Category Archives: Dogs

White Pine Trees and Moms

What do White Pine Trees and Moms have to do with each other?  In honor of Mother’s Day coming up, I’d like to share a story I wrote a couple of years ago that will answer that question.

White Pines are beautiful trees! These aren’t Austrian Pines that you usually find along highways and everywhere in-between. While White Pines are also common, they are much more pleasing to the eye than Austrian Pines are. White Pines are used for construction, cabinetry, natural medicinal purposes and even Christmas trees.

So I got this White Pine sapling in kindergarten–my very own tree. I found myself looking forward to many years of watching it grow in front of my eyes. As I said before, it even went with us when we moved. Shortly after the tree was replanted, however, something peculiar began to occur. This took a while to notice, but the White Pine began to take on an odd growth pattern.

Enter Major.

Apparently, once settled upon our new property, Major felt it was his duty, his mission–nay, his life’s purpose bequeathed to him by God Himself–to hike his leg and pee on the north side of that tree. He was committed. He was focused. He wasn’t letting anyone or anything detract him from what he was called to do with his life in this new place. And he saw it through to his dying day.

As a result, we noticed as the tree grew that the north side of it was developing a significant stunting in its growth. I really thought during those first few years that I was going to have my very own Charlie Brown Christmas Tree. As it matured, though, it really began to fill out. Except for the north side of it.

To this day, you can drive by the old house in Bath and see a beautiful twenty-five foot White Pine tree in the front yard.  Still with a significantly stunted upper portion on its north side, the permanent marks of a dedicated and unrelenting Flat-Coated Retriever. I think Major wanted to leave a mark, something that would endure long after he was gone. And he did just that–literally.

Keep in mind that this is the same dog who bullied a couple of young kids in the winter and gave them ball-less head gear to wear. He would take his beloved “Babe” (the female) on romantic romps in the gravel pit next door and bring her back absolutely exhausted.  (Black fur on hot days in a gravel pit…..nice.)  He even took her on a nature walk, with us in tow, and frolicked on ahead of us with his sweetheart.  They no sooner disappeared and he brought her back absolutely covered with ground bees. All I remember at that point is Mom yelling at us to turn around and run the other way. Good advice, except that dogs run faster than humans do.

So my brother and I are beatin’ feet down the trail back to the car. We look behind us only to see a dog with yellow dots all over it trotting along behind us. I don’t remember if it was Major or Babe, but the distinct memory of seeing a black dog with a smile on its face–it’s tail almost wagging as it trots along after us–has never left me (seeing that smile….it had to be Major). Thing is, I don’t remember any dogs covered with bees catching up to my brother and I. Which means that Mom probably did what moms are known to do: She put herself in the line of fire for her kids. I do seem to remember that she had been stung a few times. Thanks, Mom.

But, regardless, he was a good dog (for the most part). And his “mark” on his life spent with us lives on….

The Dog Poo Yard

As much as that lightning was enlightening, I can’t help but feel that the highlight of my mowing experience was the infamous yard with the dog poo.

The first yard we had to mow every Friday morning was “The Dog Poo Yard”. This place consisted of an open front yard with a back yard that was completely fenced in with a six-foot tall wooden fence painted red. It was the back yard that no one among us wanted to set foot in. The home owner had at least three very large dogs that were allowed to roam free in the back yard.  They would leave mountains of smelly nastiness anywhere they wanted to and then the home owner would do absolutely nothing about picking up those rank piles of poo before we were to mow there.  (This memory is so distinct that, even though this occurred 16+ years ago, I could take you down the exact street to the exact house and show you the exact back yard where this dastardly deed was done.)

So every Friday, our experience there would go something like this:  We leave the shop with the foreboding feeling that we are embarking upon a doomed expedition.  As we drive to The Dog Poo Yard, we reflect upon the life we’ve had….fond memories of loved ones and good times with friends.  A question floats across my conscious brain:  What’s the worst thing I’ve experienced in my life so far?  Was it really that bad compared to this?

We arrive at the house and park in the driveway.  We just sit there for a minute or two, gearing up for the inevitable and watching the wisps of green and yellow vapors from the dog poo piles wafting up and over the back yard fence.  Then one of us says, “Well, I guess we should get this over with.”  We all heave a heavy sigh and exit the truck.  We get the two big mowers, weed whip and blower ready, taking as much time as possible to avoid being the first casualty of the dog poo mine field awaiting us.  A period of time is spent with “Rock, Paper, Scissors” to determine who will be on the big mower in the back yard.

