Gone to the dog park

 

My daughter Ruth with Lily (L) and Layla at the Orion Oaks Dog Park

Absence makes my heart grow fonder of my grand-dog Lily. I didn’t realize the depth of my affection until my daughter Ruth emailed a week ago Friday. “Want to meet us at the dog park tomorrow morning?”

            I glanced at October 16 on my desk calendar. Wide open. “What time?”

            “9ish.”

            I’d been curious about the Orion Oaks Dog Park from the day a friend said, “Amy loves to play on the beach and jump off the dock.” A longtime cat owner, I had no occasion to visit the park.

            Until Lily came along.

            Ruth soon found their “heaven on earth,” a 24-acre plot with a spacious parking lot, paddocks (one for small dogs), woods, trails, lake, picnic shelters, hose to spray dirty dogs, and clean bathrooms for humans. Only twenty minutes from home on Joslyn Road.

            A beautiful fall morning, I spied Ruth’s blue sweatshirt within a ring of fellow canine owners of all ages. She held a coffee cup while tracking Lily’s red collar and other dogs chasing one another willy-nilly in and out of the circle.

            I hollered for Lily. She raced toward me with a stick in her mouth. After two months of no Lily time, she still recognized my voice. I could’ve cried.

            In a tangle of black lab muzzles and paws, Lily and her best buddy Layla blind-sided me. But I didn’t go down.

            “Mom, don’t lock your knees. Bend them, or you’ll fall,” Ruth said.

Ruth and Lily with Layla and Joe, her owner

            To observe numerous dogs of all breeds play in one communal space is to witness much sniffing, stick stealing, barking, ball fetching, and conversations between adults who stand with bent knees.

            Although I cherish the quiet, low-impact companionship of our two cats, and appreciate our mouse-free house, Mittens and Cuddles suddenly seemed boring. Especially when Ruth and I walked a trail with Lily and Layla. They disappeared into the woods and returned with twigs clenched between their teeth. More trophies.

            “Lily’s such a sweetheart,” Ruth said.

            “I’d forgotten how much fun a dog can be,” I confessed.

            We passed a young couple with two Great Danes. Lily and Layla, both one year old, aimed for the leggy Danes.

            “This is our first time here,” the man said.

            “We just moved from Connecticut,” said the woman. “This place is amazing.”

            Yesterday, a week later, I emailed Ruth. “Going to the dog park tomorrow morning?”

            “Yes. You coming?”

            “What time?”

            “I’ll call when I leave for the park.”

            Lily and Layla didn’t notice a sparser crowd this damp, chilly morning at Orion Oaks. They rolled and growled and chewed each other’s ears just the same.

            Dear Reader, this time of year on Saturday mornings in the early nineties, I followed Ruth on Cross Country courses when she competed for Romeo Schools. Fellow parents cheered on our girls to the finish line.

            Nowadays, whenever Ruth calls a Saturday morning, I’m gone to the dog park. For Ruth’s and Lily’s presence also makes my heart grow fonder of my daughter and grand-dog.


Synchronization of the seasons

 

Our bar wood benches and tables stowed away for winter

Season: n 1: suitable or natural time or occasion: 2: a period of the year associated with some phase or activity of agriculture (as growth or harvesting) Season vb 1: to make palatable by adding salt or condiment 2: to make fit by experience

Considering what might be the last fine day in 2021, yesterday we stowed away the pavilion furniture inside my former gift shop—one of many outdoor projects we aim to complete before snow flies.

                Since April, we’ve hefted mulch, compost, and garden waste which conditioned our bodies for this ritual of putting summer to bed.

I confess, lifting and stacking eleven barn wood tables and twenty-two benches claims every bit of our physical and mental fortitude. Yet, in the exercise of this annual task the past eight years, we’ve mastered a pattern for maximum space economy.

Our procession of preserving our belongings began last month when I parked my golf cart inside the pavilion’s storage room. For the first winter in twelve years, she won’t be left out in the cold.

                Betsy, my Club Car, hasn’t seen a golfer since I purchased her as my garden buddy—my back and step saver to and from beehives, and up and down hills from gardens to burn piles.

                Now Betsy rests amongst harvest baskets, coolers, bins of hot and cold cups, and other acquisitions.

Betsy, my golf cart, with garden companions 
                Rest. That’s exactly what my body craved when I closed the pavilion doors upon our completed chore. Instead, I asked my husband “What’s the weather forecast for this afternoon?”

                “Rain.”

                “Better plant my garlic,” I said and fetched my buckets of compost and oak leaves.

                On my knees with trowel in hand, I mused at the brevity of summer’s companionship with friends, flora, and honeybees.  

                The sun on my shoulders and the sore spot between, I tamped soil and oak leaves above forty-two garlic cloves. At last, I sat back on the heels of my chicken boots. “Finished! Praise God!”          

Oh yes, I’m surfeited of gardens. Their needs to meet my needs: beauty, fragrance, food.

                Indeed, homegrown garlic waits in our basement on the shelf with canned tomatoes, peach butter and jam, and currant compote. Squash and asparagus soup and raspberries fill our freezer.

                God is good. Faithful.

This is why we gather with family and friends to give thanks. Why we will soon find our bottles of sage and allspice in our spice racks.

For our hearts praise God in seed time and harvest for our land, food, and liberty.

Glad and exhausted, I carried my empty buckets, swinging by my sides in synchronization of the seasons, to the greenhouse.

Come suppertime, hungry with plates of barbequed pulled pork and roasted garlic, red potatoes, and broccoli before us, rain fell fast and hard.

