June 27, 2016

My black lab Mischief and I were sitting in the house on a hot Sunday afternoon enjoying the air conditioning. She was sipping a glass of white wine, while I was drinking a bottle of Gaelic Ale.

After taking a long, slow, sip of her wine, Mischief looked at me with sad eyes and said, “I really miss Smut.” Smut was my son’s old black lab who died two years ago at the age of 15. Until now, we had not talked about Smut. Mischief grieved for several weeks after Smut died, but the two of us never got around to discussing his death.

“I miss him, too,” I replied. “You and Smut were together all your life, so I can imagine that you miss him quite a lot.”

“He was like a big brother to me,” she said quietly.

We were silent for a while, then she said, “Smut taught me quite a bit, you know. How to enjoy your good Scotch whiskey, all about particle physics, and how to manipulate humans. Not that I would try to do that with you, of course.”

“I certainly hope not. I had enough of that from Smut.”

“But I am interested in particle physics. I was quite surprised when researchers at CERN LHC facility announced that they may have discovered a new particle. As it…”

“What’s that?” I asked. “I missed that news.”

“As I was saying,” she continued, looking slightly annoyed at my interruption. “as it turned out, the researchers at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland believe it was just a data anomaly. But it would have caused major rethinking in the particle physics world, since no such particle had been predicted by current models.”

I began to be a little suspicious where this conversation was leading. “Seems as if you did learn a bit from Smut.”

“Yes,” she smiled, sipping more wine and adopting a casual and relaxed position, with her front paws crossed, “and I think that since we both miss him, now would be a good time to honor his memory in some way.”

“Well, what is your suggestion?” I asked apprehensively, as an old feeling sweeping over me.

“We should go to CERN and visit the LHC,” she said resolutely.

“Now, look here, Smut–I mean, Mischief. We are not going to Switzerland. Get that out of your mind.”

“We don’t have to decide right now,” she stated calmly, but with a hint of foregone conclusion. “We can think about it a while. More ale?”



March 14, 2014

My old dog Smut, a full-blooded English Lab, died yesterday. He had a long life for a Labrador retriever, but he will be missed very much.

As one of God’s creations, dogs are a gift from God to us. Even though they have short lives relative to humans, in that short time they can give us a great deal of love and pleasure, and touch our hearts greatly. Their lives are extended by our memories of them. That is what I was thinking as I buried him in his favorite place, under the pine tree in my back yard.

It may come as a surprise that some of what I’ve written about Smut was made up. Even so, he was the smartest dog with whom I ever came in contact, even smarter than Mischief, my Lab-mix. She is missing Smut as much as the rest of the family.

I will continue to write about Smut and his remarkable life, because it pleases me to remember him.


Smut Wibbly Harris

Born June 10, 1999 in Oak City, NC; died March 13, 2014, in Pamlico County, NC


March 5, 2014

Arapahoe, February 23

I came home from church to find Smut, my old black Labrador retriever, the picture of contentment. He was sitting in his favorite easy chair dressed in his finest smoking jacket with his red fez sitting at a jaunty angle, a cigar in his mouth and a glass of my good Scotch whisky on the table beside him. He was reading the Sunday paper, and two of his particle physics textbooks were lying on the table beside his glass of whisky.

Smut Rev IMG_2296“Well, hello old dog,” I said. “Glad to see you’re calm and content this afternoon.”

Smut gave me a dismissive look and resumed reading the paper. After pouring myself a cup of coffee, I sat down at my computer to check emails. As I put my hands on the keyboard, I felt something gritty and looked down to see distinctive paw prints and sand on the keyboard. I shook the sand out and went to Smut.

“You have been on my computer, silly mutt. What are you up to?”

Confronted with my anger and evidence, Smut’s air of self assurance dissipated and a look of guilt, then resignation, spread across his face. “All right, I confess,” he said contritely. “A few weeks ago I borrowed your credit card and joined christianmongrel.com.”

“You used my credit card to join an online dating service! What were you thinking, you silly canine?”