This, of course, means that the guy on the mower doing the front yard takes as much time as possible–including mowing at a much slower speed–to make sure that every blade of grass is cut exactly right (after all, it is the front yard and everyone sees the front yard, right?).  On the opposite extreme, the guy mowing the back yard is in a quandary:  Do I mow at the fastest speed to get this over with (knowing that this means I can’t see the poo piles coming at me until it’s too late)?  Or do I mow slower to avoid stepping in the poo piles (risking olfactory overload and a complete mental shutdown)?  No matter who lost the Rock, Paper, Scissors game, we were all very adept at “The Dog Poo Dance”.  This consisted of the mower operator moving his feet any way he needed to in order to avoid stepping in the freshly mowed-over piles of dog poo (think of fancy breakdancing footwork and you’ll get the right picture of dog poo dancing).  If he was feeling particularly daring, he did the Dog Poo Dance at the fastest speed on the mower.

If no third person was with us, the first one done with mowing got on the weed whip.  This was almost worse than mowing, because sometimes those poo piles were very close to the edges of the yard where the weed whip needed to trim grass.  This meant that, as hard as the guy on the weep whip tried to avoid it, the weed whip line would make contact with the dog poo, whipping dog poo everywhere (including the shoes, socks and legs of the weed whip operator).

The safest job for that yard was getting on the leaf blower.  All that consisted of was walking around the yard (in as many pre-designated dog-poo-free places as possible) and blowing cut grass around.  Of course, it was a good idea not to blow pieces of dog poo on anyone that might be close by….but we won’t talk about that.

Once the yard is completed and everything is loaded back up on the truck and trailer, we all stand around the truck, assessing the outcome of our venture.  The smell is still hanging in the air, mostly due to the fact that we’re standing next to the dog poo remains that are mashed into the mower tires as well as what is probably on the bottom of our boots.  With watering eyes and no signs of permanent injury, we all look at each other with smiles on our faces, triumphant in knowing that we once again overcame and conquered The Dog Poo Yard.

The Bottle-Rocket Launcher

A family that Cindy’s family and ours were friends with when I was growing up had an English Springer spaniel named Cinnamon.  We had one at the same time named Nutmeg.  She had some issues, though, namely the fact that she was hit by a car, so for a while, we were dogless.    In the meantime, this family moved to South Carolina and eventually bred Cinnamon.  They contacted my Dad and told him that we could have one of the puppies if we drove down to get it!  My Dad was ecstatic, to say the least.  So I rode shotgun with my Dad from Michigan down to South Carolina to get Max (the English Springer that I told you about in a previous tale).  And thus begins my story….

This family had a son named Jeff who was a year younger than I was. By this time, we were both entering the high school years of our youth, not quite able to drive on our own, yet feeling that urge to experience some sort of independence that sooner or later inevitably befalls every teenager–especially teenage boys.  So we did the best we could do at the time:  we ventured out into his suburban neighborhood armed with his bottle rocket launcher and a mess of bottle rockets.  Ok, it was more like he dragged me out there with him as his accomplice to whatever mayhem and malice aforethought he was contriving in that fourteen-year-old brain of his.  I was a quiet, obedient kid and that didn’t change as I grew up.  So this was really taking me out of my comfort zone.  And what made it worse was knowing that once I lost sight of his house, I had no idea where we would be or how to get back if I had to break away and make a run for it (yes, I had a distinct feeling that I would eventually be doing that, any specific reasons for it unknown in that moment, except for the aforementioned  contraband that we both had in our possession).  I had no choice but to stick to him like glue if I ever wanted to see the comfort and safety of the only thing that was familiar to me:  his house, where I knew both our Dads were preparing some amazing steaks that I couldn’t wait to eat.

As we were jogging down the street and began darting between houses, Jeff asking for a bottle rocket and me handing him his first load of ammo as we were doing so, I began to think that our Dads may be picking us up from a local jail cell before this was all over.  What would I say??  “That’s not mine.”  Or, “I don’t know how that fire that burned down five houses got started.”  Or, “Dogs howling and barking all over the neighborhood?”  (I begin to break down, sobbing uncontrollably) “It was him, officer!  I was coerced and forced into this against my will!  He made me hand him those bottle rockets!  I…I….(Oh, no!)  Hi Dad….”

