Monday, February 14, 2011
Murdoch and I stepped into the open field from the thick strip of trees that hid the expanse from the road. In the summer I imagine it to be a little swampy, but I’ve never been there when there isn’t snow on the ground. In the winter everything is frozen and tucked snuggly beneath a heavy white blanket; waving grasses disappear, the landscape becomes almost stark. Almost. But the swathes of snow, like frozen rippling waves, cover everything in white, casting shadows of cold blue.
Two weeks earlier this place was crisscrossed with snowmobile tracks, like the aftermath of some wild party. The wide field that stretches out between the tree line where we emerged to the shadowed silhouette of the mountain in the near distance was decorated with ribbons of packed snow. Murdoch and I had followed them like we were navigating a maze.
Since then more snow fell and the snowmobiles did not return, leaving the expanse of soft, fluffy snow smooth, untouched, like a giant sheet had been freshly laundered and laid flat across the land.
I could see a slight impression where the snow had blown over an old snowmobile track and tried to follow it, thinking beneath the softer top layer there would be a hard, packed surface to walk on. It didn’t quite work that way. The ghosts of tracks were not much help beyond a couple of feet. With each step, my boots punched through a thin icy crust then plummeted into what felt like emptiness beneath, until the snow was up to my knees.
We walked anyway, striking into the barren landscape as if we were the first to set foot in this place. Murdoch leapt up like a spring was attached to each foot, and propelled himself forward, bounding across vast swathes of untouched snow, this way and that, leaving not a neat line of footprints behind but great holes where his entire body landed with each leap. The snow was up to his armpits.
When he stopped ahead and looked back at me as though questioning where the path had gone, I made my way to him with my marching stride, then collapsed beside him. We sat together in the snow, the sun a bright white ball in a bright white sky, and we listened to the wind roll shyly across the open field between the trees and the mountain. The harsh, alarmist cry of a woodpecker punched through the quiet and I turned to see his red crest in an island of scrub trees about fifty feet away.
I stood up and plowed through the snow towards that little island. Murdoch fell into step behind me on the shifting path I cut. He followed so close that my heel bumped his chin with just about every other step. In his eagerness to move faster as he fumbled along in my wake, he kept stepping on the back of my boot, his paw holding my foot to the ground so I pitched forward, causing him to run into my legs.
“Give me some space,” I said, but laughed, reveling in our comradery, our shared struggle and solitude, and at the absurdity of it all as we waded through a field of snow, crammed together in such a wide-open expanse.