Watson’s Excellent Exmoor Adventure

From the dog's mouth.  Watson reflects on his first three months in England.
Watson strikes a pose on Exmoor

Any parent will tell you, if the kids are happy, you’re happy. Well, for the most part. If drawing with permanent marker on the walls makes your child happy, you’re not happy. Eating an entire box of dry pancake mix or inviting college friends to play beer pong over the new carpet may indeed make them happy. Certainly doesn’t make you happy. But I mean, in general, if your children are happy, pat on the back, you can rest easy.

This, of course, goes for our four-legged children, too. My faithful (if cheese is involved, mildly interested if no cheese around) dog, Watson, needs to be happy for me to be happy. I’ve put him through a lot during this transition from the US to the UK so felt it only fair to get his side of the story. His responses will determine whether I can truly be happy in my new life. I may regret this interview – but here goes nothing.

Me: Here we are, three months into your new life in England. Tell us how it’s going.

Watson: Well, let’s talk cheese.

Me: But life in England was the question

Watson: Life is the question. Which means cheese is the question. Look, I’m a fussy eater as you well know. Those new kibbles you’re giving me? Not so good. But the cheese… oh, my goodness, the cheese! It’s awesome.

Me: Better than American cheese?

Watson: Heck, yes! Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never met a cheese I don’t like but some of these Somerset cheddars are outstanding. Apparently, cheddar was invented around here. Did you know that?

Me: I did, actually.

Watson: Good to know you’re aware of Somerset traditions. I honestly think if I’d had access to these authentic cheddars as a puppy, training would have gone more smoothly. Maybe I wouldn’t have needed that extra ‘Overreactive Dog’ class you made me go to when I freaked out at the marching band on Memorial Day. Maybe I’d have learned to roll over and fetch and all the other stupid tricks you tried to make me do. I’m half Great Pyrenees for crying out loud! Rolling over takes great effort when you’re my size. I’m not messing about with tricks for American supermarket brand cheese.

Me: I’d noticed. Apart from cheese, what’s going well?

Watson: Streams. Streams are going well. When you decided I should spend my first seven years living puke-inducing long car rides away from water, you didn’t choose well. This Exmoor place? Streams every three feet, a whole coastline, and the biggest mud puddles ever. Now we’re talking!

Me: You didn’t seem too … what’s the word? … confident during your first interaction with waves on Bossington Beach.

Watson: I’m not used to water coming for me, okay? I’m used to going for it. That water down there starts off shallow, you turn your back for a second to sniff a log and bam! The water chases you up the beach. Not cool. But streams I like, even fast-running streams because you must use strategy to keep the stick in sight. Easy to lose it. Takes skill.

Me: Glad you’re enjoying the water. What about all the animals? You’ve never been around horses, sheep or cows before.

Watson: Sheep look like fields full of, well, me. White blobs. They don’t seem to do much.

Me: A lot like you, then.

Watson: Rude. Anyway, not a sheep fan. Cows and horses? I don’t get it. Huge piles of their poo on all the trails and nobody says a word. I produce something about a millionth the size on the roadside and it’s all huffing and puffing and now we’ve got to get a bag out and now we’ve got to carry it and now we’ve got to find a bin. Discriminatory, if you ask me.

Me: Any other animal thoughts? 

Watson: I don’t miss possums and raccoons. Possums just keel over, and sometimes I don’t even think they’re really dead. Boring, and quite frankly, cowardly. Raccoons? Too creepy. Hunched backs and burglar outfits. Never cared for them. But squirrels! Never saw many in our US neck of the woods. Loads of them over here in jolly old England, Love them! The way they hurtle across the path and up a tree…

Blows. My. Mind!

Every. Single. Time.

Don’t think the novelty of that will ever wear off. Cheese, streams and squirrels. All-time favourite England moments, right there.

Me: Worth the journey, then?

Watson: Let’s talk about that journey shall we, Mummy Dearest? What a nightmare! First you sell my home and give my sofa away. Then, you promise me I’ll be on the plane with you. You’ll tuck me in one end of the non-stop flight and be there to wake me up the other end, you said. Well, that didn’t happen. Don’t know what this COVID thing is but it meant I was sent to live with my sister – your daughter – for five months until pet flights could get rebooked. Do I look like a Milwaukee city hound to you? Small apartment, no garden? Mind you, Sis was great at grooming and massages. I even got scented candles when the fireworks bothered me. And she gave me snacks you wouldn’t give me so that was all good. I even met a cat. Not a fan. But it was okay.

Then, with no warning, a crate the size of a stable arrived and I had to have my dinner every night and, thankfully, lots of cheese in it. For weeks. Then some guy shows up, sticks me and the crate in a van. Next thing I know, I’m walking the tarmac at O’Hare Airport, riding a conveyor belt into the dark insides of something definitely not your old Subaru, and subjected to hours of clunking and swaying and ears popping before bumping down somewhere no one speaks cheese. (I believe their word for it is Gouda but I wasn’t there long enough to get any.) I’m shoved in another van, hurtled through a long dark tunnel, finally popping up like a prairie dog in somewhere referred to as ‘Kent’ by a stern woman with a clipboard. Another van, and finally, after dark and in a barrage of fireworks – which apparently happen in November, not July, in this place – the doors open and you finally appear. Those tears didn’t fool me. Okay, I wagged my tail like I’d seen a huge cheese wheel but only because I needed to pee. I was mad at you and Dad.

Me: I know. That’s why you got me up at 3:30 am to pee again?

Watson: Payback.

