The Cap’n finished tamping his pipe, lit it, and then tersely commented- “They’re just Summer Complaints.” My wife, her mother, and Cap’n’s brother nodded in agreement. I kept quiet. Back in the old days, Summer Complaints were some of the nastier infectious diseases that came primarily in warmer weather. These days, it was an intentionally derogatory name for typecasting summer people “They’ll be gone Labor Day.” This last said between clenched jaws as he bit into his pipe stem. The Cap’n rarely showed any outward signs of upset or anger, and clenching his jaw indicated near rage. His standard was a calm exterior that hid any anger inside.
The cause was rapidly retreating southwards along Center Road towards the Cape. The reason? An argument between the Cap’n and the Bensons about their pine tree. That pine obstructed the Cap’ns view down to the cove. This pine blocked the view of Psyche, my father in laws 34-foot ketch.
I heard no more about “that damn pine” until winter. The Cap’n seemed to have a little secret smile every time the weather turned foul and the roads greasy with ice. Psyche was never hauled in winter but swung at an ice-free mooring in a channel that the tides scoured clear of ice. The Cap’n and I continuously craned our necks to see down to where the boat rode at mooring. By the end of the winter, I began to see why the Cap’n was so peeved by the tree.
Spring came, and the pine was still there. My father-in-law was fit to be tied. Once again, I was scraping off flaking bottom paint and listening to him grumble.
One Sunday at supper, it came out that he’d paid the Town’s plow operator to salt the pine down every storm. Enough salt had been spread that most of the low shrubbery around the pine appeared to be dead. But that pine seemed to be healthier for the salt applications.
By September, the Cap’n was smiling again. But, in spring, the tree was still there. Then, at dinner one evening, the Cap’n admitted that he’d had Lowell, a neighbor in the cove, drive copper boat nails into the tree. The copper was supposed to be poisonous to the tree. But instead, it bushed out and grew well that summer.
The tourist bureaus like to downplay the amount of snow the coastal area gets, and the coast indeed sees a fraction of what accumulates in inland regions. But it’s not the snow that gets you on the coast. It’s the ice storms that turn the roads into a slick mess. The term you sometimes hear is that the roads turn “greasy.” Too true. So it was one greasy night about midnight that the plow truck slowly, ponderously, slid off the road and into the pine tree that blocked the view of Psyche.
When the edition of the regional newspaper – the Coastal Register- landed in the mailbox on the Florida Panhandle, there was a celebration. The Cap’n was said to have even grabbed his wife and spun her around; the hated tree was gone.
But when the Cap’n and his wife returned from Florida, there stood the damned pine, cranked at an extreme angle, it is true, but still blocking the view of the ketch. No one had had the fortitude to tell the Cap’n. When he noticed, he almost seemed like a defeated man. Almost.
Over the summer, however, the pine gradually lost needles and died. By the beginning of August, the tree warden had cut it down. The Cap’n was victorious.
Then just before labor day, we spied the Bensons at the edge of their property. They were planting a tiny white pine where the old one had stood. When they saw us standing in a group watching, they waved at us, smiled, and pointed towards the tiny pine.
As was his practice, the Cap’n calmly reached for his pipe and tobacco pouch, then comfortably filled the pipe, tamped it down, slowly lit it, and puffed it to get it going well.
Then, he looked in my direction and said, “it should be a few years before we have to girdle it, Wes.”