Late Summer, There and Here
Late summer in Devon.
This year, unlike last year, the trees are laden with ripening apples. It's too early for the cider smell to saturate the air during the harvest; that will come in October. Pears and plums have not fared so well, but the wheat is 'white to harvest' and in some fields, farmers are growing an old-fashioned type that still is gathered into stooks. The sight tugs at the heart. . .
It's the season for shows, large and small. My hostess took me to the North Devon show, which, alas, has become large and industrial. The younger dog's breeder had persuaded her to enter him in the dog show which, thankfully, was small and local, though fiercely competitive. This headstrong but also very laid-back young border collie behaved like a seasoned veteran and walked away with the winner's ribbon. He missed out on Best of Breed only by a whisker to his mother; he is only 18 months old, and she has been at Crufts. It was his first and last show, his owner says; it's just too easy to fall into that world of intrigue and back-biting, but more important, he is a working dog. After his classes he knew he'd done well; he loved the attention in the show ring. By the time we got home his entire demeanour had changed, and he was somehow more grown up, though just as sweet-natured as always.
Then on Thursday we went to the weekly agility class. My hostess's other dog, a nine-year-old collie, is a whiz at agility and has a canine version of a Mensa mind. She gets fed up with the clumsy humans when they get the hand signals and body language mixed up; she's very tolerant for a while, but sometimes quits in disgust. She seems to make allowances for me, as I have only just started to learn. My hostess very generously lets me handle this older collie on these occasions, and we did some new (to me) sequences. Martin Buber would have liked agility: it demands an I-Thou relationship. This older dog's attention is like a laser, and she is a small gazelle when she flows through the obstacles at speed.
After class we were asked if we'd bring the dogs to a small show on Sunday in aid of several animal charities, and we agreed. The teacher must have been very hard up for volunteers. But the old dog, like the young dog, knew something was up and her behaviour was impeccable, much better than any dog there (including the instructor's). And she ran the courses, which were much more complex than anything I'd faced before, with perfect attention to me, almost seeming to float in mid-air as she waited for the next command. She (and I) were in a kind of ecstasy, in that warp where time is suspended. She is getting on and starting to look like an old dog, but her owner said that as we ran the circuits her face was animated with joy. When we got home, the young dog realised that something had given the old dog renewed confidence, and showed his displeasure at having to share the limelight: his nose was distinctly out of joint—and their play-fighting in the big pasture yesterday morning before I left was particularly intense.
Then it was back to Oxford, trying to catch up with myself. I came home to a garden that looks like a jungle: pumpkins of various types running everywhere, climbing trellises, tomatoes, beans, sweet peas—anything they can get their tendrils on. The tomatoes themselves are laden with fruit; there was a bushel (literally) of beans waiting to be picked, cucumbers a foot long, potatoes erupting everywhere.
But there is a bit of a down side too: ten days ago the first breath of early autumn came on the breeze. Plants are hastening to wind up their business for the year, tipping towards the next season of dropping seeds and falling asleep. Although autumn is my favourite season, it is hard to lose the abundance of the garden, which, with the cold spring we had, was at its full glory for only a few short weeks.
Still, I'm grateful, very grateful, for this tiny patch of earth where I can plant and water, and watch God make the garden grow...