Each morning and afternoon I take my dog, Buddy, out for a long walk and, upon his insistence, we greet nature. I don’t always want to go in the cold and snow but he ignores my cranky attitude. Even if I am reluctant to set out, by the time our walk is finished, I’m always grateful that I went. Buddy has a way of showing me how to appreciate these simple walks. I can tell that he views these walks as “adventures” by the way he wags his tail and how he explores when I let him loose. Winter is his favorite season.
Buddy was born in the United Arab Emirates and is, technically, a desert dog accustomed to intense heat year round. I worried how he’d take to the colder weather when I brought him home. Turns out I didn’t need to be concerned about how he would adapt to our Pennsylvania winter because from the get-go, he became my “snow dog!” This is one of our recent adventures.
Buddy and I always love the month of February. It’s a small respite in the midst of longer, more harried months.
* * *
“Come on, Bud? You ready?”
I saw his answer in the incessant waving of his tail.
I pulled my cap –a cheap, deep pink cap that fit tight—over my ears. One morning, I’d found it on the floor. When I picked it up, Buddy ran to his safe perch by the window to watch me. He looked guilty. Sure enough, bored, he’d chewed holes in it while I sat immersed in my work at the computer. None of the hats my sister gave me to replace it felt quite this warm and cozy. “Perfect hat, perfect morning for a walk in the woods, right Bud?”
His tail whipped back and forth in agreement and he lunged forward on the leash as some unknown scent caught his attention. “Found something, huh?”
We set out over the hill, the thin tread of my boot leaving an imprint in the velvet carpet of new snow alongside Buddy’s paw prints. A light curtain of snow fell on us as we hiked along on our adventure. It felt soft on my face, and melted almost as soon as it touched Buddy’s black fur.
“You want to play in your snow fort for a little bit?” I asked him. “But don’t be hiding from me. We
can’t spend all day here.” I snapped open the leash and he ran into the maze and burrowed through the undergrowth. A white nose peeked out of the tangle before he burrowed through a tunnel he’d made. With crashing noises, a few barks of excitement, he followed some kind of personal route he carved out of the bushes.
“It’s been half an hour,” I called out but he ignored me. I knew he would. “Are you going to make me come in and get you?” I scolded.
Several biscuits later, he was safely back on the leash.
We continued our trek.
The sun shone through the cold, casting long shadows and our silhouette across the road. Buddy caught a whiff of something else and strained the leash to investigate. I became aware of a loud, repetitive tapping sound coming from the trees. Dit-dit-dit-dit-dit… I craned my neck, squinting into the sun but still couldn’t locate the source. “Buddy, I think there’s a woodpecker around here,” I whispered.
The sssshhhhhhhhsssshhhh ing of the wind sounded like a mother hushing her baby. A steady stream swept over my thick layers of clothing and finally dissipated off into the spindly branches of the trees surrounding me.
A series of whistles sounded from the train tracks a half mile away. It was followed by hundreds of wheels set in motion and the groaning of metal accompanying it. I marveled that the sounds of the train resonated even at the foot of the hill. It seemed strange but welcoming that my small town had its own life and peculiar rhythm that could be heard even in natural settings. Years earlier, I’d scurried away from small town life, eager to experience the languages and culture s of other lands. Now I’d come home, and was adjusting to the pace of life where I grew up.
We slipped past an old now-rusted gate that had once been spray-painted silver and onto a footpath Buddy and I had worn into the snow. We walked alongside a chain link fence for a time then squeezed through a faded-white cast-iron gate with a sign welded onto the front, “No Dumping at any Time.” Buddy picked up a scent and yanked at his leash to chase after it. “Whoa, Buddy! Slow down. I don’t want to fall,” I scolded. Forced to slow to my speed, he burrowed his nose into the soft snow and it came up white. He wore a big, goofy grin on his face, and nudged me for a treat as I drew near, “You silly creature,” I couldn’t help but give him a quick hug and brush off the rest of the snow. “Oh, you’re getting gray, Buddy.” Otherwise, people would still call him a pup because of his short stature.
We trekked on. I found my old and faded boots sinking into the course, thicker snow from past snow storms. Buddy cocked his head and observed something in the woods I couldn’t hear, or see. Somehow satisfied, he lost interest and moved on.