So there I was, trailing Jeff as we jogged down back alleys and became one with the dark that was the night around us (actually, it was a well-lit neighborhood with plenty of street lights, but that’s what it felt like).  At different times we would stop and take up position.  I would hand Jeff a bottle rocket, he would put it in the launcher, light it and tap the rocket down into the launcher.  We would wait an eternal two or three seconds as the fuse burned and we eventually heard a  FWOOP! sound that told us the bottle rocket had left the launcher like a missile cut loose in the water to leave its mark on an unsuspecting target with no way to stop it.   We got this routine down so well that muscle memory took over and we began launching bottle rockets from a full run.  Somewhere along the way, though, one of Jeff’s neighborhood buddies joined us and took over my role (a position I very willingly gave up), so now all I could do was make sure I hid and ran and kept up with the other two.

We made our way to the lit-up tennis courts (yes, this neighborhood had tennis courts) and Jeff proceeded to ask for another bottle rocket.   These tennis courts were nestled in the bottom of an earth bowl, surrounded by trees on three sides (which is where we were hiding out).  I watched his buddy hand him a bottle rocket with shaking hands.  As I got my hands calmed down, I watched as Jeff placed it in the launcher and lighted it.  FWOOP!  We watched as it arced itself over the middle of the tennis courts, an increasingly loud whistle giving way to a very loud BANG!!.  Foul language wafted upwards from the courts as the unsuspecting victims looked up into the sky, wondering what atrocity had just befallen them from the sky above.  Jeff launched another one.  FWOOP!  BANG!!  Now at least one of those unsuspecting victims had turned rogue and was walking in our direction very fast.  We turned tail and ran like the wind for a block or two.  We started to see vehicles driving around more frequently.  They’re on to us.  They’re hunting us like dogs.  We were “on the lam”, fleeing like the criminals we were!

We found ourselves inbetween apartment complexes, looking down a swath of backyard fifty feet wide and fifty yards long.  We all looked at each other and we all knew what the other was thinking.  Me:  No!  You wouldn’t….you really want to, don’t you…..but….  Jeff (and his buddy):  This is perfect!  How can I pass this up?!  Give it to me! (in Jeff’s buddy’s case, Give it to him!).  When Jeff launched that rocket, the whistle it made ricocheted off the backsides of the apartment complexes, making it five times as loud as it normally was.  As a result, the BANG! we normally heard from a bottle rocket was more like a BOOM! from a cannon.

We all  turned and fled the scene, me going the direction I was pretty sure was Jeff’s house and didn’t care if I was right or not, and Jeff pleading with me to go with him and his buddy as they headed off in another direction.  He saw I was done, though, so he acquiesced and walked with me back to his house.

I was emotionally exhausted.  Spent.  Ready to turn in for the night (or at least turn myself in).

I’ll tell you this:  There’s nothing like a hard night’s running from justice and the long arm of the law to really appreciate a good steak.

The M65-28 Formula Trash Bag

Juniors in high school.  English class.  Project assigned to pairs of students (naturally, my best friend–Rick–and I paired up).  What’s the project?  To write a commercial that incorporates six things:  Humor, symbols, ecologically safe, statistics, happy family appeal and a special offer.

Now before I get into this, you need to know some things about my best friend from high school and myself.  We buddied up in 6th grade and almost instantly “clicked”.  Jesus was important to both of us, even at that age (that,I’m sure, was a big part of the instant bond we both felt).  Besides that, though, we were like Abbott and Costello–one of us the serious one (me) and the other the goofy one (Rick).  Put us together and it was quite the mix–me usually making a sarcastic remark with my dry sense of humor to Rick’s hilarious antics.  Not to mention his laugh!  He was known throughout our whole class for his laugh.  And not the weird kind that makes you do a double-take to the question in your mind of “Who just made that sound?”  Nope, just a great unique laugh that would always make you start laughing just hearing it.  Ever known someone like that?  When you do, you never forget it.  We lost contact for a few years, but around 13 years ago, my Mom got his contact information and we reconnected.  We’ve been in contact ever since–and nothing has changed.  We’re still that way, much to our wives’ and kids’…..um…..enjoyment.