“It was worth it, though,” he replied. “I met a wonderful Labrador named Bonnie, and I have been corresponding with her online. At night when you go to sleep, I talk to her on your cell phone.”

“That was dog slobber on my phone! I thought it felt nasty.”

“Bonnie and I have gotten to know each other and like each other,” he said.

“But you already have a companion,” I told him. “That’s why we got Mischief several years ago.”

“That’s what everyone thinks. Because they see us together, they think that Mischief and I are a couple. The truth, though, is that although I like Mischief very much, she doesn’t feel the same way about me. She thinks of me as a casual friend. And she’s younger than I, so we don’t share the same life experiences. When you feed us, she will not let me eat until she’s finished.”

“Well, I know Mischief can be a bit testy, but I thought you two were compatible.”

“No, I want someone I can talk to and feel comfortable with. Someone who shares my interests. Someone I can enjoy being with. Someone with whom I potentially can develop a deep and caring relationship. Bonnie is so nice, and she is interested in particle physics. She’s more interested in the practical side of physics, while I enjoy the theoretical aspects, but the interest is complementary. We’re like the Higgs boson and Inflation.”

I did not know the old dog could be so eloquent in expressing his feelings. I didn’t understand the bit about the Higgs boson and Inflation, though. “What is that,” I asked him.

“The Higgs boson is a scalar particle that contributes sense to the standard particle physics model, and the Inflation is a scalar particle that contributes sense to the cosmology standard model, the Big Bang theory. As you would say it, ‘Bonnie and I are two peas in a pod.’”

“Oh. Where does Bonnie live,” I asked.

“She lives in Raleigh,” he said.

Understanding where the conversation was going, I told Smut, “That’s too bad, old dog. I’m not going to take you back and forth to Raleigh to develop a relationship no matter how wonderful Bonnie is. It’s too far.”

Smut looked at me imploringly. “Please,” he said, “We like each other and we want to meet nose to nose.”

“Not gonna happen, dog,” I told him. “Have you even seen a picture of Bonnie? What does she look like?”

“No, I haven’t seen a picture of her.”

“Well, what if she looks like a…” I realized that what I was going to say was both ugly and of course pointless.

“I don’t need a picture to know that she is beautiful,” Smut said. “I know that from talking to her and getting to know her.”

“Well, it’s just too far to travel,” I repeated.

Smut crossed his paws, looked at me calmly and said, “Bonnie’s human told her it was all right to invite me to visit this Friday. One way or another, I’m going to Raleigh.”

“What do you know about Bonnie’s human,” I asked.

“Bonnie says she is sweet and loving to her and a good companion. They live alone.”

Well, that piqued my interest. I gave in and said, “OK, Smut, we’ll go up to Raleigh.”

Raleigh, February 28

After we knocked on the front door, we were met by a black Lab that looked like Smut, and a very attractive human, uh, woman. Bonnie and Smut performed the obligatory sniffing and then went into the back yard. Bonnie’s human and I talked on the back porch.

Both dogs are near the end of their lifespans, but that was not apparent as they romped around the backyard, quite obviously smiling and having fun being with each other. They looked so happy! It reminded me of how Smut had been as a puppy and a young dog, before the arthritis set in, and before he acquired his distasteful habits involving cigars and Scotch. Smut was right, of course, about Bonnie’s appearance; to him Bonnie is beautiful.

Before I realized it, a couple of hours had passed and it was time for Smut and me to head back to Arapahoe. On the trip back, Smut seemed very happy, but uncharacteristically, he had little to say, except “Thank you.”

Arapahoe, March 1

“What’s wrong with Smut,” Mischief asked. “He’s hardly spoken to me all day, and he has this dreamy, satisfied look on his face. Did you give him drugs when you were gone yesterday? ”

“Not exactly,” I said. “Smut’s just thinking about someone he met.” I was, too.

Arapahoe, March 2

When I returned home after church, Smut approached me, doubtful about how to ask what I knew he wanted. But I preempted him.

“Smut,” I asked, “if I can arrange it, would you like to go with me to Raleigh Friday?”


February 7, 2014

Take part in the effort to end government spying this Tuesday, February 11!


