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Angus is digging a hole.

It’s a very deep hole, and he is industrious in his work. The dirt flies from under our screen porch, spraying across the brick patio. I don’t know what he’s looking for — chipmunks, most likely — but if I don’t stop him he will uproot our weigela bush and dislodge (again) the pipe to our sump pump.

“Angus!” He looks up. His front paws are black with dirt, his face the picture of innocence.

But who can blame him? It’s spring, and there’s been some rain, and the ground is soft and diggable.

Most people’s lawns have greened up by now, but not ours. Our backyard remains a sea of dead grass, mud and, under the bird feeders, spent sunflower seeds. I look out at it and briefly consider green spray paint.

When Doug and I bought this house 20 years ago, there was thick lawn, front yard and back. Now we have virtually no grass at all. What happened? Well, in the front yard, gardens happened — bee- and butterfly-friendly plants, with a little stone walkway winding through.

In the backyard, dogs happened — dogs and trees.

Twenty years of growth have turned the spindly ash and the Norway maple into towering giants with wide canopies. Between the full shade and the canine running and digging, we have a yard that is white in winter and brown the rest of the year.

We have tried all kinds of things to hide the dirt: wood chips, for a long time. Straw, after rain. No-mow grass, which lasted about three years. (And which we did, occasionally, mow.) High-traffic shade grass, which we continue to plant every spring and fence off. By midsummer, we remove the fence and within a day or two the grass is trampled to nothing. (But, oh, when the fence is up — as it is right now — it is lovely. Patchy, but lovely.)

Angus doesn’t care what’s beneath his paws. He loves the yard. He patrols the fence line (sorry, neighbors and mailman), he rolls in the dirt, he chews the wood chips, he chases the squirrels, he pounces at (and misses) the chipmunks, he barks at the rabbits. His favorite place is the far southwest corner, between the garage and the bridal veil bush. He has dug a hole there, too, and he likes to lie in it.

When Angus is under that bush, we can’t see him, and he always fools me — I call his name and he freezes, hiding, and I briefly think he somehow escaped from the yard and ran off. (Yes, I am a worrier.) I call his name again, and he comes running, and I swear he is laughing.

I am mostly resigned to the fact that the backyard is not for us, but for the dogs. That it will never be lovely, and it will never be green, and that unless we fence off the flowers and the hostas (which we do) they will not last the summer but will be trampled into dust. (And sometimes, despite the fences, they are anyway — Rosie is an amazing jumper.)

We will never again have soft, toe-friendly grass. We won’t drag our lawn chairs under the ash tree to sit and read because who wants to sit in a lawn chair in a sea of dirt?

Still, of course, we have something better than grass. We have happy dogs. (But wouldn’t it be nice to have both?)

Laurie Hertzel is the senior editor for books for the Star Tribune. • 612-673-7302 @StribBooks

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