The Spiritual Gardener: My Canine Boss

Cosimo on the lookout for deer in the Pocono mountains of Eastern Pennsylvania.

It’s time to talk dogs, and what marvels they are and how much they add to our lives. Not to mention what a help they are in the garden, where their chores and enthusiasm are never-ending, just as they are for the gardener.

My canine boss is desperately trying to get my attention, with the topic of a walk clearly on his mind. What wonderful creatures dogs are, proof to be sure that God loves us and wants us to be happy. Well yes, I know that Ben Franklin originally said that about beer and not dogs.  And of course it has been said of many things since, and is true of many things too, beer — and horses, by the way — certainly included. But I am saying it now about dogs and who would disagree.

This particular dog is a marvel. I have loved all the many dogs I have known in a long life full of wonderful dogs, and I would not be willing to give up the friendship of a single one of them, not for anything. And this one above all of them, for this dog is rare indeed.  He is kind and keen, he has the most lovely spirit, is completely devoted to every member of our family, though over time I have become his favorite, an enormously humbling compliment and responsibility. I love the famous prayer, “Oh Lord, help me be the man my dog thinks I am!”  If only I were.

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Being a sheltie, he loves to obey, learns quickly, anticipates my every move, and knows what I am going to do often even before I know it myself.  And he is smart as hell, scary smart. We don’t even leave our checkbook out any more, after we came home early one night and caught him on the phone, talking to the local pizzeria in a growly voice and ordering a “meat-lover’s pizza”.

He watches me get dressed in the morning and knows that if I put on a suit I am going in to the office, but if I put my jeans on, I am staying home with him. Joy. Each morning he goes over and puts his nose on my jeans to show me where they are, in case I forgot, and to show me what he wants me to wear. It breaks my heart to choose the suit, on a work day. On weekends, he will spend the entire day with me in the garden, indefatigable and endlessly interested, and the only words he likes better than “Do you want to go for a walk?” are “Do you want to garden with me?”

This morning is particularly fetching. It is barely light, and the sleepy world is suffused with dense fog, thrown up no doubt by the wave of warm, very humid weather we are having after the chills of last week. The days are growing speedily shorter and cooler, but today is warm, and the world is hushed and muffled by the fog. There are a few dozen stunning red maple leaves spangled on the blacktop drive, as if they were arranged by hand by a finicky florist for a community fall festival. But of course they fell at random, each one improbably landing face up. It is a day of exceptional beauty, much more beautiful than the average day, and I briefly reflect on the unfairness and unevenness of days, in respect of their inherent beauty.

I got up early this morning, fed Cosimo the first thing as he requires of me, then grabbed the first cup of coffee from the coffee pot and went outside with him to watch the day come on. Our days often begin like this now, sitting on the back stoop with my arm around his neck and we watch the slow autumnal light infiltrate the new day. We watch the birds and squirrels moving about in the garden, and Cosimo seems to know intuitively that this is a time for quiet watching and not for chasing and barking. That will come later, as we both know.

It is a perfect dog-walking day, and we both reach this conclusion independently. Cosimo looks at me with an excited twinkle in his eye, to see if I have come to the same idea, and he knows by my answering smile that I have. Of course, that means I will likely be late for work, so I briefly weigh the pros and cons. My mind flies though the realms of responsibility and affection, and I choose my canine boss over my corporate boss. Once again.

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On our walk around town, I notice the last of the cicadas are already whirring busily, but otherwise the world is silenced. It’s like watching a lovely, dreamy Fellini film with the sound turned off, and the cicada whirring is the sound of the film spooling from real to reel. The birds are flocking together more thickly each day, great clouds of them wheeling shapelessly in the sky, settling on telephone wires and in trees in their many hundreds, soon thousands, before they depart, chattering excitedly and talking of their upcoming big adventure.

Every year in early October, like clockwork, a few blue jays fly through our garden and so far I have never missed them, though we only have a few and then they are gone for the year, so you have to be quick-sighted. One of the great things about New Jersey is that is it located right in the middle of one of the most important American flyways for birds coming down from Canada in the fall, and of course going north in the spring.  So we get to see a lot of wonderful bird life here.

A bit of color is just starting to flush into the maples. And how beautiful the dogwoods are this time of year, when their leaves turn to an even, mellow russet and their graceful branches fan out their delicate, spreading russet canopies. It is exactly the color of russet that is echoed in the spent and faded floral umbels of the hydrangeas at this time of year. The humidity and warmth have caused an efflorescence of mushrooms around town, huge ones and in a wide range of shapes. Kids cannot resist smashing mushrooms, which I mildly deplore because to me they are so interesting and rare; but I say I ‘mildly deplore’ it because I smashed quite a few of them myself as a kid, and so I certainly understand the temptation.

milestone-marker-10-M-to-CBecause our town is so old, some homes still have the marble or granite posts near the street where guests, or the milkman or the man driving the ice wagon would tie up the reins for their horses.  Whenever I pass one of these on my rambling walks around town, I step up onto it for old times’ sake, as I think someone should from time to time. The main street in our town was part of the old King’s Highway that ran from Trenton to Camden, and then on into Philadelphia. At one point on this street, there is a worn, brownstone obelisk-shaped marker with the legend carved long ago in colonial cursive: 10 M TO C. (Pictured left).

We get home after our long walk just as it is starting to rain, so I grab an extra cup of coffee for the drive in to work. I would much rather this lovely autumn walk could go on and on, but reality intrudes, as it so frequently does. Duty and a city job call, and thank goodness I love that job or I might be tempted to do what my jealous canine boss seems to suggest I do…call in sick for an emergency gardening day.

 

 

 

Canine-boss-Cosimo-with-DAJ

 

 

 

David Jensen writes the popular American blog “The Garden Interior,” which chronicles his garden in southern New Jersey. Please visit at www.TheGardenInterior.com. You can follow David Jensen on Twitter at @GardenInterior.