Strengthening Unused Muscles

How are those snowshoes working for you?  They take some getting used to, but I’d say you’re doing quite well.  I’ll bet your legs are feeling sore, though!  You’re probably using muscles you didn’t even know you had….

This trail we’re breaking has some interesting aspects to it.  No one has been here before–especially us, and right now that’s what really matters, doesn’t it?  How many times have we found ourselves facing a situation–quite often because of a decision we’ve made, be it a good one or a bad one–where we know we’ve never been here before, but it’s a necessary place to be in order to get where we’re going?

These kind of places stretch you.  Sometimes so thin you don’t think you can be stretched any further.  Yet what happens?  You find that you’ve still got something left…and so you’re stretched some more.  And you find that when you get to the other side of that difficult time, you’ve become a better person–a better you.  Stronger, a more complete person, a thicker skin, a relatability to others and what they are experiencing, an air about you that says you’ve been through the Refiner’s fire and come out of it on top.

You also find something else has happened.  You’ve been put in a situation that requires you to use “muscles” that you haven’t used in a long time–if ever.  These “muscles” aren’t physical; rather, they are parts of you and your personality that are rarely or never used.  And you find that the situation you are in requires the use of these “muscles”….and this hurts.  Sometimes very intensely!  But you know that already, don’t you?  And this is the most crucial point you could be in.  Because it’s your choice and your choice alone as to what happens next.  You either give up because it hurts too much….or you choose to push through it anyway, continuing to grow and change and become who God wants you to be.

Isn’t it amazing how God does this?  He leaves so much up to us–and quite often, that is a responsibility that we don’t like to accept.  Yet it can be found all through the Bible.

Let me leave you with this (it’s from a picture my wife just shared with me and I want to share it with you):

When God pushes you to the edge, trust Him fully, because only two things can happen:  Either He will catch you when you fall or He will teach you how to fly.

The Only Joke I Know

Wow, it’s cold out here!  But it sure is beautiful, right?

Ok, I told you last time that I would have a joke for you today.  I’ve heard quite a few over the years–some good, many not worth remembering (probably the same for you)–but there is one in particular that I have never forgotten.

I heard this joke over 15 years ago and unfortunately it is the only good one I remember.  Which is really quite amazing, since any other really good ones have been permanently deleted from the trash can.  (Why is it that you so easily forget the good ones and the bad ones don’t want to leave?)

So, without further delay, here it is.  It’s not theologically correct, but it’s a good one nonetheless:

Jesus, Moses and an old man are out golfing one day.  The hole they are approaching is a rather difficult one, with plenty of natural obstacles along the fairway and water hazards to contend with.  One of those water hazards is a particularly large one that’s right in front of the green they are swinging for.

Moses is up first and gets his ball ready….a couple of practice swings…..steps up to the ball….beautiful form as he begins his swing…and hits the ball solidly, sending it in a beautiful arch–right for that water hazard that’s in front of the green!  But Moses’ eyes never leave that ball, and as it begins its decent, he stretches his golf club out towards the water hazard like a staff.  Suddenly, the water in the water hazard splits right down the middle, the bottom of the water hazard instantly dries up, and the ball bounces along the dry ground, up onto the green–two feet from the hole!  Moses looks at Jesus and the old man, lifts his eyebrows a couple of times and just stands there with a big smile on his face.

Jesus is next, walks over and sets up his ball….not even a practice swing….and with absolutely perfect form, he hits the golf ball square on and sends it sailing through the air….straight for the same water hazard!  But he, too, never lets his eyes leave that ball.  And when it meets the water in the middle of the water hazard, instead of sinking into the water, the ball bounces across the surface of the water, up onto the green–ONE foot from the hole!  Jesus looks at Moses and the old man, gives them a wink and steps back for the old man to take his turn.