So the stage is now set for our commercial for English class.  I have always been one to have difficulty coming up with an idea, but once one is given, I can run with it and add to it.  Leave it to Rick to come up with this one.  So here, from my high school archives and for your reading pleasure, is the actual script, word-for-word, of our commercial for the M65-28 Formula Trash Bag (Rick was the man holding the torn trash bag and I was the Salesman):

(Scene:  A man is standing with a torn trash bag in his hands, trash scattered all around his feet.)

Man:  (In a dopy voice) “I thought dogs is supposed to be man’s best friend….”

(Salesman walks up to man with trash bag.)

Salesman:  (In a 30-second commercial “but-wait-that’s-not-all” announcer’s voice and holding the sign below)

image

“Don’t blame your dog; the fault is of the bag!  You should be using the M65-28 Forumula Trash Bag.”  (Man’s face first shows immense interest and then repulsion at the smell in the air; at the same time, salesman puts on a white face mask and continues talking.)  “This bag is not an everyday trash bag.  It has a unique smell that would not only keep your dog away, but also rats, cats, bats, maggots and other rodents that would make your trash all…..messy.”

Man:  (Holding his nose) “But does it work??”

Salesman:  “Shut up, you’re interrupting me.  Studies have shown that eleven out of ten regular human beings, just like you, have tried the M65-28 Formula Trash Bag and found it successful in keeping trash in and dogs, rats, cats, bats, maggots and other rodents out.”

Man:  (Still holding nose and now wiping away tears from his eyes) “Will the M65-28 Formula Trash Bag hinder the environment around me?”

Salesman: (With slight, vacant look on his face) “Uh….no, no, not at all, my dear friend!”  (Pats man on back.)  “The birds will still be around–but who cares!  Our objective is to keep the dogs away.  Don’t worry about the environment; it’ll be fine without….it’ll be fine!  And with this trash bag, your whole family can take out the trash to the road together without the fear of dogs, rats, cats, bats, maggots and other rodents hindering you.”

“But that’s not all!  With the purchase of the handy M65-28 Formula Trash Bag, you can receive a nuclear waste dump in your own back yard!!” (Man has look of utter shock and disbelief, which the Salesman sees as a look of someone getting the “deal of the century”.  This just spurs the Salesman on….)  “Yes, we’ll give you everything you need to start your nuclear waste dump–which is not harmful to the environment–from your M65-28 Formula Trash Bag to your official M65-28 Formula Trash Bag Gas Mask!” (Hands man his own gas mask.  Man can barely see well enough to grab it out of the Salesman’s hand and put it on, taking huge gulps of air once he does.)  “And, if you respond within 2 days, we’ll send you ten barrels of nuclear waste free!  Just send the M65-28 Formula Trash Bag coupon which is enclosed in the trash bag box, along with $19.95  and $50.00 shipping and handling to:

image

Visa or MasterCard accepted.  Send for your dump today!!

Almost Back

Well I’m almost back to the main trail, but since I’m not quite there, I thought I would share a recent story that took place not far from where I currently am right now:

You’ve heard about Major already. Quite a character. But so was an English Springer we had whose name was Max (not the English Springer from the camping story–this is well after that incident).

We got Max somewhere around my Freshman/Sophomore years of high school. My Dad and I drove down to South Carolina where a family friend had bred his English Springer and had a puppy for us to get. I held him in my lap all the way back up to Michigan. We grew quite attached on that drive back. So how does such a cute, submissive little puppy grow into….Max?

The older Max got, the more stubborn he became. We lived in the country (as you already know), so when he had to go outside, we just let him out the door and came back to let him in around 10 minutes later. And that’s where his stubbornness really showed. Especially in the winter! I’d be standing there in my pajamas, holding the door open for him to come in, my extremities turning white from frostbite, and he’d just stand there looking at me, suddenly unable to comprehend the English language. And if I started out the door after him, he’d just romp out into the yard a little further and turn around to see what I’m going to do about what he just did. Since I could no longer feel my fingers or toes anyway, I would sometimes try to coax him in with a treat….or a stern voice….or sobbing….fact is, he came in when he was good and ready to and as far as he was concerned, I wasn’t about to change that.

