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8/10/18: Julia’s Cabinet- A Love Story  

Standing at our ancient Hoosier cabinet I folded freshly dried clothes. The cabinet is perfect for this task, as it has a porcelain pull-out front, as well as lots of cupboards for housing various laundry room essentials. (It had also lived in our farmhouse kitchen for thirty years, serving me well as a changing table for our children, and as storage for utensils, spices, hand towels and pots and pans before that.) 

It also has a wonderful story. I’ve been asked to tell it again. 

One lovely July Saturday 50 years ago Joe and I went rummaging. Bridgeport, a small town near Saginaw, Michigan where both our families lived, displayed lots of items on a big, shared lawn that fronted three small, comfortable older homes.  

Small children played around fold-out tables displaying tidy stacks of clothing, linens, knick-knacks, and tired paperback books. Serviceable sofas and chairs were sprinkled about, perfect for furnishing startup homes and apartments. Potted red geraniums and bright daisies decorated two generous front porches. 

On the other side of the road, a man was pulling out ancient farm machinery and interesting old furniture from a large, ramshackle barn. A hand-painted ‘For Sale’ sign was wedged into a wringer washing machine placed on their lawn.  

For Joe and me, newly married and nest-building, that barn’s contents looked promising. 

Another extremely old, bent man waved his cane to acknowledge our arrival. He didn’t speak. His son (no spring chicken himself) grinned and adjusted dusty, well-worn overalls.   

“We’re selling lots of goodies. Look around…”  

We stared at furniture he’d dragged into the sunlight.  A thick film of dust covered press-back chairs, a generous, well-scrubbed kitchen table, and two ornate brass bed frames. But one particular cabinet caught the sunlight, and my eye. I gasped, walked around to its front…and fell in love.  

While Joe and the younger man entered the barn to admire an old motorcycle I caressed the Hoosier cabinet, thrilled.  The old man watched me quietly, and then spoke for the first time. 

“Today’s my 94th birthday, young lady, and I asked my son Ethan to clear the barn.  Funny sort of present, but it’s what I wanted.”  
A pause.  
“You like this cabinet.”  
It was a statement, not a question. 
I nodded.  Oh, I coveted it.  I’d sell my soul for that cabinet. But could we afford it? 

“I’m tired.  It’s past time to clear out things I’ve been holding close for too long. Like this beauty.”   
He sighed.  
“Sixty-five years ago I married my first wife.  Julia was a lovely girl, and when she finally agreed to marry me I was a happy man.”  
His toothless smile flashed briefly.  
“I was considered a good catch back then, young lady, as I was able to offer her a small farmhouse, land, and dairy cows. This cabinet was meant for our kitchen, and I can still hear her laughing as she planned where to put it.  Choosing it really made Julia happy.”  He looked away for a little while, then continued. 

“On the way home from church the day we married our carriage horse bolted. Julia was thrown out. She hit her head on a big rock and died, right there, still in her wedding garb. I thought I would die, too. Wedding guests following us tried to help, but- it was too late. I don’t remember much after that, not for a long time.”  
He rubbed his eyes.   
“Eventually I married again, and my wife and I had Ethan, here.  But I’ve never allowed her to use this cabinet…” His voice trailed away.  
Another sad silence. 

Then- he brightened. “You’re newly wed, aren’t you?” Amazed, I asked how he’d known! He threw back his head and laughed, then thought a minute, eyes closed. Nodding to himself strangely, he slowly leaned toward me and looked deeply into my eyes.   

“It’s yours.  IF- you promise never to sell it, and promise to tell your children its story. You must promise me.”   

Stunned by his generosity, I promised.   

His lined face was suddenly serene. Then, very quietly, he looked at me and said, “Julia is pleased.”

He walked slowly toward his house, cheeks wet with tears, but not from grief.  

We both knew that something wonderful had just happened. 

8/05/18: A Trashy Tale  

Sometimes I inadvertently set myself up for foolish mishaps- most of them garden-related. This particular mini-embarrassment still triggers a red face. Now that I’m old, though, I don’t mind telling on myself...   

One day I wrestled with a hose, which insisted on remaining kinky. After wasting thirty minutes trying to coax that elderly rubber snake not to revert to its twisted behavior so I could pump my pond water properly I gave up, unscrewed it from the bilge pump, dumped it in the rubbish bin, and stomped off in disgust. 

But, the next day, while throwing out bagged kitchen garbage, I happened to glimpse a high-quality spray nozzle I’d e-mail-ordered the summer before sitting way-y down at the bottom of the big bin, still attached to the dumped hose.  Stupid me! In angry haste I’d tossed out too much… hmmm. How to get the nozzle out again without tipping out lots of rubbish, too? Putting it all back again would be a royal pain. 

I stepped on the bin’s foot-bar, leaned in… reached down… Nope. Not even close. On my tiptoes I tried again, bent double now into a tight V, extending my arm an impossible distance down …my fingers almost brushed it and, encouraged, I wriggled and stretched a tiny bit further- further- raising my feet off the support— That did it. I lost my balance and tumbled in. As I fell, a rib cracked. Worse, the lid dropped back down to the not-quite-closed position, framing my shod feet posed stiffly outside the big bin’s mostly shut rim.  

What a total idiot!  Here I was, upside down in the malodorous semi-dark, my head partially sunk into a bag crammed with chicken fat, coffee grounds, butcher paper, and other sundries, along with lots of branches, leaf litter and garden rubbish scattered along the bottom and sides... Phew! Ancient stinks wafted all around me...But my hand closed around the nozzle. 
Somehow, with much painful gasping and groaning, I managed to grab the bin’s yucky edges and gradually raise myself inch by inch, enough to push the heavy lid completely open. It flew back with a loud Bang! I was just able to painfully extract myself, rising inch by inch until my shoes found purchase far below, while still clutching my prize.  
Thank heaven no one was around.   