What do you think the old man is thinking at this point?  I know, me too!  He looks at Moses and Jesus, takes a deep breath and gets his ball ready.  He takes quite a few practice swings….eyes the fairway carefully….steps up to the ball….and promptly swings at it like Happy Gilmore, sending the golf ball soaring way off to the right.  The ball ricochets off a shed roof and sails through the air in the other direction, further down the fairway, and lands on the clubhouse roof.  It rolls down the roof, into the gutter, and begins to work its way around the roof gutter, shooting down the downspout and into the grass at the top of a hill.  The ball rolls down the hill and into the water hazard that’s right in front of the green.  A few seconds go by (a couple of crickets can be heard), and suddenly a fish jumps out of the water with the golf ball in its mouth!  It spits the ball up onto the green and into the hole.  The old man got a hole-in-one!!  He looks at Moses and Jesus, raises his eyebrows a few times and gives them each a wink with the biggest smile an old man could ever have.

Jesus looks at the old man, then at Moses, then back to the old man.  He looks down at the ground, heaves a big sigh and says, “I have got to stop playing with Dad.”

A Change In Direction

It’s beautiful out here this morning!  Got some fresh snow last night.  I love to see snow glistening on the tree limbs, enveloping us in a huge white canopy.  The sunlight reflecting off of the fresh snow like millions of tiny diamonds is just as impressive.

So, got your snowshoes?  You forgot them?  Well, I’ve got an extra pair for you.  Put these on.  And while you’re doing that, I’ll fill you in on what we’re doing…

You may have picked up on it, but we’ve been heading in a northerly direction since we started our journey.  The trail we’ve been walking is a well-used one, but it doesn’t change direction–and we need it to.  We need to head directly north from this point, so we’re breaking our own trail from here on.  The snow is deep, so it’ll be slow going.  But we’ll make headway!

Choices.  Aren’t they complicated sometimes?  We’re making one now.  And every one of them has a consequence to it–cause and effect, as it were.  When God gave us that freedom to choose for ourselves, it came with the responsibility of shouldering those consequences.  Something many of us don’t like to do and some of us even try to avoid.  Now, I realize that you may not believe what I believe about God and the Bible, but walk this out with me for just a few seconds–after all, you are actually walking in my snowshoes right now.  Even if you choose not to believe this, at least you can understand where I’m coming from.

When God created mankind and gave Adam and Eve freewill, He did so out of His love for the only part of His creation that was made in His own image–us.  He knew that the only way He would truly have our love in return for His was for us to be able to freely choose to love Him back–or not.  It’s that “or not” that makes all the difference in the world.  Because that means it’s our choice–not His–what we do with His love:  accept it or reject it.

The funny thing is, it’s those same people who don’t want to acknowledge Him that get so upset when they’re told that Hell awaits them if they don’t choose differently (that argument of “how can a loving God send anyone to a place like that?”).  But think it through….He’s simply giving that person for eternity what they wanted their whole life on earth:  a life without God.

He certainly has created some beautiful things, hasn’t He?  Look at the beauty of winter that is all around us.  Some would argue, “Where’s the proof that He exists?”  And I would respond, “Where’s the proof that He doesn’t?  Look around you; there is proof everywhere.”

One thing I know for certain:  The person with an experience is never at the mercy of the person with a theory.

I’ll have a good joke to share with you next time we catch up.  I think you’ll enjoy it!

 

Jesse’s Hill

The fire feels good, doesn’t it?  How’s that coffee?

Let’s see, where was I….

The king of all sledding memories is “Jesse’s Hill”.  Remember that hill on the road that I was at with the horse just before he bolted for home?  At the top of that hill on the left was Jesse’s house (a kid about my brother’s age), and just to the right of the house was a big double hill that we would sled on every winter.  The second part of it was steeper than the first, so by the time we hit the bottom of it, we were screamin’ fast!  The first winter we were there, he and some other neighborhood kids had a snow ramp built at the bottom of the double hill.  Man, you flew down that hill!  So you wanted to hit the ramp just right.

