The White Oak was as spacious a tree as anyone could hope to be a prisoner in. The branch Steven stood upon was twelve feet above the ground, but the tree itself was one-hundred-twenty feet tall. Its crown of glossy green leaves provided a lot of shade. The thick trunk was white and brown, and its numerous strong branches spread as if offering to embrace. However large the tree; it was an island in a sea of yellow, brown, and green grass. Steven estimated he could not reach the cover of the woods by outrunning the collie, Labrador, and German Shepherd who treed him in the first place. He certainly could not fight them. His only choice appeared to be to wait for them to become bored and leave.
“Hey, how did you do that?” asked the collie. Steven was not expecting a question. Speechless, he looked down at the dog. It continued, “I can’t do that. Can you guys do that?”
“Do what?” asked the Labrador.
“He clearly means to ask us if we can climb trees,” said the German Shepherd.
“He could have meant stand balanced on a branch,” said the Labrador.
“We could all stand and balance on a branch if it were on the ground, but climbing a tree is something we’ve never done,” said the German Shepherd.
“Yes, I meant climb the tree,” said the collie. “How did you do that? I don’t know any dogs that can climb trees.”
“The cat can climb trees,” said the Labrador.
“His point is that dogs, at least any known to us, cannot climb trees,” said the German Shepherd.
“That little dog can,” said the Labrador.
“You’re beginning to catch up,” said the German Shepherd.
“I want to know how he did that,” said the collie.
“Probably fear,” said the German Shepherd. “Have you seen this dog run from a cardboard box? You’d think he’d seen Death in it.”
“You don’t know what’s in every box,” said the Labrador.
“Little dog, I want you to climb that tree over there,” said the collie. He gestured toward a loblolly pine; a very tall tree with a medium sized trunk and gray bark. Steven inspected it. Climbing it presented him with two challenges. The first was that the bark looked as if it could come off when he dug his claws into it. The second was that the nearest branch was more than halfway up the tree: sixty-five feet up. There was one potential advantage: the tree might have lacked branches because there might be trees close enough to give it competition. If they were close enough, it could be a way to escape.
“You may accept the challenge,” said the German Shepherd, “or we can wait for the eagles to return.” Steven searched the branches above him. He saw an exceptionally large nest that looked like someone dropped a pile of sticks on the highest branches. He was familiar with nests, eggs, and birds because the latter two were a part of his diet. By the look of the nest, it belonged to a very large bird. Even small birds could be fierce. An eagle would not ignore a gray fox near its nest.
Steven climbed down backwards with his tail leading the way down. He watched the dogs closely. He made sure to dig his claws into the bark of the White Oak with each step. He was ready to climb back up if they gave any sign they were going to bite him.
The dogs watched in awe as Steven climbed down. They visualized themselves walking up and down the tree, but they could not imagine being able to stop along the way or move backward to get down. They watched him paused on the trunk like a squirrel. He looked in their general direction, and they knew he was afraid. Seeing how his tension slowed him down, the dogs stepped back and gave him more room. He continued to descend slowly. When he reached the ground; he turned around with his head bowed, his ears back and flat, and his tail between his legs.
“You can’t outrun me, little dog,” said the collie. “Just show us how you climb a tree.”
Steven moved slowly toward the loblolly pine as the three dogs escorted him. When he reached the bottom of the tree, he put a little tension in his hind legs and then leapt onto the trunk. He smelled the pine leave the bark as his hooked claws dug in. He felt strong when he began to climb. He climbed fifteen feet and began to feel his muscles pumped. When he reached thirty feet up, he paused until he felt secure about his grip. At forty five feet, he was as high as he had ever climbed before. He saw a branch above him where he could rest. It was another fifteen feet up. He wanted to finish climbing, but could not release his claws from the bark. His muscles trembled. He looked down at the dogs on the ground. His grip on the bark tightened, and his limbs shook noticeably.
“Why are you stopping?” shouted the collie.
“At least make it to the first branch!” shouted the Labrador. Steven was frozen. He felt his muscles weakening. They betrayed him. He felt his claws loosening as some of the weaker muscles failed. Falling became a real possibility in his mind. Then, the German Shepherd barked loudly and ferociously. It frightened him so much, he scrambled the remaining fifteen feet to the safety of the branch. He stood upon it looking down at the ground far below. He panted. His heart pounded.
“Did you see that?” shouted the collie. “Did you see that little dog climb all the way up that tree?”
“I’ve never seen a dog do that,” said the Labrador. “He looks tiny up there.”
“It makes me wonder if he is a dog after all,” said the German Shepherd.
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