A Garden Variety

During the work week, Chase spent the warm days lounging in comfort at my parent’s pool. It was a perfect puppy paradise: safely fenced with the shade of the cabana, the swimming pool to cool his paws, soft grass to roll in and the tiered garden boasting blooms, vegetables and lizards to chase.

My mother would garden in the morning and I would drop off my dog before leaving for work. He would join her among the plants, offering his excavation expertise. My mother made the mistake of introducing him to the wild strawberries growing among the ivy and oleander. Chase had a way of knowing when they were ripe and would carefully pluck the juicy berry from its leafy home between his tiny front teeth. Soon, all of the berries were harvested.

Tomatoes also grew on one of the top tiers. He observed my mother staking vines and mulching the soil and his curiosity about the plants grew. For weeks he added tomato plant inspection to his routine in the morning. Sneaking casual glances at me or my mother, Chase would brush his nose up against the ripening green and red streaked fruit. My mother would check the plants throughout the week to determine the best time for collecting them. Several days before she was ready to pick them, the tomatoes would vanish. The possibility of a rabbit or deer grazing on the tomatoes seemed unlikely. The area was completely fenced and my parent’s aggressive cat was always on patrol.

To combat the mystery of the disappearing tomatoes, my mother began picking them days before they were ready and placed them on the window ledge in the kitchen to ripen in the afternoon sun. The tomatoes began departing from the ledge, too. My mother accused every two-legged body in the house of eating her tomatoes until we discovered dried tomato pulp and seeds on the Oriental rug in the dining room and the focus was directed at a small white and orange-spotted thief.

Ta-may-to, Ta-mah-to…however my English setter preferred to pronounce it in his devious brain; we were no match for his determination in his favorite outdoor treat. My mother no longer plants tomatoes in her garden – they are now in large pots under careful guard from the garden variety tomato bandit.



For nearly two years I lived in a tiny coastal town in South Carolina, halfway to nowhere between Charleston and Myrtle Beach. One road in and one road out which typically meant that everyone knew when I was in town and everyone knew when I left...down to the minute. I lived on 50 acres of property flanked on two sides by ponds and the marsh leading to the Intercoastal waterway on the other. Three hunting dogs kept me company: an English Setter, a Springer Spaniel and a Black Lab. They brought me gifts and each day I would have something new in my direct path to my truck: raccoons, blue heron, fish and my favorite...a whole deer. Yes, my three hunting dogs dragged back an entire doe for me one evening. After that, I kept them inside at night. In the event that I didn't have time to feed them in the morning, I couldn't just plan to come back at lunch. All three of them knew where I worked and would travel the half mile or so to the school, climb up the fire escape to my back classroom door and let me know their displeasure. They were not the only dogs who tracked down their owners at the school, either. I was also tracked down by the post office at my employer. Anytime there was a large package or something that needed a signature, they just sent it by the school. They knew I was there.

There were three churches in this town of a population of under 500. If I remained in town for the weekend, I would attend one of the churches with a congregation of approximately 35 parishioners. Halfway through each Episcopalian service, there would be a pause for the "peace". Every week this pause turned into a lengthy social gathering in the aisles until the minister attempted to restore order with a loud "Now where were we?” I would stifle my laughter as someone "reminded" him of where in the service he needed to continue. Needless to say, they knew who I was and would call me at home, out of concern, if I didn't show up one Sunday.

It was difficult to be 45 minutes in any direction from civilization. Grocery stores and fast food restaurants, as well as doctor's offices were that far. By 45 minutes, I am not speaking about sitting in traffic or waiting at stop lights or even driving slowly. 45 minutes of driving through the middle of the Frances Marion National Forest (you know the one where The Patriot was filmed?) at 75 miles per hour keeping a watch for deer, fox and people riding their lawnmowers. This distance was especially challenging if I ran out of dog food. The dogs expected to be fed at their regular time each morning. A lack of food meant a short trip to the gas station / grocery store / video store / hardware store / gift center / restaurant to pick up an overpriced tiny bag of kibble. If I was hungry, there was no point in driving 45 minutes to the closet Taco Bell. There were two additional restaurants in town and I experienced having a "tab" for the first time. I would order my weekly shrimp potato or crab cake and add it to my tab. At the end of each month, I would pay the grand total that had been carefully added to my page in the three-ring binder behind the restaurant counter.

It took some time to get used to the complete darkness that would envelope me once I turned out the final light for bed. It was so quiet unless the random tug boat driving through the Intercoastal would pull on the fog horn and shine their spotlight in my bedroom window in a neighborly manner. I also was stalked by a crop duster for a few weekends. I couldn't figure out why the bright yellow plane kept circling my house each Saturday and Sunday morning. It stopped rather abruptly when he crashed into the marsh. Curiously, he had no explanation as to why he was in the area, clearly wasn't dusting crops and he didn't know why he had run out of fuel!

The marsh was so much fun to take the kayak out for a paddle. The dogs would swim alongside me and I would fret about the alligators. I had one in each pond and I knew there were more in the marsh but the dogs remained safe. The path through the marsh to the Intercoastal was ever changing. A calendar reminded me of the high and low tides for the year and each day a new path would be carved out in the tall grasses...the one before long forgotten. I even attempted to enlist the dogs in assisting with dragging the kayak out of the marsh and into the boathouse like three demented Santa's reindeers. I tied the leashes to the front of the kayak but when it came to get them to move forward, all three lay on the ground stubbornly.

