Monday, March 16, 2009

Rites Of Spring

Planted spinach today. Too early, you say? I read somewhere that spinach can be planted in the snow. I tried it once when I was living in Maryland, and the crop was terrific.

Because my Vermont garden is close to a south-facing wall of the house, there's been no snow on it for a week. But there are two inches of mud, and below that, frozen earth. So I dug little holes in the muck with my faithful planting stick (an old wooden chopstick) and dropped a seed in each. Needless to say, I wasn't able to cultivate the ground before planting, let alone fertilize it (the compost heap is still mostly frozen). The little seeds will have to make it on whatever nutrients are left over from last year's garden, and on their own strength and determination.

When the dogs and I returned from a ramble in the woods, Blossom and Alsiki were at the fence, giving us longing looks. But the dogs were without collars or leashes. My only means of control were a pouch full of mozzarella pieces and whatever moral authority I have managed to acquire after watching every Dog Whisperer episode ever made.

I wasn't concerned about Lexi, who's been around goats before. Wolfie, on the other hand, has shown an unmistakable desire to chase Blossom and Alsiki. I have practiced putting him on down-stays in the goat room, and he's mostly done o.k. except for a couple of lunges. In an open space, however, I wasn't sure what he might do.

The sun was so bright, the sky so blue, and those little goat faces so eager, however, that despite all my misgivings I put Wolfie on down-stay and opened the gate. The herd sauntered out, not seeming to mind him one bit.

Wolfie himself was another story. Yes, he kept his down-stay, but he had what I call his “arrow” look: ears, nose, chest, tail and mind all pointed at Blossom and Alsiki. I kept putting bits of cheese on the ground between his paws, and he would scarf them up without taking his eyes off the goats for a single instant. I asked him to look at me and couldn't get him to even blink in my direction.

Then Lexi, who'd been off on her own, came around the corner of the garage. She walked right past the goats, looked at Wolfie, looked at me, and gauged the intensity of the situation. She put on her “good girl” face: ears back, eyes open wide, calm-submissive demeanor, saying clearly “you don't have to worry about ME. I know what to do, even if HE doesn't.”

Hoping that her behavior would rub off on Wolfie I put her on stay next to him. Wolfie, unfortunately, remained in “arrow” mode.

The exercise had been going on for quite a while, and I knew it was only a matter of time before Wolfie lost control. I wanted to get the dogs inside, but the goats were between them and the house. Wolfie would never walk past them without giving chase.

I decided to take a chance. I left the dogs on down-stays, went in the house, grabbed a collar, came back and put it on Wolfie. Then we all headed for the house, the goats included. Wolfie predictably lunged, but I had him firmly by the collar and he couldn't get away.

Finally dogless, I led the herd to the edge of the woods, where I sat on the old stone wall and watched to see what the goats would eat, as there are little green things poking out here and there. But they ignored everything green, and instead stuffed themselves full of last year's dead leaves.

I am trying to get Blossom and Alsiki to look at me for direction when they are out in the open, and I'm seeing some progress there. Today, when it was time to go back to the pen, I had to lure them with grain, but they came more readily than the first time I tried it.

Working on the dogs, working on the goats—I have a ways to go on both fronts. My goal for the coming summer is to sit in the front field, Blossom and Alsiki grazing in the long grass, Lexi and Wolfie watching serenely as I play ancient tunes on my recorder. Could anyone ask for more?

3 comments :

  1. you put him in the downstay and left to get a collar? and he stayed?

    i think you've taken that dog about as far as anyone can take a dog. so he lunged and looked like an arrow. a perfect dog would be boring. (i keep telling myself.)

    and yay on the spinach!

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  2. Spinach. I guess it's time to turn over the dirt and get started. I'm ready, and yet, I'm not.

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  3. I don't know what to be more excited about...spinach or your perfect recorder dream!

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