The problem was, as you were sledding down the hill and trying to keep your trajectory in line with the ramp, there was something we called “The Tree” just to the right of the sled track that had huge thorns all over it–the “wait-a-minute” variety that grab you upon impact and say, “Wait a minute.  This is really going to hurt.”  (This was the kind of tree that inspired classic kid tales that were passed down from one neighborhood kid to the next:  “Hey, did you hear about Johnny?  He was sledding down Jesse’s Hill the other day and The Tree got him!  I heard he had a thorn in his nose like an African tribesman and they had to remove another one from his skull with pliers.”)

Then, at the bottom of the hill on the far side of the ramp was a built-in momentum-stopper which consisted of a small grove of one-inch diameter sumac trees.  These trees would stop you in your tracks should you fail to apply every extremity as a brake (this is, of course, after you have successfully launched yourself from the ramp, all the while keeping a wary eye upon that sumac grove because too much time airborne meant you were definitely having some quality time with the sumac grove).

My fondest memory of Jesse’s Hill is when Jesse himself went down.  We were all watching the pro himself in action as he sat in his faithful plastic red toboggan and expertly guided his sled down the double hill to the ramp below.  He used his hands and body weight to steer it, going straight passed The Tree and on to the ramp.  Then, at the last second he lost control–or realized he was already going too fast and was taking evasive action to avoid the sumac grove, which means he lost control–and treated us to a scene that still plays out in my mind 30+ years later:

As he met the ramp, it launched his body one way and the sled another, just like a “V”.  His body went left, visible to us as a small snow-suited figure flying through the air in spread-eagle fashion, his hat and mittens cast off just like a Calvin & Hobbes cartoon, while his sled went the other way in a beautiful arch, both landing about the same time.  Once the snow settled, he just lay there, probably assessing any damage to his extremities, making sure everything is where it should be and trying to determine what went so catastrophically wrong.  We wanted to go see if he needed any help, but we were unavoidably detained due to all of us laughing so hard that we had already peed our snowsuits and had frozen tears forming on our faces (in fact, I think a couple of us had collapsed in the snow due to laughter exhaustion).  He eventually made it back up the hill, and once again, all was well in the kid-dom of sledding.

Well, friend, it looks like the fire has died down.  I appreciate you taking the time to join me on these romps through some interesting memories.  It’s getting colder out here, so I’m going  to turn in.  Meet me back in this clearing.

And bring your snowshoes….you’re going to need them.

Sledding

Since we’re walking through snow, let’s talk about that favorite kid-dom pastime of sledding.

I remember having an orange saucer sled at one time, at another time a red plastic toboggan that you steered by your body weight, and most sledding memories revolve around a wooden toboggan sled with metal runners (which I still have in the garage).  This one was loose enough in the center of the front wooden cross-piece that you could steer it by pressing your feet (or hands) left or right.

We owned about ten acres behind our house–about 6 of it field, the other 4 woods.  There were a couple of pretty decent sledding hills hidden back there.  One was along the edge of our woods and a plowed-up corn field right next to it (if you can picture looking from our backyard to the woods, the corn field would have been on the left of our property and the gravel pit to the right).  There were oak trees along this stretch of woods at the bottom of the hill.  What made this hill worth sledding down was after an ice storm.  There was plenty of open snow-covered corn field to steer the metal toboggan down the hill, swinging the sled wide to the right so that I was headed straight for the ice-covered oak leaves that still hung heavy on the oak branches along the edge of the woods.  I’d crash through the leaves at what felt like 30 mph (couldn’t have been more than 29 though) and it sounded just like shattering glass!  That was saweet!

