could I have avoided or mitigated some of the challenges we had to deal with later, like reactivity and resource guarding?

Once I decided that my next dog was going to be a puppy, I started reading up on early puppy development and training. From the moment I picked Tam Lin up in Canandaigua three weeks (!!) ago, I’ve had “socialization” on the brain: introducing Tam to an array of new experiences.

Tam is turning out to be a pretty brave and resourceful guy. He’s met goats, chickens, and dogs as well as lots of people. He’s been to an abortion rights rally, my town’s caucus to elect delegates to the state Democratic convention, two weekly meetings of my writers’ group, and the monthly meeting of the MV Dems (formally the Democratic Council of Martha’s Vineyard), where I managed to take minutes while paying attention to him when he needed it.

When he could no longer slither under a fallen tree on the path, he gamely scrambled over it.

Sometimes going under is not an option.

If you can’t go under, go over.

Puppy class started last Tuesday. Our instructor leases space at the Ag Hall, so we meet outside in a temporary enclosure made of snow fencing, zip ties, and metal posts. There were four other teams in the class, and Tam was at almost 11 weeks the youngest of the bunch; the next oldest was fourteen weeks, and the others are now counting their age in months.

Tam did a little fidgeting, and of course I had to put some effort into keeping him engaged, but I couldn’t help comparing this “first class” experience with Travvy’s first Rally Obedience class about 10 years ago. It was held in the indoor arena at Arrowhead Farm, there were five or six other teams in the class — and Trav was so hyper (“over threshold”) in the presence of other dogs he couldn’t even begin to focus on the task at hand unless he was at the opposite end of the arena from everyone else.

Susanna, Trav, and prize ribbons

Trav and some of his loot

Many other dogs have had more spectacular careers in Rally and other dog sports, but I’ll nominate Trav any day for the “most improved” award, or the “they said it couldn’t be done” award. He retired ARCHX P-CRO-CH Masasyu’s Fellow Traveller RL3 RA CGC and I’m proud of every Q (qualifying run) and ribbon we earned.

At the same time — well, I’d just as soon not go through those wild early months again, which is why Tam and I are going to puppy class, and why I was discreetly thrilled by Tam’s behavior in his first class.

Trav wound up being a great roommate. I put his crate away for good (except for traveling) when he was three or so. I could leave him home alone for hours, either on the deck (which I called his outdoor crate) or in the apartment, and know for sure that nothing would be out of place when I got home — this from the guy who at one completely destroyed the passenger seat in my Mazda pickup in his desperate effort to get at some chickens on the other side of the window.

Tam reminds me every day that this too took plenty of work because he has no idea what it’s OK to chew on. Toys and marrow bones: fine. Electric cords, computer cables, the clothing piled up on the office chair I never sit in (mainly because it’s occupied by my backup laptop): not so fine. I’ve taken to keeping my shoes on in the apartment because Tam takes naked toes as a source of challenge.

My challenge is keeping one step ahead of Tam and trying to think like a clever puppy who’s trying to figure out how to make the world do what he wants, all the while I’m trying to figure out how to get him to do what I want. He doesn’t want me too far away or out of sight: I run this way or that, and he follows. While he follows, I say “Come” — and we’ve now got the beginning of a “Come” command. He caught on PDQ that he wouldn’t get a treat unless he was sitting; I’ve been teaching “Sit” the same way.

Do dogs in the wild — or even the not-so-wild — have names for each other? I don’t know. For sure they don’t know the names we give them unless we teach them somehow. For a while there I’m pretty sure Tam thought his name was “Come.” Our instructor taught us a handy game to teach puppies their names: Drop a treat on the ground. Puppy will pick it up and look at you to see if there are more coming. At that moment you say the puppy’s name and give him another treat. Thus he comes to associate his name with getting a treat for looking at you.

Lately Tam sometimes looks at me when I say his name, with no “Come” involved, so I think we’re getting there.

A big task now is to get Tam used to my being out of sight, so I don’t have to take him with me everywhere. My bathroom is on the ground floor. Tam does not like it when I go down there in the morning to do my business: the crying and proto-howling is, of course, heart-rending, but my heart is not easily rended. My practice now is to leave him in his crate with his breakfast then disappear. The crying starts when he’s finished eating.

puppy squeezes through deck railing

Someday soon you won’t be able to do this, kiddo.

The other day I was hanging laundry while Tam was on the deck. He could see me easily, but that wasn’t enough: much to my surprise, he appeared at my side, trailing his leash — because he can still fit between the deck posts and that’s exactly what he did. Luckily this will not be an option for much longer.

Despite being locked in the crate when I’m out of sight, Tam seems to have pleasant associations with it. I feed him in there. I give him peanut butter bones when he’s in there. He goes in voluntarily. So I’m thinking of leaving him home alone this afternoon so I can go to a forum on the 2020 census; the venue, my own library, doesn’t allow non-service dogs. We’ll see how that goes.

puppy in crate

This photo was taken a week ago. Trust me on this: he’s bigger now.

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May License Plate Report

license plate map

Only two in May, but they were both good ones: Arkansas and Montana.

