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The Humble Gardener

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The Legacy of Chance

For the last fourteen years, our gardening team has consisted of Chip, me, and our dog, Chance. I would like to say that it is a cooperative effort by all three of us, but I make a habit of not telling falsehoods. We love to garden but I have to question the quality of Chance's contributions.

In the spring, after a quick till of the garden, Chip moves on to another part of the garden as I begin to plant potatoes. Chance appears in the freshly tilled section where I am making trenches and proceeds to dig furiously. He then throws himself into his hole-which, by the way, is exactly where I need to make my next trench-and emits a sigh as if he has just plowed the north forty without benefit of a mule. Persuading him to move his ninety pound body delays the planting. I am the only one who minds this behavior.

Another job that Chance assigns himself is being the canine scarecrow. A gander and his wife build a nest on the shore near our garden every year. The gander likes to glide by, casting surreptitious glances at the garden. It is Chance's self-appointed task to stand on the shoreline and puff out his chest. Over the years, the gander and Chance have come to an understanding. The geese stay out of our garden and the dog leaves the goose family alone. The paw prints in the onion patch tell the tale of the scarecrow's path as he dashes through the onions to confront the goose. If Chance was a teenage boy, he would wear size 13 shoes. His paws leave onions uprooted but Chance is oblivious. I get used to replanting onions over and over. I am the only one who minds this behavior.

Chance has never met a vegetable he didn't like; he is attentive to the progress of the crops. When the beans come on, it is Chance's job to throw himself prone between the rows. I am not sure how this contributes to the harvest in a positive way.He is "helpful" by picking tomatoes. The fact that the tomato is pulverized by the time it makes it to the house bothers Chance not at all. Zucchini squashes are great for playing keep away, but Ike, the other dog, is too laid back for such nonsense, so Chance has to content himself with throwing a squash up in the air, missing it, pouncing on it, only to repeat the process in vain as Ike pointedly ignores his antics. I am the only one who minds this behavior.

A dog's work is never done. Chance has done his best to teach Ike, seven years his junior, the gardening duties, but Ike prefers to stretch out on the gravel path and sleep as the rest of us step over him as we attend to gardening tasks. Chance must bark at the heron on the neighbor's dock with no help from Ike. The heron is not interested in the garden but Chance takes no chances. Real and imagined interlopers both receive the same warnings. Imagined interlopers and I mind this behavior.

This year, for the first time in fourteen years, Chip tilled and I planted potatoes with no Chance by my side. This year, the onions are planted and they remain erect and contained in their rows. No paw prints disturb the soil. The tilled garden stays tilled; no deep hole to shelter a large, exhausted dog is dug. We decide to forgo zucchini. Neither Chip nor I is that fond of them and the only one who enjoyed them is no longer with us.

Ike wanders the yard as we plant peas. He stays in the path, watching as we weed the lettuce and carrots and radishes. If I didn't know better, I would think that Ike misses his buddy. I wonder what will happen this year without Chance to fend off visitors to the garden.

This morning, a visit to the garden provides an answer. The heron is waiting patiently in the shallow water for his breakfast. Ike barks, a gruff sound that startles the heron and sends him down the shore to a safer vantage point. The gander leaves his missus and floats by. He and Ike have a staring contest; it ends with a mutual agreement that only goose and dog understand. The gander returns to his wife. Ike returns to us, smug in his defense prowess, as he marches through the onion patch.

Chance would be proud. And I drop to my knees in the onions and gently return them to an upright position. I do not mind.

Master Gardener

Sandra DePalma-Odell

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