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Have you ever fallen in love with a tree?

Have you ever fallen in love with a tree? I mean felt real affection for one? Before I saw Mr. Pine, I would have shrugged and said sure. In general, I care about all trees. On several occasions, I’ve even been called a tree hugger. But after I met Mr. Pine, I realized I’ve never really been in love with one before he came into my life.

I met him fifteen years ago on the first day we moved to Robertson County, Tennessee. It was love at first sight. Mr. Pine was a majestic spruce, 70-feet tall, 20-feet wide. He lived five yards from our front door. In his prime, when dark green needles and pinecones filled his limbs, he could have modeled Christmas swag in Rockefeller Center or on the White House lawn.

During our first year in the country, my mother-in-law, a real estate agent, had warned we should cut him down because one day he’d crash through our roof. She still tells the story of how horrified we had acted at her suggestion. We had naively answered that Mr. Pine was here long before we arrived, and he would be here long after we left.

Over the years, my feelings for Mr. Pine grew until they reached relationship status, the kind validated with highs and lows. It wasn’t always an easy one. For one thing, he was a prankster who dropped pinecones like water bombs, as though trying to hit us. He could also be a slob. He shed needles all over the deck, walkway, and front porch. The needles got caught in the dogs’ fur or wind, and they spread all over the house. Sometimes, they ended up in our bed.

But his unconditional friendship made up for all his flaws a hundred times over. He was a loyal neighbor who stood his ground through snow, ice, wind, and some wicked southern thunderstorms. He provided privacy for naked sunbathing, shade when we got too hot. Without fail, every single day, he stretched his limbs outside our picture window, coloring every morning in his deep green hue.

Mr. Pine also meant a lot to our neighbors. Goldfinches, cardinals, bluebirds, robins, wrens, and hummingbirds used him as a stop between flights. Countless squirrels and chipmunks found refuge in his branches from our posse of black cats. Once, we had even found a chicken hiding between low-hanging limbs. For fifteen years, he gave more than he ever wanted or needed to everybody he met.

Then, last summer I noticed Mr. Pine’s needles were thinning. I told myself it was the brutal heat. Who could possibly thrive when the heat index topped 100 degrees with 90-percent humidity? Fall came, then winter and still nothing bloomed. By the first week of March, some of his branches were completely bare. I couldn’t deny it any longer. Something was wrong with Mr. Pine.

The tree doctor was muscular, in his thirties, wore a crew cut and sleeveless shirt. Military tattoos covered his biceps and forearms. One read omertà in big black letters. Omertà is Italian slang for a code of silence and loyalty. (I only know this because of my obsession with the Sopranos.) I’m assuming the tree doctor’s tattoo had something to do with his military background because he didn’t sound like a Mafioso. He sounded like a country boy. The first thing he said was, “That thing ain’t nothing but a wind sail.”

I felt like someone had insulted one of our dogs. That thing? A wind sail?! I explained we loved that tree, and if we could do anything to save him, we would.

The tree doctor cocked his head and chuckled, probably thinking, “great, one of those damn tree huggers.” He repeated my mother-in-law’s warning from over a decade ago. If Mr. Pine didn’t come down, he’d crush our roof. Only now, Mr. Pine was sick. He was rotting from the inside out. It was just a matter of time.

I wasn’t at home when they cut him down. I couldn’t watch. Instead, I drove to a gas station parking lot, listened to a podcast about Dolly Parton, and cried. I told myself I was crying because Dolly’s story is so moving, but I knew it was because of Mr. Pine.

Mr. Pine has been gone for twenty-four hours. A stump is all that remains, and its sharp, clean evergreen scent is so strong it fills the living room.  Now, the view outside our picture window is completely unfamiliar and not nearly as beautiful. I’m going to miss him for a long, long time. Mr. Pine taught me what it means to be in love with a tree.

Dawn Drama: Update 4

Neighborhood drama thwarted our efforts to catch Dawn this week. When we first met Dawn, a feral, two-year-old, fifty-pound mutt, she had been residing behind Bernice’s house on Smith Street. Bernice was the woman fishing on the Springfield Greenway that had first approached me about the feral dog and her newborn litter of pups living in a bramble patch in her backyard.

Unfortunately, over the last several weeks, Dawn has been spending less and less time around Bernice’s house, slowly moving down Smith Street. Right now, she mostly stays at Martha’s house, another run-down clapboard rental house in the ghetto.

