On my daily walks through the Fort Russell neighborhood, I find small portraits of warmth and peace. I see the setting for an English novel in a yellow and blue cottage, with its bay window of leaded glass and rooftop widow’s walk. At mid-morning, a man on his porch quietly strums a guitar, with his cup of coffee perched nearby on a wooden railing. A black Newfoundland dog the size of a bear cub naps in a sunny spot behind a low iron fence. When it spots me on the sidewalk, the Newfy rises with surprising grace and greets me with a rumbling woof. A male quail, its topknot bobbing, flutters across my path with his flying buddy, a brown sparrow, on their way to a brambly bush.
And on nearly every sidewalk, I find witty, upbeat messages written in chalk, each celebrating a true-hearted dog named Cooper. My favorite note is “Cooper was born in the USA. A black and tan Springsteen fan.”
Benjamin BadKitten, my black and brown Maine coon cat, is the star of many of my columns. But whenever I quote a new Cooper-ism, he flicks his tail and stalks away. A friend recently suggested that Cooper and Benjamin could begin a lovely, socially distant relationship. For Ben, an acceptable social distance from that publicity-hogging hound would have to span at least 10 miles.
My feckless chief garden staffer will be 15 years old on Monday. This milestone birthday falls on Labor Day, an irony that will soar over his furry head. After I designated him employee of the month for July, BBK faked the implied work ethic for a few more days and then went off the clock with me until the end of August. He snoozed his way through our hiatus, while I stayed busy making and freezing 17 apple pies, adding several major cleaning and reorganizing projects to my normal domestic schedule, planning, cooking and freezing batches of main dishes for my husband, Lee and me — and witnessing a continuing miracle in our pumpkin patch.
The Garden Goddess probably felt sorry for me this year. Maybe she remembered the previous nine summers, when the largest pumpkin I grew blimped up to tennis ball size. This year I planted seeds for three snazzy squash varieties in one of the new raised beds that Lee built in our backyard. These beds contain only topsoil and compost, instead of the heavy clay mix that plagued our previous vegetable garden site. Now seven future jack-o-lanterns — orange Cinderellas, pale pink Porcelain Princesses and (maybe) a blue-gray Jarrahdale — trail their vines along the ground, while the grass around them reaches jungle height.
Benjamin has no interest in pumpkins. Their long, scratchy vines make it impossible to use their garden bed as a cat box. He also felt slandered when I reminded him of the disparity between his and my August to-do lists. I must have forgotten his need for recovery time last month after he barely escaped drowning. He was stationed below our birdbath, guarding the goldfinches, when a tsunami hit at the same moment that Lee started dumping out the stale bathwater. Only BBK’s cheetah-quick reflexes saved him from the deadly wave that landed only millimeters away from his tail. So top that, Cooper.
Sydney Craft Rozen compliments her pumpkins twice a day for fattening up and growing so steadily. She thinks her communion with the squash is quite normal during this stay-at-home summer. Email her at email@example.com.