My wife Judy and I generally don’t cotton to winter in Massachusetts, but this year we were actually looking forward to the first significant snowfall. We were eager to see how Albie, the half golden retriever, half yellow Lab we adopted in July, was going to react, seeing as how he came to us from Louisiana where snow is as rare as bipartisanship on Capitol Hill.
He didn’t disappoint. There’s nothing quite as amusing as watching an 80-pound dog bounce straight up in the air, all four feet well off the ground, rotate 180 degrees before landing, repeat the maneuver a half dozen times in rapid succession then plow his snout into a snow pile, roll over on his back, writhe around like Elvis for 60 seconds, pop up and then tear off like Secretariat across the nearby golf course. Yes, that first day or so was magic in a bottle. It was even about 30 degrees – not beach weather, but not “we need to go south now” weather, either. Tolerable, even pleasant, if you had a direct bead on the sun.
Now the reality of winter with a dog as energetic outside the house as he is mellow inside it is settling in. On a recent day, at about 8 a.m., when I wasn't feeling well, it was time to take Albie out for his morning constitutional. A year ago I’d have pulled the covers tight and closed my eyes for, say, another two days. Not an option anymore.
Before the snow came, Albie and I would cover five or six holes out on the golf course, explore three sand traps and two water hazards before heading home, but it was about 12 degrees when we went out that morning. We’d barely "played" one hole when I lost feeling in the tips of my fingers despite wearing the new gloves I got for my birthday. It didn’t help that the snow had covered the ground to a depth of about 8-10 inches because Albie, who prefers to poop in leaves or pine needles or on a downed branch, no longer had the cues, visual or olfactory, to guide him. Consequently, he seemed at a loss and it took him an awfully long time to decide on the perfect spot for a deposit. I used to think time stood still while waiting for my kids to fall asleep when they were little, but at least I could wait where it was warm. When it’s 12 degrees and there’s a stiff wind blowing from the north, time and water both freeze.
When we’d finally concluded the morning’s business, we started trudging back up the hill toward home and for a brief moment I considered the perplexing impulses of Admiral Byrd and other polar explorers, wondering how they endured week after week of numbing cold when they obviously had the leisure to be exploring, say, Polynesia. Eyes fixed straight ahead, with Albie on his leash a few strides behind, I sensed something odd was happening. I turned and saw Albie on an ice patch walking normally but losing a little bit of ground with each step. I can’t imagine what he makes of ice and how it undermines his sure-footedness.
Albie has his winter coat now, a much plusher, thicker version of the one he arrived with in July. Apparently, changes in the coat are triggered by hours of daylight, ensuring a light coat in summer and the rich, satiny soft one in winter. My question is whether he’s going to be too hot when we drive somewhere south of the 28th parallel to spend next winter chasing sandpipers instead of snowflakes.