Imagine if someone passing by had happened to note my lower legs sticking out, rush to investigate and find me stuck down there, seemingly discarded along with the other rubbish! 
I’d never hear the end of it. 

How might I explain my cracked rib to Joe without appearing a complete fool?  Oh, well. I’d have to take my licks- and just tell him. 

Eventually, I cleaned up and re-assessed. Could I still garden?  A gentle examination reassured me that I could, but much more slowly. The rib objected when I moved just so, but generally I could still function pretty well, supported by an Ace bandage. 

The lesson? Angry, impatient and reckless, I’d been dumb, and dumber.  But, always looking for a pony in the poop, I congratulated myself on my narrow escape from public ignominy.  There’s usually some little detail one can salvage or be grateful for when reviewing one’s foolish behavior… 
Laughter. (Ouch!)

7/29/18: Tall Tales  

Midsummer. The secret garden wants water, debugging and cleaning every single morning. Plant poop is a constant reality. 

My very tall Asiatic lilies are done. After their huge, gorgeous flowers emerge from the candelabra top of each thick stalk, individual blooms last three or four days. Then, exhausted petals begin to drop. The challenge is to spot those flowers that are nearly done, and snap them off while they’re still hanging on. If I wait too long, cleanup gets trickier, as I must weave my arm between the stalks to pluck withered petals off the ground, or tease them from leaves further down the plant. It’s much better to stand on tiptoe, arch my arm, carefully reach deep into the bed, snap off the dying flower, then back off without disturbing nearby blooms. It’s a workout that involves balance, judgment and coordination, as I must s-t-r-e-t-c-h to reach flowers without falling into the bed and wreaking everything. That’s what we gardeners have nightmares about.  

There are lots of other ways to ruin a lily’s few days of life; I can mis-align my armpits and snap off a stunner as I reach up and over, or incorrectly position my elbows, or feel around behind other lily flowers to pinch off a dead bloom, only to discover I’ve taken the live one next to it instead-  
Ah, I hate that mistake! 

But now I try to hide my sin by walking the broken flower to clean water, pooled inside a giant decorative honey-gold clay flower ‘petal.’ There it floats, colorfully serene and scented, causing oohs and ahhhhs from admirers.  

But what can one do when not a single lily bloom is left? Their long stems must be left for eight or ten weeks to ripen to yellow. Eeee! What can one do with a forest of thick, tall green stalks wearing nothing but their candelabras? 

Some gardeners scatter a few lily bulbs here and there in the garden, making the big ones’ future nakedness harder to notice.  
Not this girl. Obstinately, I mega-group my lilies for a jaw-dropping show, and so, of course, I must eventually pay the piper. 

Then, a few years ago, I hit on the idea of making the many clumps of leggy, topless stalks serve as support poles for annuals and perennials that love to twine and climb.  
-Annual Mandevilla, for instance, which boasts delightful red or pink flowers, can be trained to scramble up and around them. Just as the lilies are finishing the mandevilla will have grown sufficiently to clamber in and around their stems right up into the candelabras, to dangle their blooms. Everybody’s happy. 
-Perennial Type II (summer-blooming) clematis is also happy to dress their bareness. 
-Perennial Crocosmia makes a great statement, too. Their fat, sword-leaves’ flame-red flowers look stunning as they rise as high as their slowly ripening neighbors.  
-Annual silvery licorice, when fed and watered regularly, can grow to astounding lengths, and so be trained to weave its silver vine-arms between the stalks, and even blanket the garden floor. Plus, it sniffs of – well, you can guess. 
-An annual dwarf tropical canna lily’s wide bronze or green or outrageously striped leaves and bright flowers, set among lilies, are ready to distract the eye exactly when needed. 
-The annual, graceful fronds of purple fountain grass blur those naked poles, which return the favor by serving as support for that grass’s graceful, arching fronds.  
-And morning glory is glorious as it winds in and of lilies’ ladder-y stalks. 

My most time-consuming task is to deadhead (an awful name for a vital job). Every dying flower and naked stem must be culled every morning.  
I trace exhausted daisies’ stems until I find tiny leaflets or buds that hint that a new daisy might form there. Ha! I cut just above that promise.  

Newborn day lilies (so named because each flower lasts exactly one day) look so very much better when their dead brethrens’ withered blooms are snapped off. 
Perennial geraniums (cranesbill) easily take twenty minutes of deadheading. (But- when more than half the plant needs this, simply grab a scissors and cut a third off the whole thing. New growth and flowers should happen, only shorter. 
-Annual geraniums and balloon flowers take just seconds to clean.   
-My few remaining roses (which stab me for my trouble) must be cut to the closest 5-leaved formation, and their dead petals cleaned away.  
-Then there are pansies, violets, bellflowers, sage, and on and on, all wanting daily assistance.  
-Even coreopsis and the butter-yellow evening primrose don’t escape my fingers.    

The result, though, is enormously satisfying. Cleaned and spiffed up, the garden looks fresh and vital to its many visitors every day. 

How much time do I dedicate to all this? Well, about two to three hours every morning at this easier time of the season.  

If I don’t deadhead, cherished plants stop producing flowers and simply sit there. 
Finally, in early September, I stop cleaning and pruning perennials. They’re allowed to rest until next year. Annuals will still need daily care until it gets too cold. 

I dread the appearance of the gorgeously carapaced Japanese beetles, which are nearly impossible to dislodge from favored flowers. They’re voracious eaters. A giant canna lily, for example, can be destroyed overnight.  
I’ve stopped smacking the beetles between my palms. They don’t crush, and my hands get too sore. Sometimes I try to pick them off every morning and drop them into soapy water, but it takes hours on a high ladder, and frankly, it’s not effective. There are just too many. Water blasts and chemical sprays make them yawn.  
EXCEPT for one.  
Bayer has created a spray guaranteed to kill Japanese beetles. I tried it last year and was richly rewarded. Piles of beetles dropped away. So I’ll use it again, on the hibiscus, roses, and English and Boston ivy. 

