An Old Dog, a Greenhouse, and New Tricks

Updated: Apr 10

April 10, 2020

Rocky, our Siberian Husky, recently reached a milestone—his thirteenth birthday. He’s slowed down considerably. He doesn’t chase squirrels in the back yard anymore, and he experiences arthritis in his hindquarters. For that, he takes prescribed pain medication regularly, along with a Denamarin supplement for liver functioning. His vision isn’t what it used to be, and he’d like for us to believe that he can’t hear worth shit, either. However, if either Josh or I tear open a cellophane wrapper, he immediately perks up to see whether we’re grabbing a snack that he might sample.

Flurry, our much younger American Eskimo, considers her guardianship of Rocky as part of her life's work. When she thinks he’s being too lethargic—in other words, an old fart—she challenges him to a little rough-housing, or a new game. He enjoys her attentive encouragement, though the activity doesn’t last long before he’s ready to go back inside to lie down.

It breaks our hearts to see him like this—especially when he whimpers to let us know his hips need a little massage. Or when he doesn’t want to wake up in the morning. Or when he’s not in the mood to eat. (Meals were once his favorite pastime.) Josh frequently brushes his thick coat, which evokes a big Husky smile and a burst of energy that once typified his earlier years. And while he enjoys our large, fenced-in backyard, he almost always insists on either Josh or me going out with him--along with Flurry, of course.

I see a little of myself in Rocky. I’ve reached a point in my life where the contrast between early and late adulthood has become much more noticeable. My night vision isn’t nearly as acute as it used to be. I don’t have the sustained energy I used to have, despite the fact that I try to jog six miles at least a couple of times a week. Unfortunately, after the exercise, the rest of my day is devoted to recovery! I have lost count of the nutritional supplements I now take. I’m a living testimony to human gullibility. My goal is to run out the mortality clock with pills. Three of my supplements are designed to enhance cognitive functioning. Another one allegedly increases my energy level. Yet another regulates the large community of gut bacteria that, the manufacturer convinces me, has either been ignored or abused. And another keeps my skin looking youthful.

Do I think all of it is bullshit? Obviously not; at least, not completely. I’m skeptical, of course. But I’m not willing to give any of them up. I mean, what if the claims are true?

A new toy, a new treat, a new experience--the enjoyment of which is heightened by veterinary science. These things invigorate Rocky’s psychological well-being—and mine. Flurry in her frenetic youthfulness manages to “keep her big brother young." Teaching individuals just starting out in adulthood keeps me young, too.

Josh and I learn from our dogs. We are now trying out our own new experience. The centerpiece is located in our backyard. Never before have I been remotely interested in horticulture, farming, or growing flowers. Dirt has always been a substance to avoid, to wash away, not pay garden centers good money for.

Until now.

Recently, after three weeks of trying to follow the worst instructions ever composed, we put the finishing touches on the structure. Now that the greenhouse has plants inside, we drop in to see the action several times daily. I swear it seems as though our strawberries, sage, peppers, and tomatoes grow right before my eyes! If you had even once suggested I would EVER enjoy growing veggies and fruits, I would have laughed in your face. And yet, I am now fully dedicated and engaged.

Just as our pets do, a struggling plant brings out the paternal instinct in us. Josh and I work diligently to restore and maintain the plant’s vitality. I guess you could say we perform a similar task for Rocky and Flurry.

Even during a pandemic, we’re enjoying growth. Our dogs’ growth. Our plants’. Our own, both together and as individuals. I sometimes reflect on my disco club days several decades ago. That was a kind of growth then, too. I wouldn’t have been prepared for my marriage to Josh without the discoveries I made, sometimes at the expense of great emotional pain.

That was a fast life. A fast life that I experienced day after day as the moments crept by.

Now, I live a slower life. A slower life measured by pondering: Where did all the time go? I didn't realize it was going so fucking fast!

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