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Something there is that loves an old garden gate

The rickety garden gate on our Sterling Creek place south of Jacksonville teeters beyond shabby chic.

A relic found hanging on rusty hinges nailed to an old apple tree on our property, the gate's weathered, graying, cedar slats are brittle enough to break with your hands. Dry rot has eaten away at the lower ends. From a distance, they resemble giant, rotting, buck teeth.

A wind gust could easily snap the circular rust spots that once passed for nails. Were it not for the termites holding hands, the whole thing would crumble into sawdust.

Yet when you step into the garden and close the old gate, you can't help but feel you've entered a secure sanctuary.

All gardeners enslaved by vegetables for the summer know that, fresh food notwithstanding, garden labors are mainly an excuse to spend peaceful hours in a center of sanity.

Leaning on a hoe is good form in this patient place where you can quietly grow your thoughts.

Like an insistent spoiled child, the demands of life can throw all the tantrums it wants beyond the garden fence. You simply turn a deaf ear and frown down at the carrots. Maybe pluck a few weeds or help a ladybug out of the mud and into the strawberry patch.

I usually pretend I'm watering, weeding or intently studying the ground beneath my feet. I can be in that happy garden trance for hours.

The best way to get my attention is to turn on the sprinkler.

Incidentally, anyone entering our garden with a cellphone is itching for a fight. That hoe isn't just for leaning on, you know.

But you should know that cellphones aren't much for composting. Apparently the inane ringing disrupts the sleepy tranquility of the decomposing community.

You might try putting it on vibrate.

The longer of tooth I get, the more I'm convinced that the farther you get outside your garden, the crazier the world becomes.

Surely that insanity increases exponentially the closer you get to Washington, D.C. Nuttiness is truly bipartisan in our nation's capital these days.

Our garden gate was built by someone of sound mind and steady hand who knew how to use a handsaw. Simplicity personified, the gate has a cross-buck pattern along with eight vertical pickets and two horizontal slats.

He — she? — apparently subscribed to the traditional form-follows-function philosophy of architecture. Yet it has a graceful arch that suggests a builder's whimsical nature.

The gate was old when we bought the place a decade ago. The apple tree it was nailed to is ancient, its roots reaching back more than a century.

The best guess is the gate was built early in the Great Depression or during the late 1920s. Given the fact it provides a portal into our property's history, we couldn't toss it out.

Besides, we needed a gate for the picket fence we built on the west side of the garden. The vegetable garden is actually on the east end of a large dog park enveloped by a large deer fence that took a year for us to complete.

With apologies to Robert Frost, one of my favorite poets, I have to side with his fence-loving neighbor when it comes to garden walls. In our case, something there is that doesn't love a garden wall is a huge family of deer longing to dine on our veggies.

We built the picket fence of recycled cedar boards from an old garage whose vintage is the same as that of the gate. The picket fence is to keep pooches Waldo and Harpo romping in the dog park and not in our veggies.

These are burly boys who don't realize they could run through the fragile gate without breaking stride.

As dogs go, both are nearly sane, although Harpo does have a wolfish leer that makes some visiting bipeds very nervous. He looks like he is about to take a pound of flesh when he merely wants nothing more than to slather a bare ankle.

Yes, you could call him a friendly baster.

When I'm in the garden, he invariably sprawls just outside the dilapidated gate, happily asleep in the belief he is protecting me from the big, bad world out there.

Perhaps it is best to let sleeping dogs lie, after all.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.