I must say, though, that I thoroughly enjoyed a game he liked to play in the house with my younger brother. We’d be wrestling (this got Max riled up sufficiently) which would inevitably end up with my brother pinned to the living room floor, arms defenseless at his sides, while I poked my finger through the gap between his neck and the carpet. This got Max’s attention fast, which always resulted in a slobbery effort on Max’s part to get that wiggling finger, no matter how much tickling and barking he had to do at my brother’s neck, regardless of which direction my brother would turn his head. It was a fun time! Until my brother got to be big enough and tall enough that I couldn’t pin him to the living room floor anymore. Ruined everything at that point…

But my fondest memory of Max is at the family cabin at Paradise Lake. We were up with my Aunt & Uncle’s family, all of us (but Max) down by the beach. The cabins on that stretch of the lake are up on a bluff that overlooks that beautiful place. It requires a pretty long staircase for most of those cabins for a way to get down to the shoreline. But what dog likes to take steps when he can launch himself down the hill with no barrier between him and the water?

So my brother goes up to the cabin for something and calls down to my Dad, asking if Max can come down. We all turn around to watch as my Dad gives the ok, because we all know Max’s aversion to the staircase. (Watching a dog barreling down a hillside, barely able to control his speed as he jets toward the water, is always worth watching.) Well this time, there were more of us sprawled out along the beachfront than he was used to. His normal line of trajectory was suddenly compromised, but it was too late to change it. The point of impact of least resistance was going to be a 10-inch gap between my lawn chair and the one next to me that my Uncle was in. The realization of all of this is flashing acrossed Max’s face as he nears the bottom of the hill at full speed. As he realizes his predicament, his eyes get real big, and then they become mere slits as he readies and commits himself to that gap between our chairs (all this happening in a matter of seconds). He was a white and brown streak as he flew right between our lawn chairs, the lake suddenly becoming his parachute as he hits the water in an explosion of spray. He’s frolicking around in the water, grateful to still be alive, a huge smile on his face as he laps at the water. Quite a few moments passed before anyone could say anything because it took that long to catch a breath from all of us laughing so hard.

Many years have come and gone since then, but we all still remember the day that Max went through the “eye of the needle” and lived to tell about it.

A Recap

Well, hello!

I have gone down a side trail–you might say a vacation, of sorts, from the main trail–and haven’t been able to meet up with you today like I usually am.  So since it’s been so hot lately, here’s a recap of a story I told back in the winter…about Major:

When I was in kindergarten, Mom got me a small little White Pine, about a foot tall, from our local school that was giving them out to children. We took it home and planted it in our front yard. We moved when I was in 2nd grade and made sure to take the White Pine with us when we went.

Besides having this seedling of a tree, I also grew up with my parents having two big flat-coated retrievers, a male (named Major) and a female (named Babe). The male, Major, was almost my nemesis. In the winter, when my brother and I were outside playing in the snow, we’d be having a great time until one of my parents let Major out. When he saw us and we saw him, it was the hunter eyeing the hunted. Why, you may ask?

This dog loved the snow; but even more, he loved to “pick one from the herd” and chase him down. Once he was upon his prey, he would plow him into the snow, take his stocking hat (remember as a kid when they used to come with a ball on the top, usually the same color as the hat?) and gallop off to his secret lair, snickering to himself, an air of pompous victory emanating from some cruel gene, and chew the ball off the hat. The victim would later find his hat laying abandoned in the snowy yard, covered with drool. We sometimes found the balls–and when we did, they were sadly beyond resuscitation, drool dripping from them, snow-covered and maybe some grass and dirt thrown in the mix if Major was in a good mood that day.

When we would see him coming, we’d look at each other and know what the other one was thinking: Holy crap, it’s Major! Do I stay or do I run? Can I get out of his line of fire before my brother does? Should I take the hit for him? Will I ever see this hat again? You didn’t dare let the fear of something happening to your new stocking hat drive you to start running away from Major. That only sealed your fate. No, your chances of survival were far greater if you just stood there and waited for his sadistic game to play itself out. Sometimes my younger brother would start to cry–probably because he knew he was going to lose another hat. (He lost more hats and balls to Major than I did. I do recall a time or two of choosing to run from Major in the hopes of diverting his trajectory onto my brother’s path, who was by this time either running slower than I was or was already curled up in the fetal position in the snow, whimpering and probably praying for the rapture to happen NOW, just waiting for the inevitable.)

You know what? That dog even came after us when we didn’t have any balls on our stocking hats! If there was a ball on one hat but not on the other, that just meant that all three of us knew who he was going after. And then the next time this would happen, and we’re both wearing castrated head-gear, it was anybody’s guess. Ah, such wonderful childhood memories!

Max

You’ve heard about Major already.  Quite a character.  But so was an English Springer we had whose name was Max (not the English Springer from the camping story–this is well after that incident).