‘Spray days’ must be windless, and not super-hot later. I spray very early, to avoid killing bees. These beetles are as adaptable- and prolific- as cockroaches, and will probably develop immunity to this product in a few years, but right now, Bayer’s spray will save my garden once again. 
(One reason I chucked out my magnificent alley rose garden six years ago was because this wretched, beautiful insect had all but destroyed every bloom.)  

Oh- and I also try to remove every yellowing, saggy leaf or limp, broken frond from everyone.  
‘Dirty plant underwear’ is never an asset. 
Did I mention weeding?  
It never ends. 

Plants like my thirsty meadow rue, which has seven-foot tall, completely hollow purple stems that grow delicate, perfect blue flowers- happily gulps gallons of water every three or four sunny hours. It’s probably stupid to grow rue, which loves to frolic in bogs, but I’ve stubbornly persevered for years because I love the darn thing. It always arrests attention. So I water. And water. When every branch stands straight up and out, with no hint of a droop, all is well. For a while. 

When my chores are done, this cooler weather and light breezes encourage Bryn-dog and me to greet guests and lie back to enjoy the beguiling scent of plants like purple basil and the nine-foot tall Oriental lilies, now in full bloom.  

Our summer-at-the-lake air effortlessly wafts other gardeners’ wonderful plant perfumes through Traverse City’s big-treed neighborhoods, lightening every heart.

7/22/18: A Sad Tail 

Bryn, Joe and I were eager to drive to the nineteen-mile-long Torch Lake to join four dear friends on their pontoon boat. Their three-year-old labradoodle, Lucy, would be there, too. She’s much smaller, weighing in at 27 pounds, while Bryn weighs 53 pounds. The two dogs bumped noses casually to exchange greetings. Lucy-dog showed Bryn how to hop onto the pontoon, and both dogs settled in for the ride. It was a stunning day. The calm, emerald water suddenly transformed into a rich dark blue color, marking a precipitous 68-foot drop into the abyss, from just 15 feet of water. A giant, glacier-carved, shelved canyon lay underneath, allowing for many gorgeous watercolor changes as the sun shone! Stunning Torch Lake is aptly named. 
By the way, it’s nearly 300 feet to the bottom in some places. 

After about 15 minutes we’d reached a much shallower area - about 5 feet of water- and they dropped anchor. Everyone (but me) would be able to touch bottom. Lucy watched intently, knowing that very soon her dry world would become a water wonderland.   

Tim opened the pontoon’s aluminum gate and gave Lucy permission to dive in. As a shocked Bryn stood back and watched, the little dog leaped joyfully into the water, made a big splash and then swam in a large circle, thrilled.  
Lucy LOVES water.  

Bryn yipped and moaned as she stood on the pontoon’s brink, trembling with the need to follow Lucy’s example. But she’d never jumped like this before! All six of us urged her on. She howled, tried, lost her nerve at the last second- and so Tim gave her a little push. Whee! In she went, joining Lucy in the 72-degree lake. Then Tim threw in a well-used wooden stick; Lucy moved efficiently through the water to retrieve it. Bryn paddled close by and watched, filled with admiration, as Lucy made straight for the ladder, got a light boost from Joe and climbed up the rest of the rungs. On the pontoon she shook herself vigorously before leaping back in when Tim threw the stick again. 

But this time Bryn, still swimming, saw that stick coming. Howling and shrieking with glee she swam hard, reaching it seconds before Lucy did. Triumphant, she paddled to the ladder, accepted a boost, and climbed up to the deck, sozzled and triumphant.  

All went well, until, a few leaps later, Bryn somehow caught a respectable bunch of long white hair near the tip of her tail in a tiny aluminum crack in the ladder just above the water. She tried to swim away but was unable to break free. Baffled, she continued to try, but began instead to lose ground and sink. Tim and Tammy noticed she was in deep distress, and just as Tim rushed to reach down to try to free her tail, she tore it away. We helped her climb the ladder to the deck, where she shook herself and coughed a bit. 

But then, she saw Lucy jumping in and wanted the same, and so the leap and fetch games went for a good while. Eventually though, we wore them out. Both dogs rested on deck while we enjoyed a light meal with iced tea. 
After much laughter and chat, we made the twenty-minute journey back to the boat launch area, located right at the northern tip of Torch Lake. 

Bryn lay quietly, enjoying the easy motion of the boat, and upon arrival she hopped off easily.   

But then- 
She stopped in her tracks on the dock and looked back at her hind end. Her tail seemed to be –well, gone. She looked for it between her legs, puzzled and increasingly upset. What was happening? It didn’t feel ‘there.’ It was as though it had vanished. She couldn’t take two steps before looking behind her. Confused and alarmed, she looked up at me. I realized that it was hanging down, straight as a pencil, lifeless; the tip dragged along the ground. She couldn’t wag it. For her, there was nothing to wag.  
When she peed she didn’t- couldn’t- lift it.  
Alarmed now, I felt it carefully all the way down; she made no sign that it hurt, or that I was even touching it. I held it up, let go, and it dropped. Clunk. Her poor tail was totally numb.   

She stood all the way back to Traverse City, as sitting without her tail in its accustomed place felt wrong.  

OMG.  
Home again, I offered dinner but she wasn’t interested. She continued to look at her behind, and couldn’t settle anywhere for more than a minute. In case she was experiencing pain now I gave her one 81mg aspirin.  
After 30 minutes she was finally able to lie still without restlessness.  

