Sunday, June 26, 2011

Balance is Hard Work

I put in some plants this morning that I got from friends. I noticed that between rain and watering the plants in my new beds are looking very good. So are the weeds. I considered planting cactus, and never watering so that the weeds would die, but of course weeds don't die, particularly in New England where there is generally plenty of precipitation. Mother Nature really makes us work to achieve balance. In this case I'll just pull the weeds and toss them on the driveway to dry up, then toss them back in the garden. I guess balance in a garden is mostly just work, pulling the weeds that grow when you water the flowers.

Late last summer I got access to a large tract of new grazing area. I grazed it all fall, and again for several weeks early summer this year. I am now realizing that I don't have enough sheep to keep all my grazing under control, particularly during the fast early season growth. So my grazing areas are overgrowing, not allowing the clover to flourish, and actually providing less nutrition for my sheep. That pesky balance challenge again. Balance on my pastures is as much a thinking challenge as manual labor, monitoring the fields, maybe mowing, and maybe just not using some of them if I can't keep them under control. Sometimes more is not better.

Balance is important on sheepdogs both in training and genetics. I know someone who both breeds and trains for very direct dogs, lovely work behind the stock, walking in strong, meeting a challenge if necessary, excellent pace and small adjustments. But when the sheep bolt off to the side or down the field they don't have much for flanks. Training for flanks is likely to take something away from the superb direct work. It is always harder to achieve balance, the dog that can walk in straight and strong, make minor corrections, and then run clean and fast to the heads if needed to cover.

Years back I did Schutzhund training with Dare. Observing the dogs, I realized they could focus much more towards the extremes than in breeding and training stock dogs. The quiet and controlled work in Schutzhund is always close at hand and under command. A good stock dog needs powerful drive to work all day, an overwhelming desire to control the stock tempered with a willingness to partner with man. This partnership needs to be so strong that the dog willingly obeys a faint whistle from a distant handler, even when that whistle may override the dog's instinct. Talk about balance.

Balance is hard work. Often in training we need to back off in working on one skill because we are encroaching on another skill in a negative way. So we work back and forth as needed to build our dogs so that they come to the post well accomplished in a variety of skills, performed in a variety of situations, sometimes done independently, and sometimes performed at our command in conflict with what their instinct tells them.

Balance is hard work. But it is a very rewarding journey.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Last Hosta

I finally finished planting the assortment of plants that had been sitting around in flats and small pots. These included impatiens in paper cups from the Sunday school kids, marigolds and petunias I had purchased because they are so wonderfully durable and colorful, some other flats that were pretty but I could not tell you what they are, and one small hosta in a pot. I don't recall where the hosta came from, but there it was among the flowers. I bought all the flats last week and have been hard pressed to keep them watered and happy. The flowers from the church and the hosta have been waiting for weeks, though I did manage to get some of them planted in May.

First I filled my big water trough planter with petunias. As I began pulling out the weeds to prepare, my activity caught Ruth's eye. She is enamored of her newfound ability to jump and climb and promptly launched herself into the planter to grab at the weeds I was pulling. After tossing her out several times I gave up and put her in a crate in the house, where she proceeded to bark and wail for the next hour. However, I was able to quickly fill my planter with petunias, then surround it with an X-pen so they can get established before she has access again.

Once done with my planter I decided to put some petunias among the day lillies beside the front dog kennels. This is when I first saw the devastation. Three big clumps of colorful lillies live in this bed, the first of which was utterly destroyed. Leaves trampled and chewed, stem with bud bitten clean through. The next clump of lillies also sustained significant damage, but beside the total devastation of the first it seemed minimal. I had noticed that Ruth was climbing through the hog panels that surround this area. It is good to be so small you can slip through where even larger pups cannot. Damn. Well I'm sure the lilly will survive, but I doubt I'll get flowers this year.

I've been continuing to plant a flat or two each day. This morning I decided to finish off the last few flats and get the last few impatiens and the lone hosta taken care of. The plants have been waiting either outside of the back yard fence on the side of the house, or behind some garden fencing in the courtyard. As I finished off the planting I removed the piece of garden fencing to get some of the plants from behind it. I rescued the impatiens and planted them. Lost in my chore I did not notice the plastic clunking sounds emanating from behind the gate. I stood up after planting the last flowers I looked over the fence. Ruth and the last hosta. Pulled from its pot, pretty green and white striped leaves yanked from the root ball. The root ball and remaining leaves were being tossed gleefully about the courtyard, dirt falling away from the roots with each bounce. The hosta's life was saved when Ruth spied the escaped plastic pot, which made such a delightful sound when slammed on the rocks. I rescued the hosta and planted it with one hand while holding my pup with the other, trying to avoid the intended botanicide. Planted in an obscure nook and watered, let's hope this little hosta makes it. Meanwhile, with 2 more puppies coming, I need to rethink my garden fencing.