WILLIAM RUTHERFORD: Dogs and gardening season

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With the melting snow comes the nasty deed every dog owner dreads. Layers of poop buried since November by weekly snow storms now reveal their stinky goo, begging to be stepped on by puppy or grandchild and tracked into the house if not immediately picked up and disposed of. Donning shovel and garbage pail, I head to the yard expecting to be there a while.

The dogs watch curiously as I dispose of their digested food into a bucket. Believing I enjoy the presents left for me, both dogs walk off the deck and deposit another fresh gift in the yard for me to pick up. Expecting a reward, Scout rubs against my leg while wagging his tail, takes two steps back and lets out a bark with ears raised in excitement. Scarlett joins the conversation and barks three times in succession, then sits and stares at me. Having no treats, I put down my shovel, walk into the house to get a dog cookie and track poop into the house on the bottom of my shoes.

The dogs follow me into the house, leaving four tracks of doggy waste where I leave two. The smell hits my wife’s nose before she sees the mess on the floor. “What is that sme … get out of the house! There’s crap all over the floor!” she yells as I look at the mess we’ve made. “Whoops,” I offer and tip-toe out of the back door with the puppies close behind.

Welcome to spring.

Deciding to enjoy this spring day outside, I finish my nasty, stinky chore while continually peeking to the fenced garden left dormant last fall, excited at the possibilities. The dogs, having lost interest in my task, lay on the warm deck sunning themselves. I carry my shovel to the garden, open the gate and walk inside. The dogs are not allowed in the garden. As I open the gate, both dogs jump off the deck and rush over trying to sneak through my legs.

Last fall, a family of mice take residence in a pile of brush in the garden and drive the dogs wild. They dig under the fence, try to climb over it, squeeze around it and bark incessantly until the neighbors call the police, believing the dogs are in trouble. The garden has been a focus of their attention ever since. Successful in their attempt, the dogs get through my legs and run around the garden, flip over all brush, bark, plants and rocks in search of the little brown tormentors. Finding none, they return to the warm gray deck and quickly fall asleep, dreaming of chasing and catching small rodents which is evident by their snarls, kicks, twitches and barks.

Finally alone, I close my eyes, take a deep breath and smile. The Earth smells sweet, ready to bear another harvest to feed my family. With eyes closed, I see tomatoes turning red on tall, green, leafy plants. I can almost smell the musky, beautifully indescribable odor of tomatoes growing on a vine. I love that smell.

Industrially grown tomatoes harvested green, left to ripen on a truck transporting a thousand pound of fruit to a large grocery store a thousand miles away from the farm it was grown, loses that beautiful smell a week before it is consumed. Very few things in life are as satisfying as a ripe tomato eaten directly from the vine. The smell, the color, the soil, the memory of planting the seed and watching the plant grow into a stem, strong enough to be transplanted into the garden; all make eating this tomato memorable.

On this spring day, my olfactory emotions go from breathtaking to breath-giving. Nasal memories of dog feces turn positive spring thoughts into sour memories, wishing my nose might have a shut off switch, eliminating this smell forever. On the other hand, I wish I can invite the smell of a live tomato plant to remain in my brain forever, immediately activating when I am forced to eat an unnaturally ripened tomato consumed in December.

I love the spring. It’s a time of growth, rebirth, the warming of the Earth. Brown trees and grass come to life with vivid colors and amazing odors. Hope lost during the cold, wet, grey days of winter is found when songbirds revisit the north and the world screams, “I’m alive!”

I open my eyes, look around the garden, breathe deeply and declare, “I’m alive!” With eyes open, I take one more breath, bend down and begin to pull straw from garden boxes. With this declaration, the gardening season begins.

• • •

Send comments or other suggestions to William Rutherford at bprutherford@hotmail.com or visit pensiveparenting.com.

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