The other hill hidden in the woods was tricky.  If you didn’t steer the metal sled right, you were kissing a tree trunk.  But that’s what a kid lives for, right?  I remember one time suddenly finding myself off the sledding trail, sticking my foot out to try to stop my momentum and finding that I planted my foot against a small tree trunk.  Oh, I stopped alright, but I found that I was suddenly listening to what my kneecap was saying, since it was right up by my ear.  I walked away from that with nary a pulled groin muscle (but did have the sudden ability to have twice the distance covered in my stride on one side more than the other).

Then there was a small hill to the left of that big barn that was right next door to our house (the one that eventually had horses boarded there that you heard about already….ahem).  There was an electrified barbed-wire fence that surrounded the paddock/pasture area behind the barn.  The front corner of that paddock area, just inside the fence, almost always had standing water–disgusting when you think about it, but that also meant that it froze over every winter.  Well, my brother and I found that if we took a shovel and cleared off a five-foot wide path on the ice inside the fence, there was a good 25 yards of it just begging to see a sled.  So, with our trusty metal toboggan, we would sled down the hill, at the last second dropping ourselves onto our backs like an Olympic bobsled runner to sled under the electrified barbed wire (which would zing passed our faces a safe 6 inches–or maybe a safe 4 inches–it was somewhere in that “safe zone”), out onto the ice and coast for miles and miles!

Not to cut this short, but if you look over your left shoulder, you’ll notice that the sun will be setting soon.  There is a nice clearing just ahead that I’m going to set my tent in.  Meet me there in a bit and I’ll have a fire going with some coffee to warm you up.  Then we’ll continue this conversation….

By the way, here is the solution to my 5th grade two-minute mystery (remember, it’s the original unabridged version):

Obviously she couldn’t see the man get into his car.  The fog was too thick!  She let him look into her house and he found the dog in the back yard.

Mysteries

I have always loved mysteries.

I can remember there being quite a few mystery-type series that got me going on this path so long ago.  As with just about any young boy from the late 70’s and early 80’s, a staple mystery starter was The Hardy Boys (and a few Nancy Drew thrown in).  Do you remember the “Choose Your Own Adventure” series?  I didn’t get into a whole lot of those, but the first (and favorite) was “The Mystery Of Chimney Rock”.  How about “Alfred Hitchcock’s The Three Investigators”?  I have found very few who have read that one.

This has progressed over the years into a love for the Sherlock Holmes stories.  The movies that have Robert Downey Jr. are good entertainment, but obviously don’t follow the actual stories.  If you want to see what is arguably the best rendition of the 221B Baker Street stories, you must watch  the Sherlock Holmes series that Granada (an English T.V. production company) put out over a ten-year span (1984-1994) that stars Jeremy Brett as the best Sherlock Holmes ever portrayed.

But I would have to say that what truly started my love of mysteries was a series that I found somewhere around 2nd/3rd grade called “Two-Minute Mysteries”.  These are short mysteries with the solution upside down at the end of each one.  I absolutely loved these (and still do)!  In fact, shortly after my wife and I met, we discovered that we both found the first book of this series (there’s three of them) around the same young age–and that we both still had our own copy of it!   I loved these stories so much that I modeled a mystery of my own after this “Two-Minute Mystery” format back in 5th grade for an assignment we had to do.

So, compadre, walk in my hiking boots for two minutes and enjoy, word-for-word, my original 5th grade two-minute mystery!  The wording and punctuation are that of a 5th grader, so keep that in mind.  I’ll let you in on the solution next time we meet up.  And one more thing….if you think this might be a waste of time, you should know that I stumped the whole class–including the teacher:

The Case Of The Missing Dog

It was one of those nights with a very heavy fog.  Suddenly their came a scream,  “My dog’s been stolen!” screamed Mrs. Hernandez.  A policeman came up to her.  “What’s the matter?”  “My dog’s been stolen!” she said.

“I went down to feed my dog and discovered he was missing.  I went out the front door just to see a man, with my dog, turn the corner and get into a car.”

“A very good alibi, Mrs. Hernandez.  But not good enough!”

