A close encounter with a park ranger and a dog

I asked Yvonne if she had any ideas for a column for this week. She said she thought it was about time I wrote a true story for a change ““ “Not one of those cockamamie yarns about using a backpack to save yourself from a critter.”

I reminded her (as if I should have to after 44 years together) that writing true stories does not come easy for me, but I’d give it a try, if she could suggest a true story to write about.

“Sure, why don’t you write about a true close encounter, like the time we were stopped by that park ranger at Acadia National Park?” she said.

In the interest of wanting to stay together long enough to celebrate our 45th anniversary this summer, I told her I would give it a try.

It was the spring of 1974. Yvonne and I had decided to take a road trip to New England. This was BK (Before Kids), so it was easy to just pick up and go, and in those days we could still travel light and cheap. So we packed a suitcase, threw our sleeping bags and tent in the backseat of our “˜69 Mustang, and headed east, with Acadia National Park as our ultimate destination.

Yvonne’s brother lived near Manchester, New Hampshire at the time so we stopped at his home to visit for a few days. Jim had an abundance of fir and pine trees on his property, so before leaving we decided to dig up three small white pines to take home for our yard. We selected three nice trees, each about two feet tall, and placed them in large garbage bags in the backseat of the Mustang.

When we arrived in Acadia we placed the trees behind our tent for safekeeping, while we spent the next couple of days hiking and exploring the beauty of the park. When it was time to head home, we packed our gear and returned the trees to the backseat.

I had scarcely pulled out of the campgrounds when I saw red lights flashing in the rearview mirror. I could see a scowl on the ranger’s face as he peered in the rear window. It was obvious he had spotted the trees and had already judged and found us guilty of stealing them.

I rolled my window down, but before I could say a word, in an accusatory voice he asked, “Where did you get those trees? Do you know it’s against the law to take trees from a national park?”

I knew I had done nothing wrong, but I was so scared I could hardly speak. Finally, in a quivering voice I started stammering out an explanation. The ranger looked like he was ready to pull his gun and handcuffs, when Yvonne gently touched my arm and said, “George, let’s show him the picture in your backpack.” She reached to the floor in front of her and pulled a picture out of the backpack. Then, leaning in front of me she reached over and handed the picture to the ranger, and in a soft calm voice said, “Officer, this is a picture of George and my brother digging the trees in my brother’s yard.”

Her long blond hair glistened, and she flashed big smile at the ranger as she handed the Polaroid picture to him. After all these years I don’t believe there has ever been a time when I have loved and appreciated my wife more than I did at that moment. The ranger studied the picture for a minute and then smiled warmly at Yvonne as he handed the picture back to her ““Â the two of them seeming to make a lingering connection, as though I wasn’t even there.

“Okay”, he said, looking into Yvonne’s eyes, “You can go, and have a safe trip home.”

Needless to say I was relieved. But, unfortunately, this story does not end there. That same spring we had adopted our “second child,” a male Saint Bernard puppy that we named Woodstock. We named him after the little bird in the Peanuts comic strip because our “first child,” a long-haired Daschund, was named Snoopy. As you can imagine, they were quite a pair.

We arrived home safely from Acadia and planted our precious trees. Summer soon turned to fall and fall to winter. We were pleased that our little trees had survived the heat and humidity of a Cincinnati summer, and now they were clothed in snowy winter coats. But when we arrived home from work one evening, in the glow of the headlights we could see a big clump of some kind in the driveway in front of us. As I stopped the car to investigate, Woodstock came bounding across the yard, grabbed the clump in his mouth and flung it in the air like he wanted to play. At the clump hit the ground, Yvonne exclaimed, “Oh my goodness, it’s one of the pine trees.” On closer inspection we discovered that Woodstock had pulled up not one, but all three of our beautiful pine trees. Well, they used to be beautiful, but now they were little more than ragged stems with scarcely a needle left on them. The trees had experienced their own close encounter with a critter named Woodstock, and had not fared nearly as well as we had with the park ranger.

Well folks, I’ve done my best to tell the truth in sharing this story with you, hopefully enough so that I’ll still be around for our 45th anniversary this summer.