Whelp, I had to say bye to Oregon yesterday. Read’s staying one more week. I got in to Boston this morning after a long night of travel on a delayed red-eye flight. All that sleep deprivation, followed by rides on a bus, then the subway, then another bus, had me feeling nauseous. Like “start scoping the immediate area for a trashcan just in case” nauseous. But when the apartment door opened, there was Samson jumping and wagging. Not many greetings can compare to a happy dog. A Samson-lunch-nap trifecta cured me.
August marks the 7th anniversary of this Katie-Samson partnership. I’ve been meaning to type out the story of our meeting, and today was the lazy kind of recovery day for making that happen. Previously this story has existed only as oral history, and if you’re a non-blog friend you probably know it, but for all others, I offer The Genesis of Samson.
I spent the summer of 2004 as the live-in Art Lady (official title…just ask someone from camp) of Oty’Okwa. The camp introduced city kids from Columbus to the wilds of Hocking Hills State Park in south central Ohio for 7-10 days at a time. The job was 20% art education, 30% mentoring, and 50% disaster cleanup. It was exhausting and crazy and easily one of my favorite jobs ever.
Sometime after we’d started painting a spectacular 80 ft. camp mural, but before I got a raging case of conjunctivitis, the youngest cabin announced there was a Rottweiler puppy living in the forest. I was intrigued. Really? A dog? What’s it look like? Their responses – like a Rottweiler! - left me unconvinced. Maybe they’d encountered a loose dog from the state campground, or maybe they were bonding over the fun of telling all the staff a tall tale.
Days later they brought me the sorriest looking dog on a rope. Oh god he was ugly; bloated with weight, no fur along his back. His tail was tucked, his head down. He winced when anyone raised their voice or raised an object.
“We caught him with hot dogs, Miss Katie!”
“That is one horrible looking dog. And it’s no Rottweiler puppy, I can guarantee you that.”
“Nu-uh. It’s a Rottweiler! He’s going to get HUGE. Can you watch him?”
Then they went on a hike and left me standing there holding the rope. I like dogs, but this dog was pitiful. He was skittish and meek, fat but malnourished. His body was all out of proportion, which would be forgivable if he had a cool personality…but he seemed very dull. He dutifully followed me into the art room and stared from the corner while I set up the day’s projects. He sat, then laid down, then fell asleep. That night I walked him to my cabin and patted a bottom bunk. He hopped up and slept all through the night curled into a little fox ball. The dog was pitiful, but he was housetrained. I soon realized that there was no point to the rope leash since everywhere I went the dog was right behind.
I don’t remember the how or why, but the kids started calling him Samson.
That week the camp janitor, Scotty, provided some backstory: Sam and a little white dog had been at camp since fall. Whether runaways or cast-offs, the dogs spent the winter gorging on dumpsters and sleeping off their trash hangovers in the camp bathrooms. More than once Scotty found the pair passed out in pools of their own vomit and had to chase them back into the cold. The white dog was hit by a car in the spring, and ever since Sam had been wandering the woods by himself. Scotty had seen Sam fighting raccoons for trash outside the dumpsters.
Hmm…a lonely, depressed, trash-addicted raccoon fighter?? Yeah, I was starting to like this dog.
Samson worked to reverse his reputation as a wayward drifter. Counselors told me he was tagging along on overnight hikes and protecting the little campers from raccoons. When he wasn’t hiking, he slept under my table in the art room or waited outside the mess hall for meals to end (and the inevitable handouts that followed). When I was ready for bed I’d just stand in the middle of the field and whistle. Out of the dark corners of camp a little black form came running, and together we walked to our cabin.
One afternoon in late summer I was cleaning the artroom when across the field I spotted a familiar portly shape. Scotty’s truck was parked out front of the mess hall, and Samson was approaching it with purpose. What was he doing? I watched him sniff the air. He looked left, then right, then strode up to the back tire of Scotty’s truck and watered the entire hubcap. One wheel wasn’t enough though…no, not for all those cold winter days getting kicked out of the heated buildings. He trotted a few feet and peed all over the front tire too. An entire state park to pee in and Sam randomly chooses Scotty’s back AND front tires? I don’t think so. I’d just witnessed canine revenge, and I loved this dog for it.
On a two-day break between camp sessions I took Sam into the city for a vet visit. My coworkers tried to prep me for what they thought would be bad news: that dog is old, he’s sick, he’s old AND sick, etc. But after a thorough check-up the vet said that Sam was only 4 or 5 years old. “He’s just had a terrible life is all.” I was told that the nicks on his ear, the ones I’d assumed were from fighting raccoons, were actually from frostbite. Poor Sam…no wonder he hates being cold. He’s now 11 going on 12. Hopefully he’s got a few more years of adventure in him.