I took two off-island trips in May, one to Boston for my 50th high school reunion, the other to Cananaigua, New York, to pick up my new puppy, about whom you can learn more here and here (if you haven’t already). Boston to and from wasn’t all that big a deal, but Canandaigua sort of was — and in all that thousand-plus miles of driving I spotted only three plates that weren’t already on my map: Michigan, Iowa, and Utah.

True, I was focused on other things, like navigating at 70–80 mph when my maximum speed on Martha’s Vineyard is more like 50–55 (maximum speed limit here is 45) and, on the way home, paying attention to Tam Lin (who hadn’t got his name yet, and who slept most of the way, but sleeping puppies are adorable and most emphatically a potential distraction), but still — I notice license plates.

Michigan was parked next to me at the Super 8 in Bath, New York, where Tam and I stayed because there were no reasonably priced pet-friendly rooms closer to Canandaigua.

Interestingly enough, today, June 1, I spotted Utah. I spotted two Utahs, although they might have been the same car: I was so focused on the license plate that the only thing I registered about the vehicles was that they were both sedans. Now I am wondering if Iowa and Michigan, the other plates I spotted on the road, will show up on the Vineyard this month. They’re both overdue — you especially, Michigan.

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Tam Lin Starts Socializing

Good dog trainers emphasize the importance of early socialization for young puppies, with a focus on the first three months (13 weeks). Travvy’s early socialization was mostly hit-or-miss, which most likely contributed to the, uh, challenges we had later with reactivity, resource guarding, and a self-protectiveness that made him a less-than-model vet patient.

Book cover: "Perfect Puppy in 7 Days" From attending an intro “How to Raise a RockStar Puppy” workshop given by trainer Karen Ogden and studying Dr. Sophia Yin’s excellent Perfect Puppy in 7 Days: How to Start Your Puppy Off Right I learned that “socialization” is about much more than getting the pup used to other dogs. It involves introducing the pup to all kinds of experiences and sensations, and creating positive associations with them.

Before we even got home, Tam Lin had met a bunch of new people; stayed in a motel; encountered grass, asphalt, carpet, and linoleum; heard traffic and sirens on a busy road; hung out on the ferry; and spent a lot of time riding in the car. I was learning to see all this through puppy eyes (and puppy ears, nose, and mouth).

In his first days on the Vineyard, Tam’s world burst with new possibilities. The immediate neighborhood offered lawn, underbrush, dirt roads, and Zena, the schnoodle next door, who at first was more worried about Tam than Tam was about her. Then they had a get-acquainted breakthrough, and luckily neighbor Willa was on hand with phone to record the occasion.

Tam meets Zena; Zena meets Tam. Photo by Willa Vigneault.

Zena seems to have decided that Tam is not as scary as she first thought, and not as imposing as Travvy. At one point Tam was being borderline obnoxious. She snapped at him and he backed off: good moves on both their parts. I’m not sure she realizes that before long he’s going to be four times her size. I’m glad she’s reading him the riot act now.

Zena, by the way, is a fetching fool; Tam seems bemused by the game. He’ll chase a rolling ball but when it stops he loses interest. Malamute logic goes something like this: You threw it. I brought it back. Then you threw it again. If you keep throwing it away, why should I bother bringing it back? He does like a good game of tug, however.

Tam drinks from the waterfall.

I was surprised the first time Tam scrambled over rocks to drink from water bubbling into my neighbors’ little pond. Timid this little guy was not. Now he considers the little waterfall his own private water fountain.

On his second full day on the Vineyard, we stopped by our vet’s to get him weighed: 12.7 pounds. (By a week later, when he had his first full vet appointment, he’d gained two pounds.)

At the May 21 rally for abortion rights. It’s hard to hold a sign and a puppy at the same time. Photo by Nicola Blake.

That afternoon Tam attended his first political event: a rally in support of abortion rights at Five Corners. He seemed unfazed by all the people fussing over him and by the enthusiastic honking of passing motorists.

Thanks to Facebook, half the world knew that I was getting a puppy, and the puppy-to-come already had a fan club. Now we got to work meeting some of his fans in person.

On Wednesday we paid a visit to Cleaveland House, where mystery writer Cynthia Riggs was especially eager to meet the new arrival. Cleaveland House is heaven for puppy socialization: Tam Lin got to meet goats, guinea hens, and ducks, and the event was amply photographed by Cynthia and by Lynn Christoffers. Lynn is a professional photographer whose specialty is cats — she’s the author of Cats of Martha’s Vineyard — but she’s no slouch with dogs either.

Me and Tam Lin. Photo by Lynn Christoffers.

Tam Lin and Lynn Christoffers. Photo by me.











I am blessed to know so many good photographers. Otherwise I would have no photos with both me and my dog in them.

Tam meets the goats.

Tam and I do a lot of playing, but we also go for walks. We’re now doing the loop around the neighborhood — Halcyon Way to the path behind the school to the Dr. Fisher Road and home on Pine Hill Road. Bert Fischer, a very fine photographer, lives on that loop. The other day we ran into Bert on the path. This is one of the results. See what I mean about knowing good photographers?

Tam Lin watches Bert while I watch Tam Lin. Photo by Albert Fischer.


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