The Season for Bringing the Outside In

Jack Savage | December 8, 2012
Dog and Christmas Tree

As those who know me would eagerly agree, my dog is way smarter than me. Even those who know don’t know my dog would wager on it. Even my dog would agree, although as long as I keep punching his free ticket on the gravy train, he doesn’t judge.

My dog has learned the difference between outside and inside. He knows the kinds of things that are to be done outside only, and does them outside. He knows that inside is cozy and warm this time of year, and especially comfortable when resting upside-down on the sofa. My dog knows that ‘sofa’ is a word for ‘where a dog sleeps’ (and on rare occasion where the dog might let the so-called ‘master’ sit for a spell).

My dog also knows that sofas stay inside, and that things like trees and squirrels stay outside. He is responsible for making sure that certain outside things, especially squirrels but also skunks and raccoons and possums and the like, stay outside where they belong. He takes this duty very seriously, and is quick to sound the alarm if a designated outsider intrudes.

He allows me the responsibility for making sure that slower moving things like large rocks or trees stay outside. When I fail—such as when I stack firewood on the porch—he steps in and starts carrying it piece by piece back to the woods where it belongs. He likes this game.

But this time of year it confuses my dog greatly when I cut down a Balsam fir tree and haul it inside. He is quite excited by this, as the varied fragrances of outside are now filling the inside of the house.

This is of great concern to my dog, since thanks to his 12,000-times-better nose he knows that many outside things have been done on and near the tree when it was outside. He is darn sure that those outside things he can sniff require a response on his part, and that failure to do so will cause chaos to reign. I can’t be sure, since I’m not smart enough to fully understand “dog”, but I gather that such failure will most assuredly result in squirrels lounging on the sofa, which is unacceptable.

I suspect that for him it is a little bit like telling an eight-year-old that they must share their bedroom with Great Aunt Millie for the holidays. The kid can’t do much about it, but it is unsettling and confusing and gives rise to questions about what it all means for the future.

I try to explain to my dog that although this outside-belonging tree is now inside, it does not mean that a dog should do outside things on the now-inside tree. Apparently he does not agree.

I try to explain that two-legged folk have been dragging evergreens of one kind or another inside since at least Roman times, when the winter solstice celebration of Saturnalia included decorating houses with holly and other evergreens. I explain how throughout the evolution of our spiritual affiliations we have embraced the symbolism of the evergreen as representing eternal life; or failing that, at least a sign of robust commerce.

I do my best to help my dog understand that Christmas trees help landowners keep their tree farms as open space, providing annual income. At the Forest Society’s Rocks Estate in Bethlehem, thousands of folks enjoy the annual ritual of cutting their own tree, along with a horse-drawn wagon ride, hot chocolate and “Green” Santa.

I try to explain to my dog that to many people, the smell of fresh balsam inside the house triggers warm emotional memories of holidays gone by. Of families—including dogs—coming together and celebrating the season.

One look tells me that he is unconvinced. Also that he wants a biscuit.

I try to explain to my wife why I am saying all these things to my dog. She looks at me, and then at the dog. I can tell that they silently concur; not only is my dog way smarter than me, but I’m not all that more clever than the tree.

I worry that they might put me outside in order to restore balance.

Jack Savage is the editor of Forest Notes, the magazine of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests and can be reached at To find out how you and your dog can go cut your own Christmas Tree at the Rocks, visit