May I Have This Dance?

Chapel Hill News logoJuly 5, 2005

Anybody who drops by our home regularly knows to come to the kitchen door at the side of the house. It’s the well-worn entrance we all use, from the driveway to the kitchen door stoop. The front door receives only packages and guests who don’t yet know better.

So why did it take me years to realize how uninviting the area was — that the narrow pathway, flanked on one side by recycle bins and on the other by a large, often ill-smelling rolling trash can, wasn’t exactly welcoming?

Finally, I noticed. Better late than never. I cleared out space in the adjacent carport for all the bins, leaving bare the narrow strips of earth on both sides of the path. Beautiful, I thought.

But then I saw that the dirt on either side of the walkway was dreary — dusty and dry, uninhabitable. And I had a rare Martha Stewart decorating moment: I could put pots out there with plants in them! I bought three cheap plastic pots, stained them the color of the house and planted them with shade-loving greenery: hostas, black mondo grass, and a bright-green mossy plant.

The plants looked great, but something was still wrong. The area slopes; the pots weren’t level. I needed to prop something under them. And the space still had a scruffy look.

On the far side of the kitchen door stoop is another unattractive spot where we keep a gas grill and a pile of rocks, these courtesy of our dog, Daphne. Every time we go for a long walk, she returns with a rock in her mouth. If she’s coming inside, I make her drop it on the pile before entering the house.

I shoved a few of Daphne’s rocks under the pots hoping to level them. Better. Then I arranged rocks around the base of each pot. Better still. I kept adding rocks, eventually covering all the dirt. A Japanese rock garden? No way. An improvement? Definitely.

Some of the stones are small, smooth and light-colored; others are large and lumpy. Rocks. Many are from the woods out back, some from walks with friends; there are even shells from Daphne’s beach trips, when stones weren’t available. Each has the distinction of being chosen by our dog and carried home in her mouth.

Nobody has ever seen anything quite like Daphne’s relationship to her rocks. She will unearth one, carry it, roll on it, dig around it, nose it to you so you can throw it for her — for hours. In the back yard, she sleeps curled around a rock.

This odd obsessive behavior started the day our other dog, Rosie, was hit by a car and killed. We were on vacation, and that night Daphne brought in her first-ever rock from the nearby pond shore. Still warm from the late-afternoon sun, the rock was not as cuddly as the canine friend she had slept with every night, but it offered some sort of solace.

That was nine years ago. Rosie’s ashes are still on my bureau. And we have a lot of rocks. There are dozens in the back and side yards and many more around town — she has left rocks at friends’ houses and outside stores. If you see a stone that seems out of place on a downtown sidewalk, it might be one of hers.

We’re delighted with Daphne’s rock garden. It’s as though she’s put part of her vast collection on display, a tribute to her beloved Rosie. And now there’s a suitable spot to scatter her friend’s ashes.