We’re coming to the end of the season for our magnificent Mission fig tree. It was here when we moved in 41 years ago, and every year since, in the late summer and early fall, it has yielded hundreds of pounds of fruit. Crows feast on the bounty at the crown; Steve plucks figs from the middle and lower zones and eats them on his cereal. Some years I make jam, and we always give away as much as we can, but figs still fall off the tree and litter the ground around it. Tucker typically has gained at least 5 pounds every fig season, and every CCI puppy we’ve raised has discovered the deliciousness. Except Adagio.
It’s hard to say why he has resisted them. This year when the figs started to ripen, we took pains to limit his contact with the tree, taking him down to that part of the yard on a tight leash. But we’ve done that with all our CCI puppies. Allowing them free access to scavenging opportunities inevitably results in dietary disruption — not fun for them or us. Still, we inevitably let down our guard, and during those moments everyone except Adagio has quickly availed themselves of the morsels of pleasure.
Whenever we’ve seen Adagio approach one, we’ve sternly reprimanded him. So I wonder: is he more obedient than all the other dogs? Is his culinary palate less refined — or more? (Somehow that theory seems implausible.)
In recent weeks, it seems to me he’s been more eager to get near the tree and sniff around. A few times, we’ve seen him returning from its vicinity licking his chops. Still, we doubt he could have eaten more than a half-dozen pieces, if he got any.
Adagio is not scheduled to leave us and go on to his Advanced Training until November of 2019. If that doesn’t change, we’ll live with him through another season of the forbidden fruit. Somehow I’m guessing he’ll be less resistant to its charms the next time around.
Normally, Beverly is a pretty dog, pleasing to look at. In the last week or two, however, she’s begun looking rather leprous. The cause of this is that the figs on our massive old tree finally have begun to ripen. Moreover, the tree has sent up a jungle of densely leafed shoots around its base. This presents the dogs with irresistible, nose-level temptation; they dive in to scout for juicy morsels. Some of the juice drips onto their fur and they emerge looking rather shopworn.
It goes without saying that we don’t encourage this. Snacking on figs can quickly ruin a girl’s figure. Still, we’d recently come to let down our guard around Beverly, allowing her occasional access to the patio, where she likes to lounge in the sun.
We’ve discovered we can clean her up short of giving her a full bath and facial. We scrub off the blemishes using only a wet washrag. But this is time-consuming. So we’re making an effort to allow her no unfettered access to the yard, at least until after Tuesday.
We want to keep both her coat and her cape as clean as possible so that she looks respectable marching in the Coronado Fourth of July Parade. The color theme of that event may be red, white, and blue. But we’d prefer to limit the red and blue as much as possible.
Almost all the figs have now fallen off or been harvested from our fig tree. I’ve made fig tarts and fig preserves and figgy salads using them. We’ve given them to friends, and Steve personally has eaten about a thousand of them on his morning cereal. Those are the pleasant things about fig season. The part that makes our lives hellish is the way the dogs become insatiably avaricious for them. Even though we grossly restrict Tucker and our current puppy’s access to the tree, they still seem to pounce upon and wolf down too many, often with disastrous digestive consequences.
So we are filled with happiness at the end of fig season. And this year, we’re also filled with horror to discover that Kyndall is eating… the desiccated and disgusting fallen fig leaves.
No other dog has ever done this, for reasons we thought we understood. When they’re on the tree, the leaves are irritating. Whenever they touch our bare skin, they cause itching and may even raise little welts. Who could eat such things? Steve’s theory is that Kyndall is selecting specimens on which juice from the ripe figs has dripped. She doesn’t look that discriminating to me when she snatches one off the ground. I wonder if she likes them for the same reason I like potato chips — for their crunchy savory eating pleasure?
This experience has made me think long and hard about a behavior rule. I know that CCI puppies are not supposed to ever eat anything off the ground. But Steve and I always have kind of rolled our eyes at this. It seemed an unattainable pipe dream — sort of like saying that CCI puppies should never pant. Over the years, however, I’ve dimly noticed that some puppy-raisers seem to take this goal quite seriously. Some suggest their puppies in fact never DO eat anything off the ground.
It’s now struck me that if we actually trained a puppy not to ever eat anything off the ground, it would save us a lot of grief. Kyndall, mercifully, has never eaten the most disgusting thing imaginable off the ground. (We love that about her.) But at least three of her predecessors have. So I’m thinking that in the future we should dedicate ourselves to learning how to prevent a puppy from scavenging.
I’m not sure it’s realistic to do that now with Kyndall, not since her fig and fig-leaf cravings have been enflamed. I’m afraid all we can do is count the day remaining until fig-leaf season also has ended.
Fig season has begun. That makes Steve happy. He loves picking the sweet, dark purple fruit from our huge old tree and cutting it up to put on his cereal every morning. I’m less of a fan, but some years I feel so guilty about all that bounty — so much more than we can eat — that I make a jam which some of my friends like. For the dogs, though, the arrival of fig season is nothing short of miraculous. We can almost read our current puppy’s mind when he or she first discovers what’s happening: “OMG! There are tasty balls dropping out of the sky! They are SO much more delicious than dog food! You just sniff around, find one, and gobble it down. None of this agonizing waiting for meal time.” It must be like the ancient Israelites’ experience with manna.
Though the fruit only began ripening a few days ago, Kyndall has fully embraced the program. The lower yard, where the fig tree grows, also serves as the doggy toileting zone. When we take her there, she’s so distracted by the not-so-hidden fruity treasure that she often has to be sternly reminded to Hurry! (At the same time, the figs have a certain laxative effect that at other times makes Hurrying a matter of urgency. As at 5:30 a.m. this morning…)
Tucker’s an old pro. Some years he eats so many figs he grows visibly plumper over the month or so when the fruit is abundant. We’ve seen him standing on his hind legs to reach particularly tempting morsels. But as he has aged, his digestive system also seems less and less able to tolerate figgy binges.
So we try to rake up the fallen fruit and restrict the amount of time the dogs can get at it. But there are limits to how hard-hearted we can be.