The Gravel Pit Fire

I trust you wore your thermal socks, ’cause it’s cold out here!  We’re really going to talk about some hot stuff today then….

I have had a love of firetrucks since I was a kid.  I can remember sitting at the kitchen table in my Gramma & Grampa’s house playing cards with the family.  They lived a block off the main four corners of Bath.  (This town was so small that it didn’t even have a traffic light at the busiest part of town).  Suddenly we’d hear sirens.  I’d whip my head around to look out the big picture window in the family room and see the flashing lights of a volunteer fireman’s vehicle whizz by.  Then everyone would see me whizz by in a flurry of pumping feet, hands and cards flying everywhere as I raced out the front door to the edge of the yard to watch some real pros in action.

Bath had one of the best full-time volunteer fire departments in the state at the time–at one point, they were even known to have the fastest response time in the county.  And it just so happened that the fire department was a mere mile up the road from our house!  Our road cut between the two main roads of Bath Township like an “H”, so sometimes the fire department used our road as a shortcut of sorts to get to the other side of the township.  Which meant that quite often I was met with big red firetrucks flying down our road with lights and siren that could be heard a mile away…so all I had to do was bring the popcorn, a drink and a chair out onto the front stoop of the house to see it all pass right in front of me.

Remember that gravel pit I mentioned that Major and Babe would frequent?  It was right next door to our property with a handful of abandoned buildings at the front end of it.  One of those buildings was a huge old barn that sat about 50 yards from the road.  One Sunday afternoon in August, we sat in our living room watching T.V.  All of a sudden, we heard sirens and they were getting louder.  This only meant one thing:  HERE COME FIRETRUCKS!!  So, like the kids at the beginning of “A Christmas Story” when they’re looking at all the new toys in the huge glass storefront, I glued my face to the big front picture window in our livingroom and waited for the show to begin.

They went by our house all right….three or four or maybe even five different firetrucks and the like.  And then the sirens stopped.  “Why are the sirens stopping?”, I asked myself.  “They usually fade in the distance as the trucks move on down the road.  This can only mean one thing:  something is happening very close and I want to know what!”  So I flew out the door and ran down to the end of the driveway.  What I saw almost made me pee my pants:  all the firetrucks were along the side of the road right in front of the gravel pit….and smoke was billowing over the treetops of our side yard from something burning in the front where all the old buildings were!

I ran back in, told everyone what was happening, and then proceeded to sprint down the road to where all of the action was.  It was the big barn and it was absolutely engulfed in flames!  In fact, the heat was so intense from it that we had to stand behind a firetruck that was parked on the far side of the road and peek around the truck to catch ten-second glimpses of everything that was happening.  (Remember, the barn sat a good 50 yards from the road, so add to that the 20-30 feet further that we were standing from the fire and you’ll get a good idea of the size of this blaze).

We eventually made it back to the house after all the excitement died down.  Apparently, a farming neighbor that was just down from us had permission to store his hay in the old barn.  But he stored some wet hay in it, which meant that it was just a matter of time before spontaneous combustion occurred.

The fire department basically treated the barn fire as a “controlled burn”, which means that all they could really do is control how the barn burned to the ground.  This meant that for the next four days everything in, on and around us smelled like smoke–even with the windows shut.  For a while there, it almost seemed pointless to even do laundry or take a shower.  It got a little better each day–but then Friday hit.

The pile of ash where the barn used to be was still smoldering when Friday came.  Add to that the fact that the wind kicked up and you can see what’s coming next.  My brother was the first to get home and realized right away that the smell of smoke had gotten stronger.  He walked over to the front of the gravel pit only to see that a grass fire had started and was working its way towards our property!  Just as he was seeing this, a car was driving by.  He flagged it down and said, “Hey, you think you could….”, and the guy driving the car finished his sentence for him by saying, “….Yeah, I’m on it!”.  He sped up the road towards the fire department and the ever faithful Bath Township Fire Department came once again to the Cooley household’s rescue.