Me: I can only apologise so many times. COVID is actually a big deal and it made all our relocation plans a little complicated, to put it mildly. We did the best we could to get you here, at great expense, may I add.

Watson:  A bit touchy for an impartial interviewer, aren’t we?

Me: Some residual guilt, yes.

Watson: *sighs* Okay, I’ll cut you some slack, as long as you guarantee I don’t have to take that journey again.

Me: That I can promise you. It was a one-way ticket. Exmoor is home for the rest of our lives.

Watson: Alrighty, then. Local cheddar cheese, streams and squirrels it is, for life. I can do that.

Me: Me too. For life. Thank you for your time today. I know you’re busy.

Watson: True that. Frisbee’s don’t catch themselves, you know. When’s dinner? And how about a little of that West Country Farmhouse Cheddar tonight before bed?

Me: I’ll place your order with the chef.

So, now we know. Watson’s journey to England? Sucked. Exmoor life after the journey? Not too bad. Not too bad at all. I also agree with him. Journey over sucked. Life after the journey? Not bad. Not bad at all. As Watson’s mum, I can hold my head high in the knowledge he’s happy. Here’s hoping there’s never a cheese shortage, though.

(No squirrels were hurt during the writing of this blog. Or during any Watson versus squirrel interaction. He’s just not that quick on his feet.)

Once Upon a Hireth


As I look back on my first full year of authoring, who’d have thought the feelings of discontent that precipitated my transition could lead to such fulfilment? Wishing to be somewhere else led me here, to this place. But it’s not the place I thought I was looking for, as I haven’t returned to England yet. The place turned out to be an occupation.

This occupation, this writer’s life, allows me to live wherever I want, even if it’s only in my imagination, and that has made living where I reside so much easier. Rather than seeing where I am as second best, I can focus on the joy of writing from wherever I am. The thrill and the freedom of putting visions of home on the page have been liberating. So, though hireth is still present, it’s not present in a stifling way, a distracting way, an I’m-wasting-my-life-somewhere-I-shouldn’t-be way. Hireth is now productive and useful and stimulating. It’s marvellous.


A word I haven’t used in a long time.  One doesn’t talk about marvellous SUVs, or marvellous weather, or marvellous baseball games in the United States. These things are awesome, not marvellous. Marvellous is a good British sentiment. I catch more and more British words and sayings flowing from my mouth and keyboard now; buried deep for almost thirty years but becoming familiar again. I feel more native, relishing the opportunity to reconnect with my homeland, both linguistically and emotionally. Hireth leads home. Old connections rise to the surface. But not in a desperate way anymore.

I feared at the beginning of this journey, I may just be chasing old feelings, friends, lifestyles, and dreams. That maybe I’d be disappointed as I peered through the scratches and dents of thirty-year-old rose-tinted glasses and realised the need for a new prescription. Turns out my sense of loss and longing, of hireth, hasn’t led just to a search for the past. The real highlight of this first full year authoring has been establishing a new future.

Feedback from readers tells me I’ve tapped into their world in some way. So we are now connected in this new future.This future includes writers, fellow ex pats, Anglophiles, pony lovers, Exmoor lovers, and people who didn’t know they loved ponies or Exmoor, but discovered a new passion in “Dunster’s Calling.” And it definitely includes my fellow hireth sufferers, many of whom have told me they didn’t know the word for their feelings but fully understand the word now. I didn’t know I would find all these kindred spirits. I live each day with every inhabitant of this new world, with great relish and much appreciation. I owe hireth so much.



I would have missed it all if hireth hadn’t pushed me into this new reality. I’d have missed playing with ponies on Exmoor and talking with Sylvia in Scotland about the North Berwick Ponies. I’d have missed the fabulous Exmoor pony community as a whole. They have embraced Dunster as one of their own.

I’d have missed Natalie in Spain, the first to like a photo or add a comment to my Facebook postings, which begs the question: when does she sleep as there’s a huge time difference between Wisconsin and Spain? I’d have missed June in Seattle, a British ex pat living the American dream, but wondering if she made the right decision. And Rodney, a fellow author, who shared his story about moving back to England after fifty years in the US in my August blog. He keeps me grounded with realistic expectations as I plan my own repatriation. I’d have missed Kelly in Alice Springs, a second cousin I lost track of decades ago, who popped up again thanks to the miracle of social media and a love of reading all things English. I’d have missed so many of you.

I’d also have missed the reviews of “Dunster’s Calling” on Amazon and Goodreads. All of them encourage and validate my efforts. Many are complete strangers to me, such as the reader in Australia, known only by her review name, Caroline. I marvel at how Caroline found me in this sea of books and authors, struggling to swim against the tidal wave of new publications. It is incredibly difficult to get reviews. I’m thrilled with each one. That a stranger so far away took the time to comment on my work is marvellous. Movingly marvellous.

I’d have missed out on the professional development too: my writing group, Tuesdays with Story, the editors and book cover designers, and formatters and conference speakers and website designers who have all contributed to my joy in this new world.

I hear from people who didn’t know they had hireth, but now understand their condition. I hear from people who’ve never heard of Exmoor but who now feel a connection strong enough to plan visits. I hear from people who are planning to return home, wherever that is for them, and those who’ve found new homes that speak to them more deeply than their birthplace. Sharing our stories makes me feel like I’m home. With family. With friends. With kindred spirits.

So, is home a published novel, a website, and an author Facebook page? If you’ve never felt the need to write, that notion will seem trite. And I know my pull towards England won’t abate. But for one who felt something was missing for so long, this new “writer’s home” is … marvellous.

Happy New Year.