Wednesday Morning Tree-Mail

Dogs are deceptive. Sure, they look like sweet, docile little things that wag their tails when you come home, and chase after tennis balls in the park on weekends. (I’m assuming here that your experience with dogs doesn’t involve drug-sniffing or police K-9 units.) Now and again, I get a glimpse that something entirely separate from my life might be happening in the skull of the pooch sprawled out on the floor next to my computer, however.

The latest manifestation of the other life my dogs live comes in the form of what my wife and I call “letting Sadie check her tree-mail.” It starts out, innocently enough, as a morning walk through the neighborhood. We’ve been doing this ritual for years, and for the humans it’s just a nice stroll down quiet streets, checking our fellow Portlanders’ yards for any new plantings, or perhaps a house repaint or roofing job.

For Sadie, however, this event has taken on new meaning lately. As soon as we get past our gate and out onto the sidewalk, she begins to strain at the leash, veering across the street to the house facing ours. The object of her pointed curiosity is a small ornamental tree. Clearly, it’s on its last legs, and the inside seems to be hollowed out and rotten. The exterior is putting up a brave front, but there’s a narrow crack running for a couple of feet on the lower trunk that reveals a great, dark cavity inside. As soon as we get within reach of the tree, Sadie goes a little nuts. She shoves her short little snout into the crack, which fortunately is far too narrow for her to actually gain ingress, and there she stands, exhaling in great snorts and standing stock still, save for the furious wagging of her little stub of a tail. She can keep this up for minutes at a time.

Now, clearly, something is in that tree. I hope against hope that whatever it is (or was) has moved on, and that she’s only sniffing at the scent left behind by some former occupant. Every time we approach the tree though, I have flashes of a claw reaching out from its depths and grabbing her as she snorts into its dark recesses. In the last few days, the sniffing has taken on a more desperate air, and she’s begun barking at the tree, and biting at the edges of the crack. This tree must come down! She looks at me as though I’ve got an axe in my back pocket and can take care of it for her, but somehow I think the neighbors might take a dim view of this.

Grommett, our boy and her housemate, is meanwhile completely unimpressed with the tree. Whatever it is she simply must have, he couldn’t care less about it. After a few minutes of tree-mail, he’ll pull me on down the street, with her trailing behind and whining plaintively at the tree, now receding in the distance. What goes on inside their heads? I haven’t a clue.

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