January 31, 2014

I could tell that something was on Smut’s mind. He was slouched in his easy chair and uncharacteristically, he had let his Cuban cigar burn out and go unsmoked. Characteristically, though, he was deep into my bottle of good Scotch whisky, I observed with regret. When he saw me come into his presence, he gave me a doleful look.

Smut is my old black Labrador retriever. In certain ways he is a remarkably intelligent dog, even by human standards. He has contributed a great many ideas and discoveries to the world of particle physics, and he’s one of the best scientific thinkers alive. In other ways, though, he is just an annoying old dog. While he has excellent taste in Scotch whisky, he drinks it to excess as my bank balance proves. He favors the most expensive cigars, and constantly begs me to take him to the tobacco store and buy him more of them.

He is a bit of a fop. He likes silk, and he coaxed me into getting several smoking jackets tailored for him from good silk cloth. Most dogs don’t like hats. My other black Lab, Mischief, will shake off a hat in seconds if you can get one on her in the first place. But inside the house and in warm weather, Smut likes to wear a fez decorated with fine needlework. In cold weather he wears a tarboosh.

Smut likes to take me on long walks through the fields and woods while talking to me about dog things: How a raccoon’s bones crunch when he catches one by the neck and shakes it to death, how to differentiate among the scat of various animals, and how exhilarating it is to smell a bitch in heat.

But I’m digressing. Something was wrong with the old Lab. “Smut, you old mongrel,” I said fondly, “you look a little down in the dumps, and a bit drunk. What’s wrong?” I could tell, though, that whatever was wrong, it wasn’t wrong enough that he put down the glass of whisky.

After a long swallow of my whisky, he looked at me with a pained expression and hesitated before answering. “We need to have a talk about the future,” he said. “I’m getting old, and have lived much longer than all my friends of the same age. Why, my best friend, Dale, Jr., was only a couple of years older, and he’s been gone for over five years now. So I know I don’t have much time left.”

“Aw, Smut,” I replied, “you’re going to live forever, you old dog. Don’t think about that; it’s depressing you.”

“I’m not depressed,” he said. “I’m thinking about you. I’m afraid you won’t be able to deal with my demise, and I want to plan for the time that I’m not with you anymore.”

“Now you’re making me feel sad, Smut,” I told him.

“Good. I’ve been thinking about what to do when the time comes to put me down” He settled back in his chair and took a small sip of the whisky. “I’m going to tell you my plans now, but I’ve written them so you won’t forget anything. Your lawyer has a copy of my request and will give it to you when appropriate.”

“What? You’ve written a last request? You gave it to my lawyer?”

“Yes, so you won’t forget, that’s all.”

I thought he probably wants me to bury him with his favorite toys, and maybe put his name on a grave marker. “Okay, tell me what you want, Smut.”

“I want a proper memorial service. Going out is a big thing. First, save one of my legs to be cremated in the normal way. Then build a raft, pile it with kindling and other combustibles and tie it to the end of the pier. Invite all my friends, and even Mischief, I suppose, to gather on the end of the pier. You be careful not to slip! Lay my body on the raft, say some mumbo-jumbo words you humans say at this kind of event, set it afire, and push it out into the Neuse River. As I’m floating to Valhalla, I’m sure you’ll all be pretty choked up because of how great a loss to the world my death will be. But you can survive!”

“You’re not a Viking, Smut! This is just silly, you over-dramatic old cur! And why do you want one of your legs to be cremated?”

Another swallow of whisky! “Well, I like Viking culture and pageantry. Please honor my wishes! Oh, by the way, I’ve written a news release about my death that I want you to send to all the particle-physics journals. I know you would think of that, but I wanted to be sure it’s accurate. Sometimes you don’t get the facts right, you know. Not criticizing; just sayin’!”

After that insulting statement from the old canine, I was determined to rattle him a bit. “I was just going to bury you in the backyard, like most people do when their dogs die. Maybe put a plastic hot dog or a dead raccoon on a stick as a grave marker.”

Smut’s feelings clearly were hurt. “That is so thoughtless,” he said tearfully. “I thought we were close friends. A friend would honor his friend’s last wishes.”