We continued on our footpath, surrounded by brown trees and snow, which stretched as far as my eyes could see. I felt cocooned by the rustic beauty. The air felt fresh. The snow looked clean. I felt like I had just stepped onto the cover of a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle box. What more could we want?
Buddy halted — every muscle alert. Uh-oh! “Whacha lookin’ at, Bud?” I followed the direction of his gaze and tensed. “Ohhhh, another dog. I get it.”
By now we’d arrived at one end of a softball diamond. The dog and its master stood their ground on the other end. The dogs assessed the situation while the humans eyeballed each other.
“It’s okay,” I whispered. “It’s a nice dog, nothing like those other dogs.”
It made me mad just thinking about what happened the summer I brought Buddy home. The owners of three enormous dogs—a Great Dane, German Shepherd and a less intimidating Collie—had been roaming on their own on the isolated stretch of road leading down to the small park. The dogs had seen Buddy and surrounded him all atat the same time. Buddy, with its short legs and gentle nature stood still at first, his tail between his legs. I tried to push the dogs away to give Buddy space but they kept pressing in. Buddy trembled, turning from side to side. Then he started barking and growling. I figured the dogs were nice enough, though their size alone was daunting, but didn’t know how to reassure Buddy. They wouldn’t go away, either. After a half an hour of this, I was ready to throttle such irresponsible dog owners, who must have felt they were the only ones with rights to a public road, however deserted it was in mid-winter. Letting a pack of dogs run wild to run off steam…how dare they! I wouldn’t have minded if the owners had been nearby and called their dogs to them at the first sign of danger but they left Buddy and I to fend for ourselves. Letting dogs run loose is illegal in the township property.
Now I leaned over and ruffled Buddy’s fur, brushing the powder -fine snow off his sleek fur with a glove. “Good boy! You didn’t even bark. And they’re leaving.”
We descended down a gentle slope and I spied the green paint of an outhouse, both doors which were trussed securely in place by a chain link lock. The outhouse stood out a short distance from the bare branches at the edge of the woods.
“Guess what? We’re here!”
Buddy’s tail whooshed back and forth like windshield wipers on high speed .
This was the part of the walk Buddy and I relished most. “Ready?”
Whenever we reached this point, I let him off his leash.
With his tail high in the air, he galloped off like a beautiful thoroughbred, totally in the moment. “Run like the wind!” I called. I ran through the snow, too, for a couple of meters. When I stopped to catch my breath, my heart was thumping against my chest. The cold air sliced through me. I stopped to watch Buddy. “You don’t really look like a thoroughbred…”
But he did to me. It didn’t matter that his legs bowed in from the rickets that had eaten at his bones before I rescued him. His joyful expression told me he felt like one. After he ran around the field for awhile, he returned and nudged me for a treat. Seeing he’d zapped his energy, I gathered him in my arms and hugged him, deftly fastening the leash onto his collar. “Here’s your biscuit. ”
Time to head home.
I peered into the snow. “Look Buddy, deer tracks,” Indeed there were clear, well-formed hoof markings imprinted in the crusty snow. They indicated the deer had gone up the hill in the same direction we were headed. “D’ya think we’re gonna see any deer t’day, Bud?”
Unfortunately, deer were not on our agenda for the day.
We reached the base of our last hill. Halfway up the steep incline, Buddy paused. “Don’t tell me you want another biscuit?”
His soulful dark eyes followed my hand. I felt around in my pocket and came across a broken part of a biscuit and took it out. His dark, moist nose bumped against my palm. He munched it, and moved forward once more.
I love these biscuit moments. If I have forgotten to bring the biscuits, he gives me a long, reproachful stare as if I’m holding out on him.
An hour and fifteen minutes from the time we set out, we slipped back through the door of my garage. There, I opened the door to my apartment. Our routine began once again. I pulled off my dog-walking boots, plopped my hat and gloves into their proper basket and hung my scarf and jacket on its hook.
“Buddy, time to eat!”
Today Buddy made it up the stairs without limping. His ten-year-old arthritic joints didn’t slow him down as they usually did.
Thank you, God, for your blessings this beautiful February morning. Lord, I especially thank you for hand-picking such a cheerful companion for me. Only You could transform a malnourished desert dog into the great snow dog adventurer that he has become here in Pennsylvania.