The next morning at 7 o’clock I rang Tim to get the full story, as he had been right there from the start. After detailing what he’d seen, he told me that their golden, Ollie, had had this same presentation years ago. For nearly a month her beautiful tail had hung straight down, inoperative for unknown reasons. Then, one morning, Tim witnessed a dramatic change. Ollie held her tail gracefully; it was functioning again!  
So, there was hope... 

Armed with this detailed information I took Bryn to the ER and explained what had happened. The vet felt along her tail; about halfway down its length Bryn looked back at her.  
“There’s definitely swelling here,” said the doctor, softly. “I could do a scan, but that’s costly, or I could offer pain meds for the discomfort she’s experiencing now, and we could await developments.  

“She probably has ‘Drop Tail.’ We see this presentation sometimes in Goldens and labs when, say, a toddler pulls and yanks the dog’s tail as it unsteadily walks behind. All that tugging causes soreness or numbness as nerves are stretched and stressed. The tail will hang limply. ‘Drop Tail’ is a pretty good description of what’s happened here. Bryn immediately noticed its apparent ‘absence’ yesterday- I think the entire area has gone numb. Perhaps the nerve bundle was under too much pressure from her powerful attempt to free herself...It might take days or weeks for feeling to return, or she might never recover sensation.”  
She continued to feel along its length.  
“I don’t feel any breakage, though.” 

I felt sick. Bryn’s lovely tail might never curve again, or express itself! 

We settled on mild pain medication to be given twice daily for three days. I would monitor Bryn and the vet would ring me in a couple of days to check on her progress. 

It was awful to watch her move outside and down the block on our walks. Her tail dragged.  I had to clean the end frequently, as it attracted mud, twigs and leaf bits. She never noticed. When other dogs barked from their porches her tail remained motionless. When I’d approach her as she lay sleeping she’d merely lift her head to say hello; not one wag could be summoned.  
I despaired.   

Then, four days later, she and I went outside early on a lovely morning. And, to my great joy, her tail slowly began to curve! When she did her business it obediently lifted a fraction; a day later it had resumed its lovely curve at the tip. The ultimate test? When two dogs barked at her from behind their fence it rose to flag status!   
She had recovered! And so fast! You can imagine my enormous relief! 

What a great ending for this tail, eh?

7/15/18: Some Night Magic  

There is something about the pre-dawn hours, some natural magic out there that always enchants me. I stare through the kitchen window at outlines, trying to separate myself from exactly what they represent. It’s more fun to simply sail on the garden’s silhouette sea.  

Long slivers of light emanate from the distant glow of the alley’s security lamp, which highlights the new, curvy wooden alley door seventy feet south of the kitchen.  

The big secret garden fountain, which dominates the area in daylight, seems slightly blurred and insubstantial in the dark. The clean pool water surrounding its base is utterly still. A single pale, floating leaf appears to be eerily suspended. 

The cool, still air is thick with anticipation, with promise, with scents that only a garden can create. An open window over the sink invites them to waft into this room to mingle with the rich aroma of Eight O’clock coffee and freshly grilled bacon. 

In springtime the energy emanating from the damp earth is almost palpable as my perennials push up through softened soil, impatiently waiting for Nature’s signal that it’s safe to display their glory. But now, in mid-summer, I sense a Pause, as though the garden were thoughtful; it is the apogee of the season, when growing things are exactly between coming up and going down. It is the beginning of Mother Earth’s slow, inexorable exhale.   

The tall, sheltering wall, vined and solid, like the one featured in the story of ‘Rappaccini’s Daughter’ (a brief, but frightening fantasy penned by the dour Victorian writer, Nathaniel Hawthorne), separates me from the unpredictability of the less ordered world that exists outside my garden’s gates.  

A black wraith-like cat silkily glides along the fence’s flat-board top; the creature’s head and long back form a nearly horizontal line finished with an exclamatory tail. It smoothly traverses the long, high planks, confident that his claws, youth and speed are at their apex. Full of hunter-lust, he soundlessly patrols the territory below.  

I let myself out. There is no moon.  No breeze. Just occasional cries or rustlings, as sleep-thick, light-responsive birds shift position in snug, still dark nests. That nearly invisible feline notes the most interesting sounds, and moves closer to investigate. 

My eye catches a tiny movement; it’s a mouse, standing alert in a newly weeded bed, nose twitching, whiskers at attention, probably smelling the cat nearby and high. His nose knows where not to wander. He begins to move in short bursts among the forest of huge lily stalks, foraging for mousie morsels, careful to keep owl-radar from locking onto his small body.  Enormous hosta leaves and house-shadow function as shields. 

In the alley there’s a scream; the neighborhood owl has snatched a life to fuel another life, as the world turns.  

Birds begin to tune up; their songs enhance the dawn and lift my heart. Seagulls shriek roughly as they fly high scouting for breakfast. Their presence always signifies that a large body of water lies nearby.  

All my life I’ve loved the coo of mourning doves; now their soft melody floats through the fresh, crisp morning air. I hear my late mother’s voice.  “They’re saying, ‘I love you...you, you’…”   

 Light begins to creep powerfully over the landscape, crisply defining colors and shapes. Car and screen doors open and close in our alley, human sounds that signify the start of a workday morning. A bicycle wheel’s whirr faintly shifts the air.  

With a flick of my finger, my garden fountains power up and burble gently. 

My coffee is cold; I’d gotten lost in thought, in sounds, in Quiet. It’s time now to center myself, organize the nascent day into minutes and hours-  time to make plans.  

A fresh new day, with no mistakes, has begun.

  

7/8/18: Twiggy's Story 

Lots of interesting people visit Sunnybank’s secret garden, especially during the Traverse City Cherry Festival. One man, especially, will always remain bright in my memory.  Tall, about fifty and in good shape, he rang the garden bell one mid-morning and wandered in-- wearing a smallish dog. 