I felt a little bad about saying that. “I guess it was thoughtless; I wasn’t thinking. Okay, I’ll feel pretty foolish, but I will do what you want.” Once he’s gone he won’t know that I didn’t do all the crazy stuff he’s telling me.

“I’m glad to hear you say that, because I want you to carry out the rest of my request.”

“And what’s that, old dog?”

“Well, when you have my leg cremated, please have the ashes put into an urn shaped and decorated like my favorite fez. Seal it well, because it’s going to get shaken about in its travels, and I don’t want my ashes to fall out.”

“Do you have any idea what that will cost, you silly mutt?”

“But you said that you will do what I want!” He looked so pitiful, I had to make him feel good.

“Okay, okay. I will. Sorry. But what do you mean about the urn getting shaken while traveling? Where is it going?”

“Well, with you, of course!”

“What? I don’t understand.”

“We’re such good friends and so close, that I know you can’t bear to be apart from me, even when I’m gone. So to make you feel better about your loss, I want you to carry my urn with you wherever you go.

“You know how I like to ride in the car, so you can sit me in the front passenger seat whenever you travel somewhere — don’t forget to use the seatbelt — and hold my urn out the window occasionally so I can feel the wind. You can imagine my ears flopping around; that will cheer you!

“You can keep me in your briefcase when you’re at meetings, or show my urn to your friends and colleagues. That will be a good conversation starter! At home, every night you can put my best smoking jacket around my urn and set it in my favorite chair, pour a glass of Scotch for me and light a cigar. I know that will comfort you immensely!”

Yeah, I thought, I’m going to show the urn to my friends and colleagues. If that kind of conversation starts, it will end with me being committed. That dog had better live until I’m senile, because senility is the only thing that will make me carry a dog’s ashes around with me. “Have you gone to la la land, dog? I’m not going to do that!”

“But you promised, and I know you will keep your promise! And one last thing: Each night when we go to bed, place my urn on the soft pillow next to yours, and pull the covers up around it. Don’t let me get cold!”

We go to bed? We? Only in your dreams, Smut. Now if I can just get that image out of my mind. Maybe a big glass of Scotch whisky will do it. If there’s any left.


January 16, 2014

I was working in the yard, trying to put a new blade-drive belt on my lawnmower, when Mischief ran up to me and said, “There’s something wrong with Smut!” Mischief is my frenetic black Lab, and Smut is my calm old black Lab.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, alarmed. Smut is 14 years old and has been through two cancer surgeries. His hold on life is becoming tenuous.

Mischief was jumping up and down all around me, trying to convey urgency. “He’s acting very upset and disturbed,” she said. “He might be having a stroke!”

She turned and took off quickly the way she had come, and I followed, praying that Smut was not having a stroke. We found him at the edge of a field where he often went to read and think about particle physics. His smoking jacket was unbelted and hanging open, and his fez sat at an unstable angle. He was pacing back and forth quickly, clearly deeply concerned about something.

“What’s wrong, Smut?” I asked, hoping he could answer me rationally. But he seemed not to hear me, and he didn’t acknowledge my presence.

Mischief quickly barked at him, telling him to snap out of it and talk to us. Smut stopped his pacing, looked at us, and grumbled, “Nothing. Nothing. Just reading, that’s all.” But I could tell that it certainly wasn’t all.

“Are you sick, Smut?” I asked. “Do you not feel well? Do we need to go to the vet?”

Looking resigned to having to interact with Mischief and me, Smut settled back on his haunches, pulled his pipe out of his pocket along with a pouch containing tobacco—or something—and after filling the bowl, tamping it down, and lighting the pipe with a match he found in his other pocket, he took a slow drag on the pipe and said, “I’m just a little upset about something I read, that’s all.”

Relieved that Smut wasn’t suffering from a physical ailment, I asked with sarcasm, “Oh, is there another conundrum in the world of particle physics?” I expected a lengthy discourse on some inconsistency in the way quarks react to mesons, or something like that.