Three months ago, I’d met Martha a few times when we were hanging out on Bernice’s porch – while we tried to sedate and catch Dawn. Martha is a nosey, stubborn, aging woman that hoards a whole trove of old wives’ tales that she pulls out and proclaims, like she’s Moses reading the commandments.

During the first week we met the Magic 8, Martha had advised Bernice to kick ICHBA off her property and sell the Magic 8 for $50.00 a piece. She also told Bernice that if we took the M8 before they were six weeks, then they would die and Dawn would disappear.

Needless to say, last week, when we tried to hatch a plan to catch Dawn, Martha made it very clear that we were not allowed in her yard. And Bernice deflected, letting Martha have the final say.

This is a HUGE defeat for ICHBA, but more importantly for Dawn. Donna, ICHBA’s head honcho, called Bernice and explained that we had rescued and re-homed the pups on the condition that we could catch Dawn and have her spayed.

Hopefully, Bernice will be able to talk some sense into Martha, the neighborhood bully, but I doubt it.

There is nothing more frustrating than when human drama a.k.a. bullshit gets in the way of helping animals. I’ll keep you updated.

Kenny’s Story: When Dogs Scream

M8 were born(Dawn had the M8 in a bramble patch. ICHBA covered it with a tarp. We also built a fence behind it.)

Dawn(Dawn)

While searching for Dawn in one of the seediest sections of Springfield, I ran across a middle-aged gentleman called Kenny. He was eating a can of Beanie-Weenies under the carport of his church-sponsored halfway house. I asked if he’d seen a black dog with milk-bloated boobs that hung almost to her paws.

“Do y’all mean Buckwheat?” he answered.

Kenny and I talked about Buckwheat a.k.a Dawn for almost thirty minutes. Kenny stood well over six feet, had light brown, sun-streaked hair and sunburned cheeks. He sat on a lawnmower, gas can chained to the railing. He said Dawn grew up at the old bus terminal with a pack of dogs. She loved fried chicken and napping in drainage pipes.

Kenny had also known her mother “Heinz” and a sister he called “Biscuit.” With a thick southern accent, the kind where two syllables turn into three, Kenny explained how last year he bought 100 pounds of Dog Chow a month to feed eight strays. He proudly described how they had lined up “military-style” and patiently waited for him to put out a few bowls of grub.

I asked Kenny if he ever touched Dawn. He paused, swished the flies away from his Beanie-Weenies. Then he looked me straight in the eye, as though sizing me up, as though wondering if I could handle what happened to animals in his neighborhood.

“No, but she been abused real bad,” he said.

“By one of your neighbor’s?” I asked.

“By the Police Department.”

According to Kenny, last summer a pack ran between Josephine and Smith Street. Springfield Animal Control tried capturing them, failed, and called the police department. The officers showed up with shotguns and live chickens. They set the birds loose in a field and opened fire when the dogs chased them. It took a week. Sometimes they had to shoot the mutts two and three times, but eventually the police killed all of them except for one. Dawn was the only animal who survived the massacre.

Kenny said he heard the dogs’ screams long after the shooting stopped.

***

A month later, I walked into the Springfield Police Department hoping Kenny had misconstrued what happened, hoping the good guys really were good. Kenny’s story had been haunting me like the dogs’ screams haunted him. It finally got to point where I had to verify it or disregard it. I found it hard to believe such cruelty existed, let alone that it was legal. Looking back, I realize the pitfall for many activists is our eternal optimism, like hope is programmed into our DNA. No matter how many times I see or hear horrific animal abuse stories, I keep wanting the next time to be different.

Unfortunately, I realized Kenny was telling the truth as soon as I shook hands with Lieutenant Marner. He didn’t mince words. The lieutenant said animal control had exhausted every resource to seize that pack. He explained the animals were “vicious” and “harming property,” so the police “set up a situation” and “destroyed” them. He made it very clear this sort of extermination happened before and that it is legal in Robertson County, TN.

Before I left, he said the S.P.D. ordered a net gun that would help them capture feral dogs in a more humane way in the future. He also agreed to help us catch Dawn when the net arrived at the station.

***

Over the next couple of months, ICHBA reached out to the police department numerous times. They never returned our calls.

M8 pre Farnival(Dawn’s litter)