I am planting altared spaces in my garden this year and I’d love to have your help. I have a brown thumb, so I need lots of support. In this garden, along with planting the traditional things that grow, I’m collecting treasures that tell stories. Please send me a symbol of your altared space. You can even be entered in the Friday giveaway.
The first year I lived at this home, the wide open spaces threatened to swallow me up. I live where the country and the mountains meet. Cows, horses and deer make a home in my yard. I hear the coyotes howl in the early morning as I write.
It’s a 40 minute drive to get groceries.
I spent a lot of time that first year making friends with being alone. Thankfully, I had help. Each day, as I took my dog for a walk, we picked up friends along the road. I have three neighbors along the half mile loop where I walk and everyone has canines.
Poncho, a low-to-the-ground cow dog came out to say hello but he was determined to stay home and guard his ranch. At the next ranch, however, Kathy and John’s dogs were glad to join our parade. Ginger, well named for her auburn coat barked as she came out to walk with us. Sadie, though old, and limping, was eager to head up the hill with us. And then there was Buck.
Buck was the stupidest loveable hound you could ever want to meet. He’d find himself walking alongside us and look up at me. “Now how did I get here?” his goofy eyes would question me. He’d walk us all the way up the hill and all the way to our house, look up at me surprised to be there, then wander his way home.
We picked up Buddy at our last house making our dog pack number 5. I felt like the pied piper. Dogs came over to me for the occasional treat out of my pocket, but mostly, they just seemed glad to be out for a walk in our gorgeous mountains, smelling the good smells.
It reminded me of my childhood when my father and I walked with a similar pack of borrowed dogs. We walked with 7 and Smack was my favorite.
Smack is the reason a wet dog is my favorite blanket. Smack was as gray as a swirl of smoke on a foggy fall day. My father and I walked in all kinds of weather and often Smack’s thick fir would collect the drizzle as I listened to the crunch of autumn under my feet.
As we walked my father told me stories about trees; trees that talk. We often walked at twilight, the magic hour of the day. We spoke of fairies and wizards and wardrobes. Dark frequently descended before we returned and Smack got lost in the shadows. Drizzle turned to downpour and we were drenched.
At home, I would climb out of my wet clothes and curl up next to Smack at the fireside. I’d bury my cheek in his thick, Husky’s coat. On him I smelled the adventure of being cold, but not wanting to let go of my father’s hand.
I inhaled the cave we visited at the far end of the road, exhilaration mixed generously with fear of those cold dark walls. We went deep into the cave, lost in a world of pretend. We were miners, orcs or Puddle-Glum. The stories my father read me at night would come alive on the walls of that hallowed out hill.
Breathing this wet dog I would taste the granny smith apple he drew from his pocket and bit off in chunks to hand me because my front teeth were missing. A bite of apple out of my father’s mouth felt glorious, a juice all its own. A hunk of cheese would often follow. We’d take turns biting off corners. These were not the perfect picnics a mother would pack. They tasted like adventure.
Collecting dogs along my road in the year of would-be loneliness connected me to a time when my father held my hand. I was planted with my history in a new present tense. The circle of my life came round quite nicely.
The dogs and I visit the horses these days and I feed them apples out of my hand. I was frightened at first because horses are huge. But just like the deep cave or the taste of adventure from my father’s apple bites I slowly surrendered to the smell of companionship and the magic unfolding around me.
My neighbor, Kathy, is willing to give me some horse manure to plant in my garden and I’m hanging a picture of her three lovely dogs (all now in doggie heaven) on the tree. I’m not just planting things that are green. I’m making an altared space so I know where I’ll grow once I know how I’m planted.
Dogs are blankets for me. They cultivate the softness of belonging in the spot where I’m planted. They offer me the security of holding my father’s hand.
Do you have a cozy comfort in your life that connects your present and your past? I’d love to plant it in my garden if you’re willing to share a seedling of yourself.