“No,” he replied, “I decided to take a break from particle physics and read a newspaper. It was a story in your latest edition of the Wall Street Journal that bothered me.”

“What was it in the Journal that upset you so much, Smut?”

Smut took another puff on his pipe, looked at Mischief, then at me, and began. “Well, you know how you like to share that really delicious Stilton cheese and fine port wine with Mischief and me?”

I don’t like to share it with them. It’s just that they’re always begging and trying to grab it from me, so I usually give in and let them have a taste. “I love the taste of that cheese, and it goes so well with the port I lap up. When you share that with us, I feel a special friendship for you,” Smut continued.

“Save the flattery and get on with it, Smut,” I told him, sensing that his fawning behavior was leading to something I wouldn’t like.

“The story in the Journal said that import prices are going up as high as fifteen percent in 2014,” he reported with sadness. “I’m afraid as a result you won’t buy as much Stilton and port as we, I mean, you like!”

“Oh, no!” Mischief interjected.

“You’re absolutely correct, Smut,” I said. “That stuff is high enough already. I don’t have the money to spend on that kind of luxury, especially now the prices are going up.”

After a furtive look at Mischief, Smut turned to me and asked, “Could you perhaps get a second job? I hear McDonald’s is hiring.”

I should not indulge those dogs.


January 4, 2014

Smut, my black Lab, woke me up about 4 AM New Year’s Eve. “I need to go to South Dakota,” he said. “Will you get up and drive me there now?”

“What? You silly dog, I’m not going to drive you to South Dakota or anywhere else. Go to sleep!”

“I have to go NOW!” Smut barked at me. “It’s urgent! LUX needs me!”

“What are you talking about, Smut? What is LUX? No, I don’t want to know. Just let me go back to sleep.” I shoved him away from the bed with my foot and pulled the covers over my head. “Just get out!”

“This is not debatable,” Smut said imperatively. “CMS contacted me about a half-hour ago and said I have to help LUX!”

I was awake now, without any chance of getting back to sleep. I got out of bed grudgingly, went to the kitchen and turned on the coffee pot. While the coffee was brewing, I told Smut to go to the living room and sit. He did, pulling his smoking jacket around him tightly, and straightening his fez, but he looked irritated.

“From the beginning now, tell me what you’re talking about,” I directed.

“CMS—that’s the Canine Message Service—barked me up to tell me that LUX is having trouble with an experiment, and they can’t find a WIMP, so they need me ASAP.”

“Wait, Canine Message Service did what? Barked you up?”

“That’s not important,” he said. “What’s important is that I need to go to South Dakota!”

“What is LUX? It can’t find what?”

“LUX is the Large Underground Xenon experiment in the Black Hills,” Smut explained. “To find dark matter, they buried a tank filled with liquid xenon surrounded by rock and a tank of water, all a mile underground. The only thing that gets through to the xenon tank will be WIMPs, weakly interacting massive particles. But they can’t detect any.”

“Maybe they aren’t there,” I remarked, pleased with myself for offering a solution to his physics problem.

“You silly human,” Smut said in an exasperated tone. “Of course they may not be there, but if they are and the experiment’s not set up right, we won’t know, will we? Oh, the coffee’s ready, by the way. Will you get me a cup with cream?”

When I returned with the coffee, one with cream and one black, I told Smut, “Well, we’re not going to South Dakota. The Black Hills are almost 2,000 miles from here.”

“Is that very far,” Smut asked. “Will we be back for supper?”

“No, because we’re not going,” I answered.

Just then, I heard the dogs down the road barking loudly.

“Never mind, Smut said,” CMS just let me know that LUX discovered the error in their experiment. They’ll reconfigure it and try again, so we don’t have to go to South Dakota this year.” He poured himself a dram of my scotch whisky, reached for his meerschaum pipe, and leaned back in his chair, no longer concerned about LUX and WIMPs, having received the message from CMS.

Smut licked his lips and asked, “What are you fixing for breakfast, then? Bacon?”

As I stared at the old black dog—dark matter, to be sure—through sleep-deprived eyes, it occurred to me that he may have detected a wimp after all: me.