A homemade open carrier was secured to his lederhosen-like suspenders. Comfortably arranged in it was a mostly brown fifteen-pound mutt with floppy ears who was fitted with a special harness secured to the carrier. White fur encircled one bright eye, giving him a clownish appearance. His nose twitched as he surveyed the landscape.  Though dogs are never allowed in the secret garden, I made no objection to this arrangement. 

The man sat down carefully beside me on the big bench, moved carrier with doggie inside onto his lap, and we exchanged introductions.  He was Jason, and his bearded charmer answered to Twiggy. 

“I found him late last year lying on a state forest dirt road miles from anywhere, and managed to get him to a vet, who speculated he’d been flung from a car. The poor guy had a broken back. I visited him every day while he mended. That took a month. I really admired his spirit.  It was ‘touch and go’ for a while, but he finally healed. Twiggy can walk, though it’s not that comfortable for him. He prefers to stick close to me, and is happiest up here, where he can view the world safely. I don’t mind toting him around; it’s good exercise.” He looked thoughtful. “I think the vet was right—he was abandoned, and the experience haunts him. He worries that it could happen again. Sometimes he has bad dreams.” 

He shook his head. 

“He was so happy when I kept coming back to visit that I had to adopt him. He chuckled. “Hell, he’d already adopted me! 

“The vet thought Twiggy was about six years old. In his opinion his age, plus his special needs, would have made placement unlikely.” He shook his head. “I knew what that meant...” 

The little dog looked up at his master and sneezed. 

“Things have worked out just fine. I make outdoor furniture at home, so we’re always together. He just curls up on his blanket and watches me work.  I named him Twiggy because he was so skinny, and was mixed in with branches and twigs when I found him.” 

Twiggy’s stumpy tail wagged. I stroked his head. But there was one particularly strange thing--every now and then during the narration he’d look up at Jason and howl softly. 
Not bark. Howl. 

“Why does he do that?” 

Jason thought for a bit.  “I think the bark was knocked right out of him when he was thrown away.  The vet guessed that he’d probably barked for help for days before finally giving up and howling, which is what got my attention when I drove by looking for fallen timber.  When he has something to say he howls, sometimes quietly, sometimes loudly. In all the time we’ve been together I’ve never once heard him bark.” 

A nervous rabbit peered out from between two plump spirea bushes. All three of us noticed. 

“He smells that rabbit, but in strange territory he’s never tempted to chase one. Moving faster than a walk is tough anyway, because his back is cockeyed. 

“I’d never considered having a pint-sized mutt. Bigger dogs are more my style. But he’s my buddy. We stay together, thanks to this carrier. He’ll climb out for his toilet, but he’s happiest right up against me. I can’t leave him home alone, worried I’d never come back.” He sighed. “I doubt if he’ll ever feel completely secure.” 

He fondled Twiggy’s ears affectionately. “He even sleeps at the foot of the bed. And he snores, which took some getting used to.  But, hey, maybe I do, too. 
All in all, I feel lucky to have him.” 

Bright-eyed Twiggy, riding high, front paws curling over the basket’s rim as the twosome left the garden, polished his black nose and nuzzled Jason’s neck. 
Henry David Thoreau once noted: the most I can do for my friend is simply to be his friend. 

Here it was, in its purest form. 

-- 

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7/01/18: Coping with the Furnace  

The last few days have been scorchers! It’s important to soak the ground very early in the morning, especially around sunnier, hot spots.  I have two grassy areas right at the huge maple’s drip-line, on the front lawn, that are yellow; put simply, I wasn’t watering nearly enough. The tree’s rootlets were stealing the lawn’s moisture. It looked half dead. That’s changed. Tripling hydration seems to be working. I see little green shoots amid the straw, but these 96-degree days are a reminder that constant, massive support is vital for garden and lawn survival. 

(How DO golf courses survive?) 

Bryn walks very slowly, panting. She finds the pavement too hot for comfort, so we stick to grass as she does her business and hurries back to cool Sunnybank House. 

I will close the garden during this intense heat wave. So many feet on the lawn in the main secret garden stresses the already gasping lawn, which, by the way, I always leave quite long- 3.5 inches. Keeping the edges trimmed neatens up the picture, without stripping the lawn of protection from the furnace. (Imagine being in the desert with a butch haircut, as opposed to having longer hair…)  

The big hydrangea and my thalictrum (a bog plant whose tall, completely hollow purple stems must stay filled to the brim with water to support the developing flowers) will need intensive help.  I’ve developed a new method of coping; a directional sprinkler will bathe them gently, but constantly, for the four hours the plants are under the spotlight; I think I can keep them alive. The best time to begin is very early in the morning.  Moisture penetrates, instead of mostly evaporating, giving me a head start.  

Have you noticed how water rolls off the parched garden earth, instead of sinking into it?  But because I’ve mulched deeply in June, this isn’t happening. NOW is when using cocoa shell mulch pays off. Water is completely absorbed by the soil underneath; my plants stay moist longer. 

There are two full months of flower-cheer left, IF the garden survives the next 3-4 days. 

I’ll keep you posted on how they, and I, have coped.  

 

6/24/18: Love, Lust, Hunks and Hooey  

My advice to girls is: first, don’t smoke—to excess; second, don’t drink—to excess; third, don’t marry—to excess. 

Mark Twain 

  

As I patiently weed in the secret garden, a young, handsome couple chatting with me suddenly link arms and say to each other, “Let's get hitched.” Turns out they’d dated only three weeks, but “sometimes you just know.” Hugging her, he proclaims, “You’re gorgeous. We’re in love. Nothing else matters.”  

