Ask G&G

Ask G&G: Hair of the Dog and Hints for Dogwoods

Trivial pups, hangover truths, and trimming trees

Illustration: BRITT SPENCER

Does God have an existential justification for dogs that don’t hunt, or work sheep, cattle, or farms? We think not.

That darn distribution list for God’s memo on the plans for the canine species—I swear I was on it, but a lot’s happened since dogs first migrated across the land bridge from Siberia in the Upper Paleolithic, and my office is a colossal mess. Increasingly less of the genetic engineering of canines has remained in divine hands in the twenty-odd millennia since we began domesticating dogs. The reason you can’t find a legitimate basis for Chins, Havanese, or that pint-size Chinese crested thing is that there is none. In King James’s lingua franca, God forsook them, leaving the dog-furtherance project to humans, exactly as so disastrously happened in politics, war, law, trade, and other major areas of life. Dogs became frilly mirrors of their owners. What to do? The taxonomy informs us that the breeds with no discernible raison d’être are, technically, canines, and their owners are numerous, so, as the Bible also teaches us, be kind. People lay on every sort of affectation in this life. You don’t have to invite them over to Thanksgiving, but you should always listen politely and extend yourself when possible. You never know which local dowager duchess is going to turn up at your phone-book cocktail do with a Bolonka in her purse. Ignore the dog, respect the duchess. You may need her in your corner one day.

Damn holidays! Can it be that the old-school hair of the dog is still the best hangover remedy?

Medically, no, but as Hemingway wrote, isn’t it pretty to think so? Fond as we are of quixotic causes in the South, it’s fair to say that tactical morning-after imbibing does have its believers. My grandmother Minnie favored a bright, peppery Bloody Mary, which carries the sting you might think you need and the whisper of a healthy choice behind its tomato masquerade. It’s the morning after, so take a bite of that chilled celery stalk and chin-chin, baby! But as we say in hospital work, that’s all just OT—occupational therapy—freighting your liver just as it grinds down the bucket of toxins in which you were so delighted to pickle it last night. By the way, the biological mechanics of a hangover are lose-lose; the only cure is time. Over a period of hours, the liver relies on two enzymes, alcohol dehydrogenase and aldehyde dehydrogenase, to break down the booze in your taxed system. You may nap, gobble aspirin, and/or drink like a sailor on leave, but no gin fizz, no Bloody, no mimosa, no whatever spritz, nothing you consume, including food, will speed up the process. The metaphor itself is your reminder. Prior to a rabies vaccine, folks held that placing the “hair of the dog that bit you” into a wound would heal you. Worked out just peachy, right?

We have a few dogwoods scattered about the place. Pruning suggestions?

A crisp, clear January day is the moment for addressing any Cornus florida. Don’t put it off until spring; cuts will bleed sap, and left open, those wounds provide entryways for illness. The trees only get to twenty-five or thirty feet, so their trunks are short. Some dogwood characteristics seem bush-like, such as the horizontal lower limbs and the propensity for generating double trunks, but those cause the dramatically round, full spring crown to extend its pinky-white coat of four-leafed bracts toward the ground. If it’s a young tree, then your first decision is whether you want it to carry a horizontal silhouette with multiple trunks or express itself vertically with a single one. Within that choice lie infinite variations of opening or closing the canopy. To lengthen the vertical reach of an older single-trunk dogwood, you could weigh the careful removal of lower branches. Either way, Cornus florida of any age bear a delicate, musical air you’ll want to hone rather than blunt. Caring for them is a yearslong game much like that played by Japanese bonsai masters, who call their bedrock tenet wabi-sabi. No, that’s not the delightful green condiment served with sushi; roughly translated, the phrase means “beauty through imperfection.” Among your dogwoods, you’re not chasing perfection. You’re helping perfectly imperfect beauty be itself.

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