Once, I was fighting a bout of strep throat and one of my medications was codeine. After taking a pill, I decided that I needed to retrieve the mail. Typically, I would drive the distance as the driveway was over a mile and a half long. The dogs would ride in the bed of the truck and I loved watching their heads bob back and forth, tails wagging with joy over the unexpected ride. For safety reasons, I decided that I shouldn't drive my truck "under the influence" but that it would be perfectly okay to ride my bike while wearing my insanely impractical footwear (boots with 3 inch heels). Partway down the driveway, shortly after passing the ponds, I veered into the marsh and fell off the bike. Panicking, I untangled myself quickly and dragged the bike from the bog. I just knew there were alligators in there or a snake. Leaving my bike behind, I gracefully staggered on foot to the end of the driveway for the mail. Blaming the medication rather than my stylish boots, I didn't bother with the mail until I was recovered.

There was no cable TV - just a couple of channels that came in with tin foil wrapped antennae and I became addicted to WWF each Wednesday. The following day I would discuss my favorite wrestlers with my 9th grade students while my 12th graders never hesitated to remind me that it wasn't real.

Recently, I took a trip back through Charleston. As I headed down highway 17, I took note of all of the changes. More development, more stores, more traffic lights. It wasn't until I reached the edge of Awendaw that the road began to look familiar with the dilapidated roadside stands that would boast hand-woven baskets during the tourist season and the pale brown grass which peppered the sides of the road and formed the center median. The trees appeared taller and as I reached the Seewee Restaurant, I was relieved to see that it hadn't changed. I turned around in the gravel parking lot and headed back South, afraid to continue on...not wanting to see additional changes to tarnish my memories.

Driving on East Bay Street, I embraced my "tourist road rage" as visitors stumbled into the direct path of my car. Reaching the Battery, I turned down the familiar street of my former landlords and parked the car behind their old battered green Volvo. I unlatched the gate and walked up the path to the front porch. Sleeping on a dog bed and wearing a dusty blue jacket was a small Orange Belton English Setter. I knelt down beside her and stroked her silky ears. As I approached the front door to ring the bell, I felt a soft nudge at my knee. The small setter had wobbled over on unsteady ancient legs to push her nuzzle into my knee. I sank to her height and looked carefully into her eyes. "Brandy?" I whispered. She responded by laying her head on my knees. I hugged her frail body, overcome by emotions. I hadn't realized that she was still alive. Over the years I had received the news that Indy, the black lab and Suttre, the Springer Spaniel had passed away. Since Brandy was older than both of them, I assumed she had met a similar fate. It appeared that no one was home so I scrawled a quick note on a scrap of paper and tucked it into the door. I sat with Brandy for a few more moments, remembering how special she had been to me at a time in my life when I needed it the most. She was my first introduction to English Setters and the reason I have one now. I put her back in her dog bed and kissed the top of her head. She watched me as I walked to my car and drove away. I was sure that she remembered me, too.

It is amazing how one brief experience in my life can hold so many memories and emotions. One museum, one fire department, one tiny library and three churches. Dogs slept in the one road and expected me to drive around them. One town seemingly miles from somewhere but what a beautiful night sky with a million stars and no power lines, buildings or signs to spoil the view. One moment in time but will affect me forever. One town, still unchanged, still untouched. One.


Fixing the Situation

One of the requirements in adopting Chase from the rescue organization was to get him fixed as soon as he was old enough. I did not have a problem with this. The vet, however, wanted to wait until he was at least 8 months old before performing the procedure. Waiting eight months is a very long time, especially when you are stuck with a hormonal puppy from the time he was six weeks old. Eight months seemed like a lifetime to me…and with good reason, too.

With his raging puppy hormones in full gear, I couldn’t leave Chase alone in my fenced in back yard. After watching him balance precariously along the cinder block back wall of the yard, I installed a chain link fence along that wall so accessing it would be impossible. Thankfully, my dog refrained from climbing the links. Chase was a digger, not a climber. My puppy preferred a section of dirt between the chain link gate and the corner of the house to sink his paws into. This dog was fast! Frantically digging, first with his front paws and then in reverse using his rear paws like a back hoe, within minutes, escape was inevitable. To foil his plans, I followed the advice of one of my clients and buried several yards of chicken wire along his preferred path of destruction. Apparently dogs are not fond of digging through chicken wire. Pretty soon, my entire back yard was covered in chicken wire and the irony of using chicken wire to coop in my bird dog was not completely lost on me.

During this waiting period, Chase also became quite fond of a particular chaise lounge cushion out by the pool. My dad named the cushion “Sheila”. During the latter part of the day when the heat of the sun was beginning to fade, Chase would drag “Sheila” from the cabana in search of an audience. He would grip the corner of the cushion tightly between clenched teeth and then have his way with “her”. Just the character trait I always cherished in a dog – his humping capabilities! I was more than ready to take him off to the vet and get this situation fixed.

When the big day finally arrived, I sadly left him at the vet’s office, his tail wagging, happy to be somewhere new. I felt a bit guilty leaving him there, but my feelings of remorse faded as I smiled at the thought of a better behaved puppy. After a very brief period of recovery time, Chase was back to his old habits of digging in the dirt and having inappropriate relations with his “Sheila”. I couldn’t understand his enthrallment with the cushion and was suspicious that perhaps the vet simply took my money and pretended to fix my dog. I’m afraid to admit that I actually pinned my dog down to check out the handiwork. Eventually the digging habit dissipated; however, to this day Chase has a complete fascination with cushions and pillows. He has punctured holes into the corner of each decorative throw pillow on the couch. He slyly steals pillows from the bed. And he has a complete understanding of a rather unusual dog command – yet he is very quick to obey: “Drop the Pillow!”