Huh. Is it love, or lust? Only the “L” is shared. Lust is inadequate glue. Feelings often fall away because lovers try to bond forever using its cheap adhesive. Do these two really know each other? A chemical reaction—thumping heart, shortness of breath, weak knees—merely signals an overwhelming need to possess. (I sometimes wonder if people take longer to choose their cars than their mates.)  

“Wait a minute,” I joke. “What’s his favorite color?” Startled, she thinks hard, then gives up. “What is it, Jack?” We three laugh, but I’ve made a point. 

Today, as I line up at the grocery store’s checkout aisle I spot that rag mag, The National Inquirer, lying in wait amid candy and fluff, for bored shoppers to gasp at- and take home- its latest riveting news: a plump-lipped, paper-thin, top-heavy movie star has chucked her third husband for another, richer man.  
Marriage is really the only legal form of pickpocketing, I guess. 

Immediately after perusing that pronouncement I read that a hunky male rock star has traded in his current wife for a younger model with a more pleasing arrangement of facial bones, and—very important—longer leg bones.  
Jeez. 

Fans avidly follow these peoples’ confused lives via TV, the Internet, and similar tell-all magazines. Plastic surgeons around the country are busily re-sculpting perfectly good bodies to more closely resemble a star the client envies— a star who makes millions pretending to be someone he or she’s not. 
A visiting E.T. alien would throw up his tentacles in confusion.  

And why do folks wish to read about what he/she had muttered when dying, or which one has chucked whom for new ‘love,’ anyway? What’s happened to embracing some semblance of privacy? 

Lee Marvin, an oft-married actor, once commented that “if your house burns down, you gotta rescue what’s important: the dogs. They know all about loving, and are unconditionally faithful.”  

Unconditional love is allergic to “or.” (You’ll do this, think that, be this, gimme that, or, I won’t love you.) Most parents I know are experts at truly loving. (A few though, confuse mothering and smothering…) 

People today seem so cynical about relationships. “Never waste time crying over a divorce or dumped lover,” one wag commented wryly: “just yell ‘Next!’”  
A friend once commented that the only difference between a man and a municipal bond is that municipal bonds eventually mature.  
And how about the guy who wasn’t a bit impressed to learn that swans mate for life. “If you’re a swan,” he said smugly, “you’re probably not gonna find a swan that looks much different from the swan you’ve got, so why not mate for life?”  
Awww... 

The rules seemed so much clearer way back when. A half-century ago, fifty-year-old women wouldn’t dare have babies because they’d probably set them down and forget where they left them.  
Today, fifty- and even sixty- is the new thirty. Boundaries have faded. (Inseminated grannies have successfully given birth to their barren daughter’s baby...) 

Oh, boy... I read over my musings, ruefully.  I’m a pontificating old dear who still likes to recall one of (ageless) Zsa Zsa Gabor’s outrageous comments: “Of course I’ll return the ring, dahhhling—but I’ll keep the diamond.”  
But hey: when toupees are removed, when our teeth are in a jar and our busts come off with our bras, what then? Does love remain?  

Rising, I brush myself off.  Lots of weeds are banished, the temperature’s down a bit and- I may finally have sorted out what’s really important:  
I shall pursue and happily lust after flowers, and promise to love every single one I bed. Forever.

6/17/18: I Dream a Dream    

Dear readers, this column is a repeat of one I wrote a few years ago. This weekend is devoted to our 50th anniversary and my birthday- a big bash- leaving zero time for my usual reflections. I did tweak it, though... 

    

Lots of brochures and phone solicitations from aspiring politicians are starting to pour in, triggering a weird dream one night, where I find myself with the huge, temporary power to dee-cree American changes. And make one world change. 

It went like this:  

I (a little old lady who likes dirt and the stuff that grows in it) possess a smattering of hard-earned common sense, which has inexplicably morphed into a Marvel Comic-like ‘Power-To-Change-Things-By-DeeCree’. I could make massive political and social changes, implemented by my scrawled signature. Bling! All Dee-crees shall immediately become reality for the United States of America.  
(Oh: I’m allowed just ONE world-sized decree, though. See #8.) 

Here They Are. 

 

1.  Presidential campaigns shall last precisely six months.  

Candidates (representing a maximum of four parties chosen in state and local elections) will be granted a budget of one hundred million public dollars each- and not one penny more- to map out and present their platforms. All major television news stations, as a public service, will feature each state’s chosen candidates on the first Sunday of every month, for three hours. Voters will dine on the ‘meat’ of their debates, arguments and proposals, which shall be presented concisely. (A disinterested committee will fund each candidate’s submitted ‘vote-for-me’ ads, using the money drawn from the aspiring politician’s hundred million dollar fund. (No one has to be wealthy to run, or win.) 
The American public shall mine for talent and innovative ideas, and listen to- and debate- every debate. 

 

2. Candidates caught in a lie (via ads or out of their own mouths) shall immediately be eliminated from the competition. A committee of eleven respected people dedicated to Truth, Honor and the Reasoned Way, will thoroughly check their veracity, then decide, based on collected verifiable evidence, if a lie exists. (Note: solid, reliable politically untainted statement checks will make honesty popular again.) The committee shall be paid well for this service, which shall last the entire six months. 
Their decisions are final.   

 

3.  If one single ‘rotten’ ballot is discovered (ballots will be randomly reviewed to weed out dead voters and non-citizens from anywhere) then ALL of that particular county’s ballots shall be rendered void. Losing so many votes because someone tries to sneak in ringers would go a long way toward stopping dishonesty.  
If an idea cannot survive without cheating to promote it, that idea should be chucked out. 

 

4.  Part of the oath every elected official must take shall include these words:  
‘I am a public SERVANT, not the public’s Master. When a government fears the people, that is Freedom. When the people fear their government, that is Tyranny. Thus, the Lesson, repeated: I am a public SERVANT, not the public’s Master. The citizens I represent are my Masters.  

