As Patti Sherlock explains in a note at the beginning of her book, our lives have seasons of their own, seasons that do not necessarily coincide with the seasons of nature. This memoir is the story of the seasons of Patti's life --- as a wife, mother, rancher and writer --- that she shared with a delightful and devoted companion, a Border Collie named Duncan, for 16 years.
Life on a sheep ranch is challenging. Raising animals for wool, breeding and meat is very hard work, particularly at lambing time. Making a living off the land is no easy task. Dealing with the death of animals was the toughest part for Patti. She had already lost three stock dogs to the vehicles that passed by the sheep ranch. Herding dogs have a tendency to want to herd everything that moves, and moving motor vehicles was no exception. Determined that the new puppy would not meet the same fate, she trained Duncan to ignore them. Though it went against his very instincts not to chase the cars, Duncan learned to look away, as if he did not even see the tempting scene because he wanted to please Patti. Duncan quickly became adept at herding the sheep and was especially helpful in keeping them out of Patti's way when she went about her daily task of setting out their feed. So Duncan really was earning his keep as a sheep dog, and was a wonderful companion for the entire family.
Because Duncan was not permitted to jump up at people --- his natural way of welcoming them --- he learned to stand on his hind legs, stretch proudly to his full height, and present his head for petting. Duncan loved praise; as a young pup, he would pretend that he was urinating just to get praise, so it often took him a while to actually accomplish the task. He loved the ranch's sprinkler system and would jump into the spurting water, high into the air. Once airborne, he had the grace of a ballerina. He would spend much of his free time playing in the water and amusing the family with his hijinks. He was an excellent forecaster of storms and would become frightened hours before they arrived.
Patti had twin sons from her first, rather short marriage and a daughter with second husband George. George and Patti often seemed out of sync with each other and did not communicate well at all. Though Patti was determined that her second marriage not fail, it did end, but Duncan was there to give loyalty and continuity to her life. The twin boys grew up, as children will, and left for college. Mary, too, grew up and experienced her own problems. All the time, the family kept working the ranch, and Patti continued writing and teaching. Duncan was there during all the joys and sorrows of family life; he was the only one whose life seemed to remain stable. In time, Patti decided to sell the herd and give up ranching. That pretty much left the elderly canine without a task, though he continued to predict the weather, frolic in the dancing sprinkler waters, and share his big heart.
A DOG FOR ALL SEASONS is really a love story --- about Patti's love of the land, of being close to nature, and of a very special dog named Duncan. It makes the reader want to take a long walk in the woods with the family dog leading the way through paths of crumpled leaves into a clearing of sunlight and birdsong.
Reviewed by Carole Turner on December 30, 2010