Everything returned to normal after that–even the smell of our clothes. But that wonderful memory is forever etched into my brain!  Even the recollection that with a fire that size, no one thought to bring any marshmallows.

The Runaway Horse

It’s cold out here today!  I see you’ve got an extra layer on.  Good idea.  Well, let’s talk of warmer things.

That house we moved into where Major left his “mark” was located in the country, about a mile outside of a small town called Bath.  (If you get the chance, Bath has an intriguing background that is well worth checking into.  It is the location of the first recorded school disaster in U.S. history, and it also has the unique claim to hosting “bathtub races” down the Main Street hill in the downtown area every August.)

It was an old house that we lived in with some interesting history attached to it, not the least being that the garden area had once been a Native Indian burial ground.  There was an old granary right next to the house with a huge barn that was just as old.  The previous owners of our home made the granary into a nice living space and eventually sold it to some people who started to board horses in the old barn.  One of the horses that was boarded there belonged to a woman who let me ride it for a 4H class that I thought would be fun to be a part of.  This horse was a good 15 years old at the time, with a bowed back from a previous heavy owner and a very stubborn personality, which means that there was no changing its ways for a teenage boy who wasn’t all that knowledgeable about working with horses.

We lived on a dirt road that had an old railroad bed 1/4 mile down the road.  Sometimes I’d go down the railroad bed and take the horse out onto a highway that was going in behind our property.  That was an amazing experience!  To get out on that wide open area and let a horse take off in a full gallop underneath you down the dirt shoulder of a completely empty highway was exhilarating.  What made it even more so was the advice from the 4H teacher to not have my feet in the stirrups.  Apparently you become less dependent on the stirrups and more dependent on actually riding the horse, which also means that you have no control over your butt slamming into the saddle as you’re galloping along.  This led to this being a much less invigorating experience.  I didn’t do that but maybe twice.

So one summer evening, I decided it was time to get this horse out for a ride and work with it on some things.  I rode it down the road just passed that old railroad bed and was working on making the horse stand still until I used the reins to “tell” it to move.  Being the ever faithful and obedient student, my feet were out of the stirrups as I was doing this.  To say this horse was stubborn is an understatement.  I would pull up on those reins–the sign the horse is supposed to recognize as meaning “stop moving and stay still” (he knew this, old and cranky as he was)–and just as I would think he’s obeying me, he would take a small, teeny step forward.   He was definitely playing reindeer games.  So I tried it again….and again…..and again….until we had worked ourselves too close to a steep hill in the road.  This meant that we were going to turn around and go back to our starting point to do this again until he obeyed me.  Which also meant that we were going to be turning back toward the comforts of home.

Have I mentioned that this horse was stubborn?  He knew where “home” was and was always intent on getting there (I think he loved to eat and he loved the ladies–two very significant things in a male horse’s life).  So, when he felt even the hint of the rein pressure on his neck to turn that direction, he went from 0 to 60 faster than any race car you’ve heard of.  He covered the 1/4 mile distance from home in what would have won any horse race, all the while slamming my butt into the saddle like his own version of spanking me for daring to even think of making him do anything he didn’t feel like doing.  Keep in mind that my feet were out of the stirrups this whole time (thanks again, 4H teacher), which gave me the feeling of Disney’s Ichabod Crane being chased down the road by the Headless Horseman, knees bouncing up by my ears as my butt came down into the saddle, white-knuckling the saddle horn all the way back to the barn.

It just so happened that instead of choosing any other way to get up the driveway to the pasture gate on the far side of the barn, this horse decided it was a much better plan to take me up the driveway between a pickup truck and a tree.  There was just enough space between the truck and the tree for us to pass, with a tree branch that stuck straight out about where my throat would be, effectively de-saddling me at chin level, which was undoubtedly part of this horse’s nefarious plan.  It was just like in the movies:  you see the man on the horse, an expression of shock at  the realization of what is coming his way, with just enough time to duck down as he and his horse break the sound barrier as they pass under the tree branch, mere inches from the truck and the tree trunk.

