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��������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������Long Shadows and Country Dogs By Tom Pare If you live up north in the winter, and I am not talking about Kentucky or Tennessee, both of which, to a Michigander, are tropical, you are going to see long shadows and a variety of dogs. You see the shadows when you are walking through or near the pine forests. They are stark gray encroachments of a snow-white, ominously quiet, pine woods. They lay out in front of the trees as if they were the resting spirits of the standing denizens, and you avoid stepping on them just as you do with graves when walking in an old cemetery. It is very quiet in the winter woods, and if you look straight up at the tops of the pines, you can see them swaying in unison, ever so softly, as if they are in some form of communication, like they were watching you and talking among themselves, and nodding appreciatively as you quietly make your way through them and around their shadows and out to the gravel road.

At odds with the quiet are the dogs, mostly big dogs, who live on the farms and properties along the gravel road. These are the native dogs who are the sentries that peer at you from their straw lined houses as you approach, and then, when you least expect it, in a burst of ferocity, charge you until they are yanked back two or three feet and upended by a chain holding them to their wooden lairs. As each dog retreats to safety, it continues its barking until the next dog, a quarter of a mile up the road picks up the call and then noisily awaits your arrival, anxious to protect whatever it is that big dogs like to protect in the north woods. This ongoing cadence of barking continues until you run out of a road or dogs. Since I am a newcomer to the area, I asked an old-timer whom I met at the Up North Diner about the shadows and the dogs, and after he was finished, I wished that I would never have asked him. His explanation follows:

Only in the north do you see them long shadows. About from November to spring, I guess. That is, if the sun even bothers to come out. It's when some thing called a solstice or an equinox doesn't let the sun come up our way. It's kept down around Florida or Cuba. Now, I'm not sure about this solstice and equinox stuff, but there is one sure way to tell why we have long shadows. All a guy has to do is walk down an old north-south country road in the winter when the snow is about three or four feet deep on the sides, and you got a stand of red pines about five hundred feet off the road to the east. Now, in front there's usually a bunch of birch or aspen or scrub oak and always a whole lot of sumac with its antlers just above the snow top, but they don't matter none because the part we're concerned with is those pine tops. Now, the problem is that the sun, you see, is trapped down there by Florida and Cuba and never can get no higher than those pine tops. Now if a guy is wearing a cap, kinda like this John Deere one of mine, and if it's turned around backward, and then if he raises his head to the point when the bill of his cap touches the back of his neck, that's as high as that sun is gonna get. And if them pines are the right height, about ninety or a hundred feet or so, that sun is only going to be able to peek between the trees, and never get right overhead. Now there is a thing called a trajectory, which is the line something takes to get wherever it is going, like a bullet, you see. And that's just what the sun does. It's behind those pine tops and it can't get over them so it trajects right through 'em and therefore the shadows are laid out in front of them trees or maybe it's behind 'em. Anyway, you have to look at it this way: if the sun was able to get right above those pines, there wouldn't be no shadow, but since the sun is trapped behind them, its trajectory pushes out the shadows a long way out in front of the tree, and that's why we call them long shadows. Now, the Ottawa and Chippewa Tribes had some of their own reasons for long shadows but they don't make much sense.

I pretended to understand and decided to forgo his explanation of the country dogs, but too late. The old-timer flipped his cap onto the table, laid his hands out in front of his coffee cup, and said: "Now, about those dogs..."


Copyright 2001 Manitou Publishing Co. & Tom Paré • All Rights Reserved.

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