 

5. The nation’s press shall report only fact-based news of the day. The awful ‘filler’ inclusions of death and psychopathic horrors that greet a soul over morning coffee encourage depression and despair. (Dozens of instances of character assassination, bear-eats child, woman tortures horses/babies, etc, offered as a steady diet every single day encourage reader despair and poor mental health.) Only factual research for the most up-to-date information shall be printed.  

News readers shall read the latest regional, national and world news. Simply that.  

Condemnation, expressed horror over what is reported, etc, shall happen in a forum designed for that purpose. All statements and declarations of horror and disgust shall be based on factual knowledge, and not attributed to ‘unnamed sources.’ No implants of erroneous ideas of why a behavior happens- “ perhaps he’s beaten his children, so that’s why they dare not look up” is permitted. That is Malicious Gossip, junk food for unwary brains...  

 

6. The President and Congress shall serve six years, with no second term. Thus, their entire time in office shall be spent actually running the country, undistracted by fundraising or pandering to his or her base. 

All presidential decisions, congressional bills and subsequent votes shall be posted weekly, in plain English on one page, for the country to read. The author of the bill shall be prominently printed. 

No riders- ‘remora eel’ attachments- are permitted, ever. Only the bill, with a ten page-limit. The bill writers must KISS (Keep It Simple- Succinct). 

 

7. The very first word learned in school shall be ignorance - a big word (though not nearly as big as supercalifragilisticexpialidocious) but one of the most dangerous to ignore. Ignorant people, stuffed with ideology, religiously inflexible precepts, or just plain pigheadedness, regularly say and do awful, unthinkable things to other living beings. Children shall learn, for example, that not one single human being has ever been able to choose his or her skin pigment, height, eye color, hair texture, parents, sex, or place of birth. So, hating people for something they have zero control over is, by definition, the very essence of ignorance. 

(When one learns to reason, and becomes skilled as a ‘devil’s advocate,’ that is, a person who can grasp the other side of a plan, ideology, or platform to aid in understanding the other person’s reasoning, which makes it possible to minimize the number of times he/she makes an idiot of him/herself.  

Bonus: tolerance and flexibility are thus nurtured.)   

Information, gleaned from verifiable facts (never from consensus) shall be given out freely. Questions, especially at school, must be encouraged. (Teachers may never teach for tests.) When updated and verifiable data about any subject is discovered, students shall celebrate the updates. After all, a better, more complete grasp of ideas or theories is always a good thing. 
After basic reasoning skills are mastered, there’ll be more time to luxuriate in love, compassion, generosity, fellowship, fun, and the gentle art of accommodation and compromise.  

 

**8. THE WORLD RULE: There will be time to indulge in the things listed above because- Wars anywhere, big or small, will be extremely unlikely. Why?  
The sitting president, his/her staff and Congress shall physically lead any war they declare or provoke. 
*This same Dee-cree shall apply to every world leader- prime ministers, ayatollahs, mullahs, dictators, kings, queens, emperors, princes, etc., including his/her staff and their congress, politbody, rubber stampers or whatever these groups might be called. 

Put simply: Leaders, whether old or young, must lead- and fight- on the Front Lines. No desk warriors allowed. No excuses. 

 

9. The first book read to toddlers- and to all new American citizen adults- shall be The Sneetches and Other Stories, by Dr. Seuss. Children will ponder Sylvester McMonkey McBean’s Star-On and Star-Off Machines, and who was what, and why it seemed important…. 

The other three stories, Too Many Daves, The Zax, and What Was I Scared Of? are- well, just perfect for helping to sort out life’s vagaries early. 

 

10. Everyone shall pay for doctor visits. Cash, checks and credit cards accepted. This method of payment is offered in hardware stores, clothing shops, food stores, airports, dry cleaners, etc. so everyone already knows how to do it. Just pull out the wallet and pay for the service. Second, third and forth party government bureaucrats are not allowed to interfere in a doctor-patient relationship. 

RESULT:  

The price of health care will plummet. 

One’s private health information shall once again be private.  
Comparison-shopping will blossom.  
Word will quickly spread as to which physicians, clinics and hospitals excel, and which are sub-standard.  
The price of every test, and all medicines, shall be posted. 

  

11. Congress: 

- shall NOT have a Separate, Special Health Plan. They shall receive precisely what they mandate for the rest of the country.  

- Terms shall last 6 years, with a good salary- better than what they’d been earning in their regular jobs, to compensate for uprooting their regular lives to serve in this way. A nice bonus at term’s end shall be awarded to those who have served their constituents with integrity and honor, and have not left Congress 1000% richer.  

  

12. All Americans shall purchase Mandatory Catastrophic Health Insurance to cover any medical disaster, using the money they earn. 

Anyone genuinely needful- people who just can’t pay for these awful health situations-either temporarily or permanently- will be assisted using a generous federal, state or local government fund set aside to fully cover their medical expenses. Prospective people in need will be carefully checked to root out fakers. 

  

13. Lawsuits shall be filed with great care. Frivolous filers will incur a mega-fine for tying up court time. If a civil lawsuit goes to court, the losing side shall pay both bills. Nonsense will cease as offenders’ wallets become emaciated.  

  

14. Elementary schools shall teach reading, mathematics, unredacted history, geography, English, logic (critical thinking) writing skills and a foreign language. A maximum of FIVE hours daily shall be dedicated to these subjects. Homework shall be rare, because home time shall be reserved for family interactions, after-school jobs, and play.  