This is the part that truly amazes me!   That horse remained at a full gallop right up to the last 10 feet of grass before we reached the pasture fence.  Within that 10 feet, he went from a full gallop to a complete stand-still.  The laws of inertia dictate that, especially with my feet out of the stirrups, I should have remained at galloping speed as I sailed through the air over the fence and into the paddock.  But I didn’t!  When he stopped the way he did, I remember feeling a pressure on my shoulders, keeping me pinned down in the saddle until he came to a stop.  You may think differently, but I know the guardian angel that the Bible tells me I have as a follower of Jesus was keeping me in that saddle!

Know what I did next?  You’d be proud of me.  After I started breathing again and checked my pants for any signs of staining, I turned that horse around and took him back out onto the road to finish what I had started. We didn’t go very far, but just enough to make him do what he was supposed to do (I suppose he finally figured that this quiet teenage boy who didn’t know much about horses wasn’t going to be the push-over he was thinking I was).  I don’t remember if I rode after that, but that was an experience that I will never forget!

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!

A Rabbit Trail

It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?  We’ve gotten some snow since we last walked.  Take a look over there to the right.  See those prints in the snow?  They’re rabbit tracks and they look pretty fresh!  I’m sure this rabbit trail will come back out onto the main trail on up ahead of us.  C’mon…..

Because it’s just that time of year, and this is the Sunday before Christmas, I thought we’d talk about a certain Christmas song:  “Have A Holly Jolly Christmas”.

Most everyone knows this song by the voice that we’ve all heard sing it–Mr. Burl Ives.  He wasn’t the first to sing it, however.  He sang it in 1965, but the Quinto Sisters (I know, me too–who??) sang it first in 1964, the same year that it was heard in Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer–yes, sung by Burl Ives, but an official holiday recording by him wasn’t made until the following year.  The song was actually written by a man named Johnny Marks, along with the Rudolph song, for the Rudolph show itself.

So where am I going with this?  Well, there are two lines of lyrics in this song that have always seemed to jump out at me–like when something makes you do a double-take and causes you to ask yourself, “Did I hear that right?”.   Check this out:

Ho ho the mistletoe
Hung where you can see
Somebody waits for you
Kiss her once for me

“Kiss her once for me???  Ok, Johnny, why are you wanting to kiss my wife?  First, if a woman is actually waiting for me at the mistletoe, do you really think I’m going to kiss her for you?  And second, the only woman that would be waiting for me at any mistletoe would be my wife.  So, Johnny, why are you wanting to kiss my wife?  Hmmm??  You know what that makes me think?  “Them thar’s faghtin’ wards, ain’t dey?”  How many men have you ticked off with those two lines, Johnny?  I’ll bet quite a few and they’re probably thinking, “Hold it, bud.  You want me to do what for who?  That’s my woman, dude.  Oh, I’m about to go off on you!  You want summa ‘dis?  Game on!  Here Comes The Boom, Baby!  Jingle BAM!!  Didja feel that one?  Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee!  I’ll deck your halls….”

Hmmm.  Ok, that’s a bit over-the-edge.  But what if….anyway, one thing is for sure, Johnny.  You have accomplished something that, to the best of my knowledge, no one else has done:  You have forever immortalized flirting with another man’s woman….in a Christmas song.  But, in the big scheme of things, I guess that’s ok.  I suppose there’s no harm done (as far as we know).  Just find your own mistletoe, Johnny, and steer clear of my wife.

That’s really an amazing feat, isn’t it?  Want to know something equally as amazing?  I’ll bet you won’t ever be able to hear this song again without reflecting back on what you’ve just read….and finding a smile has crept across your face at the memory of it.

So, hey–HAVE A HOLLY JOLLY CHRISTMAS!!!

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