David A. Van Wie
Our Dog Likes It Here
Updated: Jan 13, 2020
Autumn has a Corey Ford connection.
When we named her, I had in mind Corey Ford’s famous English setters, Cider and Tober (short for October) who was Cider’s son. In his heart-felt story “A Dog Named Cider,” Ford wrote, “I named him Cider... it suggested a sparkling Autumn, the time of year I like best …” And October, well, that’s pretty obvious.
Pure coincidence, you ask? Clearly not.
Both of Ford's dogs are featured in his many stories about bird hunting or “wing-shooting.” Cider, of course, is one of the two main characters in Ford’s masterpiece, “The Road to Tinkhamtown,” considered by many to be the best outdoor story ever written, published in Field and Stream just after Ford’s death in 1969.
Corey Ford is one of the writers I featured in Storied Waters, where the topic is not bird dogs but fly fishing for trout. As I explain in the book, my connection to Corey Ford goes way back to my rugby days in college in the 1970s. In the 1950s, Ford had befriended the Dartmouth College rugby club and called himself the unofficial “coach”, but served more as spiritual leader and his house near the rugby field in Hanover was the de facto clubhouse.
When Ford died without heirs, he bequeathed his house in Hanover to the club so that the funds from its sale could be used to build a proper clubhouse. When I played a few years later, we used some of the interest from the Corey Ford Fund to subsidize a spring tour to England just as the team had done under Ford’s tutelage in 1958, the first American college side to do so. Finally, in 2005, the vision became a reality when the Corey Ford Rugby Clubhouse was dedicated and the men’s and the women’s teams played their first matches on Brophy Field. I contributed funds to the project and was there for the opening festivities.
I hate to admit that I didn’t know much about Corey Ford’s career and writing until after we published The Confluence in 2016. Bob Chamberlin and I were at the Orvis flagship store in Manchester, VT signing books when one of the sales staff, a retired English teacher, asked us if we had read any of Ford’s fly fishing stories. We were embarrassed to admit that we had not. So, the next day, I ordered several collections of Ford’s stories and was blown away. He was foremost a humorist, but wrote on a wide range of subjects, especially about fishing and bird dogs.
I have since researched Corey Ford’s life and career in detail, spending hours in the Corey Ford archives at Rauner Special Collections Library at Dartmouth reading through his original manuscripts, unpublished drafts, letters to editors and publishers, and digging through folders filled with personal journals and black and white photographs.
I would opine that Ford loved his dogs and bird hunting more than he loved fly fishing. Maybe that’s unfair, but based on sheer volume and his passionate writing, the scale tips toward bird dogs, especially his favorite dogs, English setters. He once owned a Labrador Retriever that did not meet his expectations, so he returned it to the breeder.
Ford’s two most famous canine companions were bred and trained by Earl Twombly at Coronation Kennels in Waterbury, Vermont where Twombly bred setters to hunt grouse and woodcock in the New England woods. He included many Llewellin Setters in his line, but not exclusively. The Coronation line of English setters during Ford’s day was apparently larger than Autumn’s line. Ford’s dogs were closer to 75 pounds, while Autumn will unlikely be much more than 40 pounds. Her dad is 43 lbs and her mother is 39.
Tober and Cider had coloring quite similar to Autumn's, although you can’t really tell from the black and white photos. Both of his dogs were described as having roan and black markings with lighter black (or blue) ticking, just like Autumn. Tober appeared to be marked much like Autumn's father, Dakota, with a black patch over one eye and longer feathering in his coat. Cider was lighter colored in the face with just the black ears, like Autumn. While neither dog shows up in Autumn’s pedigree, there is clearly some resemblance from somewhere back in the family tree of English setters.
If you are interested in reading Corey Ford’s bird dog stories, you can find Road to Tinkhamtown on-line here. Be warned, it’s quite a tear-jerker, so have a box of tissues handy. (And sorry about the annoying ads.)
Another famous and truly heart-breaking piece by Ford is called “Just A Dog.” It’s an open letter he wrote in 1941 to the editor of Field & Stream about a man from Massachusetts who accidentally shot Ford’s beloved female setter while deer hunting (without permission) on Ford’s property in Freedom, NH. Both “Road To Tinkhamtown” and “Just A Dog” were republished in The Corey Ford Sporting Treasury, but you can also find them on-line.
Ford also wrote a small humorous book in 1952 called Every Dog Should Have A Man. I’d like to get a copy, but the only copy I can find on-line is priced at $750. Apparently, it is rare. I’ll see if I can get it on inter-library loan instead.
In 1958, Ford published a collection of dog stories by other contemporary and famous authors called Cold Noses and Warm Hearts. His collection includes stories by James Thurber, John Steinbeck, DH Lawrence and Ring Lardner, among others.
Many of Ford’s finest bird dog or wing-shooting stories are also collected in The Trickiest Thing With Feathers, which was edited and published in 1996 by Laurie Bogart Morrow. Morrow also published her own collection of dog stories called Cold Noses and Warm Hearts: Beloved Dog Stories by Great Authors, which contains only a subset of Ford’s collection of the same name, so don’t be confused that they are the same book. They are not. Morrow published many of Ford’s best stories about fishing in a 1995 book called Trout Tales and Other Angling Stories.
Just for a taste of his wit, here is a short passage of Ford’s story called “Are Dog’s People?”
My bird dog made a very good point the other day. We were reading some dog stories- that is, I was reading, and he was listening-and he observed that people who write about dogs usually portray them as human beings. “This is one of the commonest mistakes people make about dogs,” he went on. “A dog does not want to be considered a man, any more than the average man wants to be treated like a dog. When a doting person gets down on all fours and plays with a puppy’s rubber mouse, for instance, it only confuses the young dog and gives him a sense of insecurity. He gets the impression that his world is unstable, and wonders whether he is expected to walk on his hind legs and learn to smoke cigars. Dogs handled this way are apt to become self-conscious because they don’t have any clothes on, and sometimes develop neurosis about their tails.”
There is more than a little truth to what my setter was saying. Dogs and people are alike in so many ways, and have so many interests in common, that they tend to overlook certain fundamental difference between them. These differences must be recognized by both parties, or the whole relationship will totter. A man who forgets he is dealing with a dog may expect him to do things which are not in his nature, such as earning a living. On the other hand, a dog is apt to demand too much of his man, and will be disappointed when the human fails to measure up to canine standards of intelligence.
Frequently it comes as a blow to a dog to discover that his man has no sense of smell, for example. A dog can spread his nostrils to the wind and detect all sorts of delicious promises on the horizon, such as a lurking grouse, or the coming of spring, or even a pot-roast cooking in the kitchen; but all a man uses his nose for is to keep his glasses on.
And so on.
Ford published a story about Dartmouth and living in Hanover called My Dog Likes It Here. He wrote:
My dog made up my mind to live in Hanover. My dog is a large English setter, who acquired me when he was about six months old, and who has been making up my mind for him ever since. When we go out on a leash together he decides whether to run or walk or halt abruptly at the corner lamppost to mail a letter.
My sincerest hope is that, as Autumn and I walk along the streets of Hanover, she and I can somehow honor the legacy of Cider and Tober and Corey Ford, living and loving his dogs in this beautiful college town.
In a funny coincidence, Autumn and I went into town just today to mail a couple letters. It was my decision, not hers. But she did stop several times to check her pee-mail.