Furthermore, the above subjects shall be offered all day. So, if a child is naturally most alert, say, after lunch, he/she shall attend school then, during their personal best learning time. No more dragging children out of bed at 6:00 a.m. to present them at school half asleep, unable to absorb facts. No more forcing a child to learn in the afternoon, if he/she is naturally most alert and receptive during mornings. Understanding circadian rhythms greatly helps a brain absorb knowledge.   

Parents may drop in anytime to quietly observe their child’s class, from a small one-way glass room, so as not to distract. Teachers, on the merit system, shall be tested periodically to insure professional competence, and to insure they teach only the subjects mentioned. Everything not academic shall not be mandated. Schools shall have sign-up sheets for sports, music, art, driver training, shop, etc. All are free. All shall be offered all day. 

Large bonuses will be awarded for teaching excellence, as determined by the learning demonstrated by pupils. Older childrens’ reasoned, written evaluations of their teachers’ performances at years’ end shall be encouraged. Constructive criticism especially from children, is always valuable. 

 

As chief Poo-Bah I make all this happen by signing a special paper- and Presto! The above dee-clarations become the new reality. 

Smiling, I sigh and drift off again, perchance to imagine even more improbable profundities- 

Dreams are still free, eh?

6/10/18: What Bryn Knows...  

Joe and I have shared the last 4 + years with our labradoodle, Bryn. She’s brought us much joy, and even more wonderment, truth be told. 

Bryn understands a lot of English- I mean sentences- whole thoughts- that Joe and I express in her presence. I notice her ears moving smartly toward us, even as she gazes contemplatively out the window, her back to us.  When we plan our day, including the fun stuff- biking, hiking, relaxing after lunch in the Commons forest alongside that wonderful brook, she’s all ears. After we tentatively settle on where to go with her, she’ll turn her head to look us straight in the eye.  
Her tail will move approvingly, just the once.  
She knows!   
How though, can we really be sure we aren’t deluding ourselves? 

After our daily meal she’ll allow a decent space of time to pass, then softly bump Joe. He’ll look at her; she’ll glance out the window, then back at him.  
‘Ready, Boss? Let's go...’ 
She’ll walk with deliberation toward the front hall where we keep her leash and collar, and sit.  
Yes, she knows.  
This behavior doesn’t happen when it rains. She’ll do her business, sigh and drag herself back inside to wait it out. 

After her early morning walk I’ll prepare her first meal. She’ll wait outside the pantry until I announce; “Your dinner is ready, and there’s a cookie in it...” meaning dried tripe, the lining of a cow’s stomach, packed with vitamins and minerals. (Thanks to its inclusion in her diet she’s given up the habit of occasionally eating other dogs’ poo. The tripe people had mentioned this benefit, and they’d been right.) She takes her tripe ‘cookie’ to the dining room and eats it quietly and with pleasure, before tackling her meal. (By the way, meals are always ‘dinner,’ even if it’s morning.) After finishing most- or all- of it, she’ll come into the kitchen, and bump me once.  

“Ah, you’ve eaten? Let me look.”  
I get up and do exactly that. Her gleaming bowl is almost always polished. (I don’t mind the odd little bit left in there to save until later. She’ll still get her treat.) 
“Well done, Bryn.” I’ll pull out a bully stick; she’ll sniff it carefully before escorting it into the dining room to eat.    

BUT. Sometimes she’ll test me. She’ll eat a few tiny bites of her meal, bump my knee gently, then sit expectantly, hoping for her bully stick. Bryn believes in dessert first. 
I say the same words as before.  
“Ah, you’ve eaten? Let me look.” 
I go look.  
No go. 90% is still in there. 
“Hmm. I guess you’re saving your dinner ‘til later, Bryn. No problem. But the usual rule applies: First, your dinner. Then your treat.  
I move back to the table to work. 

She’ll follow and summon a pathetic expression, knowing full well I won’t change my mind.  
I casually repeat The Rule. 

She’ll stand by me doing her ‘statue,’ in case I weaken. Not a whisker will twitch. She’ll remain motionless for perhaps five minutes... 
I continue to tap at my computer.  

The Boss had spoken. And that’s that. 

Ghost-like, she’ll finally give up and move back to her bowl to devour every kibble. Soon I’ll feel a second soft nudge. 
“Oh. You’ve eaten your dinner? Let me look.” 
I knew her bowl was empty; I heard it happen, but the ritual is important, so I’ll smile and say, “Good girl. I’ll get your treat.” 
I’ll produce a nice long stick from her drawer. She’ll sniff it, accept the gift and trot off to devour it. As she’ll begin moving away I’ll sometimes offer her a choice.  
“Do you want to eat it outside, or stay in here?”  
She’ll pause mid-step, glance outside, then toward the dining room, and make her choice. It could be either place.  

Her eyes, facial expressions and where she positions her beautiful tail, convey a mountain of information. It’s simply amazing  
1. how much Bryn knows, and expresses, and 
2. that I’ve managed to learn so many of her eloquent, subtle signals.  

We’re effectively communicating, any way you look at it.  

I think Bryn has a sense of humor, too.  
I rise very early- could be anywhere from 2:30 to 4:30 a.m. A sensible doggie, she’ll remain in her bed upstairs for another three hours or so before coming downstairs to begin her day. 

But that 55-pound canine can move as silently as a ghost.  
Sometimes she’ll come downstairs hours earlier than usual. Making no sound whatever on the creaky kitchen plank floor she’ll glide into the big kitchen, select a spot on my blind left side- and switch to ‘statue’ mode for as long as it takes. It might be an hour, if I’m deeply engrossed in what I’m doing... She is stone. 

It’s worth it, though, when I gasp, jerk in shock and eek out shaky laughter at finding her there, a mere inch away! (The first time she did this I nearly fell out of my chair!) Yawning hugely, she’ll pretend surprise at my surprise.  
Gotcha, Boss!  
It’s a hoot for both of us!