Monday, December 20, 2010

Best buds

Fat flakes of snow drift through the crisp air like weighted feathers and patter against my hood. It sticks to Murdoch’s fur as he strides out in-front, head held high, tail swaying eagerly. The world is colourless. A snow-covered road hemmed in by squat snow banks that give way to white narrow strips of filled-in ditches that in turn give way to gray trunks, marking the edge of patches of forest. Above, gray-white clouds become a solid dome, metallic and heavy with snow.

It is all a great blank sheet of paper waiting to be filled by the prints of romping paws and clomping winter boots.

We walk down the center of the road towards the trail that begins at the frozen creek where the road ends. I breathe in great swathes of clear wintry air and share in the giddy sense of freedom that makes Murdoch bounce along on his toes.

In the distance I hear a soft jingling and I stop to look back up the road from where we came. Jack, the neighbours’ dog, and Murdoch’s best friend in the entire world, is running towards us, his feet barely touching the ground as though he’s been shot from a cannon. I smile as I watch his creamy-coloured body fly over the snow. His dark ears, peppered with black hair, flap out like tiny wings as he runs, giving him an expression of immediacy.

When he is a few feet away he plants all four feet flat on the ground and slides past, then turns sideways as he skids to a stop in front of us.

“Hi Jacky!” I say. His Lab-like face beams with excitement as his pink tongue sticks out in a pant from between his smiling black lips.

He turns abruptly and continues to run down the road to the trail. Murdoch stiffens and surges forward eager to follow, but I make him walk with me more sedately as we watch Jack become a spot of pale colour against the white road ahead.

When we reach the trail, Jack is waiting for us. Murdoch sits and waits while I remove his leash. I picture all his energy gathered into a tight ball in his chest as he looks at me, eyes huge and round, mouth closed tight as though it is taking every ounce of effort to sit still.

“Okay,” I say and wince as Murdoch explodes to life. Usually he explodes right into Jack, jumping all over him, forcing him to wrestle. But today the two of them run. It is as though they are celebrating the snow, the cold, their friendship. They run side by side up the trail through snow that reaches up to their knees, leaping through it as though they are frolicking along the shores of a lake. They jostle each other and run for a stretch with their sides pressed together.

I trudge behind at a distance, weighted down by my huge winter boots that make my feet look twice their normal size. My snow pants swish with each trodding stride I take reminding me how cumbersome I can be, how inefficient on my two legs compared with their four as they move effortlessly through the snow, running faster and faster until they are the size of ants.


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  2. Oh, I loved reading this!! As I read, I could just imagine being there too. And the "great blank sheet of paper" image - that's wonderful, that's exactly what it's like. And how I love that moment when you take the leash off and they can just run. Mine hardly ever get to do that, so it's extra fun when they can. Headed to Duluth tomorrow, can't wait to breathe in that cold air and feel the crunch of the snow underfoot. Wish the dogs could come too, but they're staying home.

  3. To borrow a film-crit term,I like the way many of your stories open with a firmly effective yet pleasurably artistic establishing shot. To be effective, this shot sets the scene, the camera's focus/movement, the tone,the characters, the emerging lines of plot and story; to be artistic, well, that requires some literary acumen I'm afraid. That transcending level of filmmaking or writing is best left to those rare people with natural talent. And, Heather, I say that you are one of those people. [I see you smiling at me right now, Heather.] Look at what I see: Murdoch racing across that "great blank sheet of paper" full of "fat flakes of snow . . . like weighted feathers", all covered by a "solid dome metallic" sky. The road spins off into white distance and as coiled Murdoch, "energy gathered", waits for release, a "faint jingling" is heard and as if "shot from a cannon", Jack leaps into the "camera's" frame. And, the story is off and running. All that from a small "establishing shot". It does what it should to be effective and then it does what your poetic prose will sometimes do: simply soar. Thanks for the flight, Heather.