We got Max somewhere around my Freshman/Sophomore years of high school.  My Dad and I drove down to South Carolina where a family friend had bred his English Springer and had a puppy for us to get.  I held him in my lap all the way back up to Michigan.  We grew quite attached on that drive back.  So how does such a cute, submissive little puppy grow into….Max?

The older Max got, the more stubborn he became.  We lived in the country (as you already know), so when he had to go outside, we just let him out the door and came back to let him in around 10 minutes later.  And that’s where his stubbornness really showed.  Especially in the winter!  I’d be standing there in my pajamas, holding the door open for him to come in, my extremities turning white from frostbite, and he’d just stand there looking at me, suddenly unable to comprehend the English language.  And if I started out the door after him, he’d just romp out into the yard a little further and turn around to see what I’m going to do about what he just did.  Since I could no longer feel my fingers or toes anyway, I would sometimes try to coax him in with a treat….or a stern voice….or sobbing….fact is, he came in when he was good and ready to and as far as he was concerned, I wasn’t about to change that.

I must say, though, that I thoroughly enjoyed a game he liked to play in the house with my younger brother.  We’d be wrestling (this got Max riled up sufficiently) which would inevitably end up with my brother pinned to the living room floor, arms defenseless at his sides, while I poked my finger through the gap between his neck and the carpet.  This got Max’s attention fast, which always resulted in a slobbery effort on Max’s part to get that wiggling finger, no matter how much tickling and barking he had to do at my brother’s neck, regardless of which direction my brother would turn his head.  It was a fun time!  Until my brother got to be big enough and tall enough that I couldn’t pin him to the living room floor anymore.  Ruined everything at that point…

But my fondest memory of Max is at the family cabin at Paradise Lake.  We were up with my Aunt & Uncle’s family, all of us (but Max) down by the beach.  The cabins on that stretch of the lake are up on a bluff that overlooks that beautiful place.  It requires a pretty long staircase for most of those cabins for a way to get down to the shoreline.  But what dog likes to take steps when he can launch himself down the hill with no barrier between him and the water?

So my brother goes up to the cabin for something and calls down to my Dad, asking if Max can come down.  We all turn around to watch as my Dad gives the ok, because we all know Max’s aversion to the staircase.  (Watching a dog barreling down a hillside, barely able to control his speed as he jets toward the water, is always worth watching.)  Well this time, there were more of us sprawled out along the beachfront than he was used to.  His normal line of trajectory was suddenly compromised, but it was too late to change it.  The point of impact of least resistance was going to be a 10-inch gap between my lawn chair and the one next to me that my Uncle was in.  The realization of all of this is flashing acrossed Max’s face as he nears the bottom of the hill at full speed.  As he realizes his predicament, his eyes get real big, and then they become mere slits as he readies and commits himself to that gap between our chairs (all this happening in a matter of seconds).  He was a white and brown streak as he flew right between our lawn chairs, the lake suddenly becoming his parachute as he hits the water in an explosion of spray.  He’s frolicking around in the water, grateful to still be alive, a huge smile on his face as he laps at the water.  Quite a few moments passed before anyone could say anything because it took that long to catch a breath from all of us laughing so hard.

Many years have come and gone since then, but we all still remember the day that Max went through the “eye of the needle” and lived to tell about it.

The White Pine Tree

Here we are.  Back on the main trail again….

Let’s get back to that White Pine sapling.

White Pines are beautiful trees!  These aren’t Austrian Pines that you usually find along highways and everywhere in-between.  While White Pines are also common, they are much more pleasing to the eye than Austrian Pines are.  White Pines are used for construction, cabinetry, natural medicinal purposes and even Christmas trees.

So I got this White Pine sapling in kindergarten–my very own tree.  I found myself looking forward to many years of watching it grow in front of my eyes.  As I said before, it even went with us when we moved.  Shortly after the tree was replanted, however, something peculiar began to occur.  This took a while to notice, but the White Pine began to take on an odd growth pattern.

Enter Major.

Apparently, once settled upon our new property, Major felt it was his duty, his mission–nay, his life’s purpose bequeathed to him by God Himself–to hike his leg and pee on the north side of that tree.  He was committed.  He was focused.  He wasn’t letting anyone or anything detract him from what he was called to do with his life in this new place.  And he saw it through to his dying day.

