Lifted by a walk in fallen snow

I don’t have time for this, I think. But my husband is busy, and Rio needs to go out.

Srdjan Zivulovic/Reuters/File
A dog runs in an excavated snow lane in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

My alarm goes off early because I have a business call to make. 

“Good morning, Rio,” I whisper to a wagging Labrador retriever. 

We head for the back door and find 10 inches of snow blanketing our home. Oh no, Bryan will have to rake the roof again, I think. But Rio rolls onto his back, squirming in the white stuff and kicking his back legs like a kangaroo at the air above him, delighted. His days in an animal shelter in New Mexico are long forgotten – he’s wholeheartedly embraced life as a Colorado dog.

My work call runs long. Rio needs a walk. I’d planned to hop onto a webinar, but my husband is busy shoveling snow off the deck. I know he has a project due today that he should be working on instead. Rio nudges my leg with his snout, wondering why we are still inside. We’re overdue for our morning hike. As I pull on my boots, I’m stressed. I don’t have time for this!

Rio and I walk a block through our neighborhood to the trailhead. It’s guarded by a 12-foot-high snow berm; the snowplow guy has been working hard. I chide myself for forgetting my snowshoes as I clamber around the icy wall, feet planting postholes in the snow. Rio leaps happily into the powder, which is up to his neck. He bobs up and down like a sea serpent through the trees.

But I trudge, worrying about my to-do list, about Bryan’s strained back, about how we’ll get everything done. Thoughts jostle for attention in my mind, and I don’t notice the world around me until Rio starts barking. 

A tassel-eared squirrel chitters at him from a high branch of a ponderosa pine. Below, my dog has his front paws up on the tree and is wagging his tail so fast it almost blurs. We haven’t seen a squirrel in at least a week because of all the storms, so this is a treat.

Once again, my canine teacher is reminding me to enjoy the present moment, and I’m grateful. Naturalist John Muir said we should keep close to nature’s heart by spending time in the woods: “Wash your spirit clean,” he said. 

I take a deep breath and look around. Pine boughs bend under the weight of snow. The sky is pale gray – more snowfall is on the way – but there is a sort of purple glow in the woods. I feel lighter as Rio and I continue up the trail.

Suddenly there is an explosion of snow. A nearby tree has released its heavy burden, snapping back upright. Silver particles dust the air around me as a flock of birds flees the area, twittering to one another as they fly overhead. I gape up at them through the trees and realize I should close my mouth, which I do, but I can’t look away. There are so many of them.

I watch and listen in wonder for what seems like a full minute. There will be 1,440 minutes in this day, but this is the one I’ll remember most. When the birds have found new roosts, I look back to the earth and there is my sweet boy, waiting patiently for a treat. He knows I’ll want to celebrate this moment we’ve just shared. 

“I love you, Rio!” I say as I give him a cookie. He has trained me well.

We loop back toward home, and as we approach the berm, I see children jumping off the top while hollering, “Cannonball!” 

Rio stands at attention, tail wagging hopefully, eager to frolic with them. But we might not know these kids – perhaps they don’t want kisses from a slobbery pooch. I take hold of his collar and we walk awkwardly through the snow. 

Then I hear a child’s joyful call: “Rio!” It’s a neighbor who has known Rio since they were both puppies. I release my dog, and he races to join the fun. Laughter tickles my ears. I grin, spirit washed clean, ready for whatever the day may bring.

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