Dear Reader, if you know the meaning of the Yiddish word “verklempt”, you grasp my emotional condition. If you grow food and are over seventy years old, you’ve been there and will be again.

Yes, I slept well last night.

 

 


A memorial to my Sweetie dog

Sweetie in my garden at last

You never know what you’ll stumble upon when browsing The Weed Lady’s place. As we drove north toward Fenton, I assured my friend Maureen something beautiful and valuable would call our names.  

     My two previous visits to this gardener’s paradise dated to more than a decade ago. Maureen’s recent birthday presented the perfect occasion to return. We’d spend the afternoon celebrating with plants and dine on beef tenderloin afterward at Lucky’s.

     “They have the best steak,” a friend of Maureen’s and Fenton resident had said. And I’d heard the same vote of confidence from Imlay City friends.  

    Maureen’s phone guided us to our destination on Fenton Road. I didn’t recognize the area for all the recent development. At last, The Weed Lady’s wooden house appeared on our right.

     As I remembered, the scent of every square inch surrounding the landmark welcomed us. A gurgling pool and begonias of various varieties sat amidst repurposed furniture and garden structures.

     Urns of all sizes and prices and succulent plants led us into the gift shop. Maureen spied Italian terracotta pots. Mama and Papa pots with offspring of all sizes waiting for a sunny window or garden. And our adventure had just begun.

     “Ready for the greenhouse?” I asked.

     “Yes! I’d like to find a succulent for my kitchen window.”

     On our path to the greenhouse, every garden structure imaginable sat arranged with like kinds. Again, the urns tempted me.

     “I cannot buy what I cannot carry to the car and into my gardens,” I said.

     Maureen smiled. “Good idea.”

     I spied a group of dog statues lounging under a huge tree. “I wonder if they have a Lab,” I said, thinking of my grand-dog, Lily.

     Approaching the odd doggie park, my heart leapt at the sight of a small collection of cocker spaniel figurines. Their sad, puppy-dog eyes reminded me of my ginger-colored pet named Sweetie Lee.

     I lost Sweetie forty-five years ago and had since searched for a proper memorial to place in my gardens. The price on the cocker spaniel was right. I lifted my little Sweetie with no effort and carried her while Maureen and I browsed tables of succulents in the greenhouse.

     “Look at the pattern on this urn,” Maureen said, pointing beneath the table where we stood.

     The vase, embellished with wine-colored flowers and filled with wet potting soil, appeared to have been abandoned. Again, the price compelled me to purchase the unique treasure. But I couldn’t lift it on my own.

     My birthday friend and I selected our succulents and made our purchases, including the rejected vase the clerk emptied for me.

     Dear Reader, I placed my Sweetie dog in a garden today to view from my kitchen window. Her sad puppy-dog eyes drew loving tears.

     For as Maureen and I dined on Lucky’s steak, I recalled my boyfriend who bought Sweetie for me, for she became my confidant during my parents’ divorce.

     Thanks to Maureen and The Weed Lady, I at last found the proper memorial to my beloved and faithful pet. 


All the trees of the world

 

The white pine above my three hives

A youngster born near the border between eastern Kentucky and West Virginia, I imagined all the world resembled mine—green mountains, far as my eyes could see. 

     Within these mountains lay flatlands Appalachians named “bottoms”. My folks called our home the McCoy Bottom, and our farmhouse the “homeplace”.

     My mother’s grandfather, Lark McCoy, had cleared the bottom’s timber for crops and built his homeplace, barn, smokehouse, henhouse, two cabins, and beehives.  

     Mom’s father Floyd, however, had built his homeplace with a Sears kit on the opposite end of the McCoy Bottom. The roads being too narrow, Sears delivered the shipment via Peter Creek.

     A tributary formed by the runoff of rain flowing down mountain hollows, Peter Creek divides the bottom. My grandfather tended his honeybees along his side of the creek, and grew corn on a hillside on the other until his untimely death.

     From my earliest memories, Mom would point to the hill where young trees grew and say sadly, “That’s where Dad planted corn.”

    My grandfather also grew green apple trees along the path between his homeplace and my great-grandfather’s. The barn with bats in the haymow faced the orchard from the other side of the lane.

     Just when I learned to find toeholds in their gnarly trunks, Mom and Dad packed up our household and drove away. The mountains slowly shrunk into flat cornfields that endured throughout the eternal state named Ohio.

     After Dad crossed another river and drove into Detroit, I couldn’t believe the straight, paved streets lined with houses and driveways far as my eyes could see. Then he turned his car into one of those driveways and unloaded the trunk.

     Feeling sorely homesick for the bosoms of my green mountains, I found consolation sitting under the shade of the one tree in our front yard. Impossibly huge to climb, however.

     One school day I cried again to stay home.  Mom said, “Iris, you have to go to school. You won’t pass to first grade if you miss much more.”

     I walked down the porch steps to the tree and sat beneath it facing the street, out of Mom’s sight from inside the house. I fell asleep and awoke to find bird droppings on my head. Mom led me to the bathroom and scrubbed and rinsed my hair and scalp in angry justification of delivering my discipline.

     To my mother’s dismay, the incident encouraged me all the more to climb and sit beneath trees.

     The other day when I failed to spy the queens in my three hives, I laid down under a pine to stretch my back and put life in perspective.

     My goodness, dear Reader! I wish you could’ve seen what I saw. Under the clear, blue sky and sparkling boughs of the white pine, and the sound of bees restoring order in their home, their queens didn’t matter.

     The cool, green grass upon my neck, my Lord whispered, “I will never leave or forsake you.”

     All the trees of the world are His.