As a result, we noticed as the tree grew that the north side of it was developing a significant stunting in its growth.   I really thought during those first few years that I was going to have my very own Charlie Brown Christmas Tree.  As it matured, though, it really began to fill out.  Except for the north side of it.

To this day, you can drive by the old house in Bath and see a beautiful twenty-five foot White Pine tree with a significantly stunted upper portion on its north side, the permanent marks of a dedicated and unrelenting Flat-Coated Retriever.  I think Major wanted to leave a mark, something that would endure long after he was gone.  And he did just that–literally.

Keep in mind that this is the same dog who bullied a couple of young kids in the winter and gave them ball-less head gear to wear.  He would take his beloved “Babe” (the female) on romantic romps in the gravel pit next door and bring her back absolutely exhausted (black fur on hot days in a gravel pit…..nice).  He even took her on a nature walk, with us in tow, and frolicked on ahead of us with his sweetheart–until he brought her back absolutely covered with ground bees.  All I remember at that point is Mom yelling at us to turn around and run the other way.  Good advice, except that dogs run faster than humans do.

So my brother and I are beatin’ feet down the trail back to the car, looking back and seeing a dog with yellow dots all over it trotting along behind us.  I don’t remember if it was Major or Babe, but the distinct memory of seeing a black dog with a smile on its face, it’s tail almost wagging as it’s trotting along after us has never left me (seeing that smile….it had to be Major).  Thing is, I don’t remember any dogs covered with bees catching up to my brother and I.  Which means that Mom probably did what moms are known to do:  She put herself in the line of fire for her kids.  I do seem to remember that she had been stung a few times.  Thanks, Mom.

But, regardless, he was a good dog (for the most part).  And his “mark” on his life spent with us lives on….

Let’s meet up again soon and I’ll tell you about a runaway horse!

“Major”

We’re on our way!

It’s a bit chilly, isn’t it?  I think we might get some snow soon.  Hey!  Take a look to our right, up on that hill over there.  See that White Pine tree next to that big Oak?  That White Pine reminds me of something…..

When I was in kindergarten, Mom got me a small little White Pine, about a foot tall, from our local school that was giving them out to children.  We took it home and planted it in our front yard.  We moved when I was in 2nd grade and made sure to take the White Pine with us when we went.

Besides having this seedling of a tree, I also grew up with my parents having two big flat-coated retrievers, a male (named Major) and a female (named Babe).  The male, Major, was almost my nemesis.  In the winter, when my brother and I were outside playing in the snow, we’d be having a great time until one of my parents let Major out.  When he saw us and we saw him, it was the hunter eyeing the hunted.  Why, you may ask?

This dog loved the snow; but even more, he loved to “pick one from the herd” and chase him down.  Once he was upon his prey, he would plow him into the snow, take his stocking hat (remember as a kid when they used to come with a ball on the top, usually the same color as the hat?) and gallop off to his secret lair, snickering to himself, an air of pompous victory emanating from some cruel gene, and chew the ball off the hat.  The victim would later find his hat laying abandoned in the snowy yard, covered with drool.  We sometimes found the balls–and when we did, they were sadly beyond resuscitation, drool dripping from them, snow-covered and maybe some grass and dirt thrown in the mix if Major was in a good mood that day.

When we would see him coming, we’d look at each other and know what the other one was thinking:  Holy crap, it’s Major!  Do I stay or do I run?  Can I get out of his line of fire before my brother does?  Should I take the hit for him?  Will I ever see this hat again?  You didn’t dare let the fear of something happening to your new stocking hat drive you to start running away from Major.  That only sealed your fate.  No, your chances of survival were far greater if you just stood there and waited for his sadistic game to play itself out.   Sometimes my younger brother would start to cry–probably because he knew he was going to lose another hat.  (He lost more hats  and balls to Major than I did.  I do recall a time or two of choosing to run from Major in the hopes of diverting his trajectory onto my brother’s path, who was by this time either running slower than I was or was already curled up in the fetal position in the snow, whimpering and probably praying for the rapture to happen NOW, just waiting for the inevitable.)

You know what?  That dog even came after us when we didn’t have any balls on our stocking hats!  If there was a ball on one hat but not on the other, that just meant that all three of us knew who he was going after.   And then the next time this would happen, and we’re both wearing castrated head gear, it was anybody’s guess.  Ah, such wonderful childhood memories!

Now here’s where the white pine comes in….