Finding autumn joy in a granddaughter’s phone call

Sydney Craft Rozen

When my husband, Lee, and I moved to Moscow 11 years ago, our high-energy golden retriever, Kaylee, and sweet Old English sheepdog, Rags, were my original garden staffers. Benjamin BadKitten was the lowest furball on the organizational chart. All three of them liked to keep me company in the backyard, which usually added at least half an hour to my gardening projects. In the years since Kaylee and Rags passed away, Benjamin has been my only assistant and, by default, chief garden staffer. Early this summer, he became a reluctant mentor to Marlon, a street cat I feed. As harvest season neared its end, I gave BBK a special assignment: evaluate the apprentice for a performance review. My Maine coon cat, all puffed up about his rise to power, scheduled an afternoon in the garden to observe Marlon on the job.

The big yellow cat’s mission was to station himself strategically in our driveway, near the sidewalk, to intimidate and scare off any passing dogs. I was weeding in a nearby flower bed and watched, alongside Benjamin, as Marlon went rogue. Instead of standing sentry in the driveway, he crouched, belly to the ground, near the apple tree. When a potential victim came to rest under the bird feeder, Marlon’s tail twitched, and he pounced, trapping his hostage between his front paws and clamping it between his teeth as he rolled onto his back. He used his hind feet to torment and toss his prey into the air — until the victim slid off the big guy’s stomach and escaped under a rose bush. BBK and I looked at each other. Interesting, we seemed to agree, how fast and far a little green apple can roll. Also of note: an apple is not a bird. That farce, plus Marlon’s decision to ditch his post on the driveway, was all Benjamin needed to recommend sacking the rookie.

As CEO here at Impetuous Gardener Ltd. (very limited), I’m responsible for writing the BadKitten’s own performance review. In normal years, my challenge has been finding tactful ways to camouflage the truth and avoid damaging my chief garden staffer’s morale. “Excels at time management,” for example, is more self-actualizing than writing, “That slacker has figured out how to nap on the bed for three hours, sleep outside in the sunshine all afternoon, and still find time for lunch and two snacks before dinner.” Or “Turns in his work promptly” is technically accurate and less distressing than a personal threat from his employer: “If I have to clean up one more mess of feathers in the laundry room, this cat will be waiting in an unemployment line in Kooskia.” This year, though, BBK’s performance review is brief and true: My chief garden staffer exceeded expectations. In a summer of wildfires and heat, I’m grateful for his loyalty. Instead of telecommuting via Zoom, BBK trotted outside with me every morning, into the sandpaper grit of smoke. We always headed straight to the raised beds, to check whether actual pumpkins were growing out there, fattening up for Halloween and seeming far more real than my annual orange and gold fantasy.

Craft Rozen wonders if BBK secretly stalks green apples. Email her at scraftroze@aol.com

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